Who doesn’t love a good pair of sneakers? Unfortunately, too many of the household names in sneakers use unsustainable materials and practices, and rely on ethically dubious production processes. As we enter spring and summer, it is time to revamp the sneaker game––but this time with sustainability in mind.
Here are five amazing brands that will entice you to opt for sneakers that are as eco-responsible as they are stylish. All the brands listed here are committed not only to sustainability, but also to promoting social good and fairly compensating their workers.
Cariuma makes possibly the most comfortable sneakers you will ever wear. The Rio-based startup founded in 2018 seeks to optimize comfort, style and sustainability.
Their sneakers contain natural rubber, organic cotton, certified sugar cane, sustainable cork, recycled bottles of mamona oil (a vegetable alternative to petroleum), and bamboo. One thing worth noting: not all of their sneakers are vegan, but their leather is audited by the Leather Working Group.
In terms of manufacturing processes, the sneakers are handcrafted in Brazil, in compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) Guidelines to uphold human and labor rights. Cariuma has also implemented energy efficiency practices and works to minimize water usage.
Beyond using sustainable materials and ethical practices, the owners make a conscious effort to design sneakers that are timeless and durable, cognizant that quality over quantity is “the only true answer to sustainability.”
Fun Fact: Cariuma was the youngest brand ever to be featured on Farfetch, a global fashion platform.
Iconic French brand Veja was founded in 2005. The brand backs up its cool, French minimalist aesthetic with a serious commitment to transparency, organic materials, and fair trade sourcing.
Veja uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials, including organic cotton, that reduce its climate impact and limit the amount of chemicals, water, and wastewater used in production. Like Cariuma, Veja does use leather but likewise has its tanneries audited by the Leather Working Group. Veja also complies with the highest ILO standards, ensures it pays workers a living wage, and actively monitors health and safety issues by visiting its production suppliers.
After gaining tremendous success and popularity, Veja is now a mainstay among Hollywood actresses and Instagram influencers. They have set their eyes on the performance sneaker market, which they are looking to disrupt by introducing the first “post-petroleum”, sustainable running shoe. Breaking into the performance market—which Nike and Adidas dominate—is a risky move, but hopefully one that will pay off for this sustainable brand.
Fun Fact: Veja went viral when Meghan Markle was seen rocking them on a Royal tour in 2018. The brand is also favored by the likes of Katie Holmes and Emma Watson.
Australian brand Etiko designs casual apparel and sportswear for men and women. Founded in 2005, Etiko sought to address the lack of ethical and environmentally conscious apparel on the market. They now manufacture products that comply with high ethical and sustainability standards.
When it comes to footwear, Etiko’s vegan sneakers are made with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified 100% organic cotton and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified natural rubber soles. They ensure the glues and dyes they use in the process are non-toxic and REACH compliant with no harmful chemicals.
Fun Fact: The name Etiko is derived from the Greek word for ethical.
Launched in 2015, Spanish footwear brand Flamingo’s Life produces vegan sneakers with animal welfare at the heart of their mission. In addition to being cruelty-free, Flamingo prioritizes sustainability in their vegan materials and relies on an ethical supply chain, manufacturing all shoes in Elche, Spain, the city in which the company is based.
Flamingo sneakers are made from corn waste, bamboo, hemp, organic cotton grown without pesticides, and sustainably extracted natural rubber.
Beyond manufacturing ethical and sustainable sneakers, as an Eden Reforestation partner, Flamingo’s Life promises that for every pair sold, two trees are planted. And, the brand donates 1€ per shoe sold to a specific environmental cause, depending on the collection.
Fun Fact: Kate Middleton has been spotted wearing Flamingos on more than one occasion!
PANAFRICA distinguishes itself among the brands on this list by breaking away from the classic minimalist style to instead offer colorful print designs on their sustainable sneakers. Founded in 2015 by three French entrepreneurs––who are either African by origin or had lived on the continent––PANAFRICA seeks to create a unique impact sneaker that incorporates the continent’s style and culture while promoting education and job opportunities in Africa.
The company emphasizes their respect for their workers, fair trade process, and maintaining an ethical supply chain. Additionally, PANAFRICA donates 10% of its profits per sneaker sold to charitable organizations. However, compared to other names on this list, PANAFRICA admittedly has a ways to go on the ecological front. They use some harmful chemicals and solvents and do not report their greenhouse gas emissions. However, they have committed to adopting vegan leather, invested in returnable and recyclable sneakers, and will accept, clean, and resell used sneakers.
Fun Fact: PANAFRICA sneakers support projects for access to education and job training in Africa through the Walk For School program.
All images were sourced from their respective brands’ websites, linked in the article.