The last few years have seen an uprise in responsible footwear brands, and the audience for environmentally friendly products has grown exponentially as the gravity of this world issue has become more apparent.
Many consumers are demanding more responsible brand practices, as shown through the way we spend our hard-earned dollars.
It’s apparent that a responsible approach to fashion should be commonplace by now, whether it’s eco-friendly sneakers, recycled cottons, or the use of hemp-based fabrics. Brands all over are rushing introduce their own responsibility initiatives, while other first-mover brands start life with this environmentally-friendly approach engrained in their DNA. While the bigger brands like Nike and adidas are also on track with their own initiatives like adidas' Loop and Parley programs, or Nike's Grind and Space Hippie programs, we've rounded up some independent brands that also deserve a nod. The important thing is that change is happening, and with that in mind...
We’ve rounded up some of the most planet-friendly, sustainable sneaker brands that you can shop in 2020.
First up are Native Shoes. Founded in 2009 in Vancouver, Canada, the label has always operated under a planet-first ethos. Offering styles to suit men, women, and children alike, Native can sustainably lace up entire families. The brand introduced the world’s first fully compostable sneaker in June of last year, made entirely from plant-based materials. The end result goes to show that, if wearing eco-friendly sneakers is your aim, there needn't be any compromise in style and aesthetic.
The Plant Shoe carries a formidable silhouette, reminiscent of some of the most recognizable cupsole styles on the market, with an attractive gum sole. The varying textures of the plant-based materials elevate it above and beyond — resulting in a genuinely stylish, biodegradable sneaker.
Native also offers forward-thinking boot options such as the Apex 2.0, versatile slip-ons in the form of the Chamonix Basecamp, and a variety of trainer silhouettes.
As well as their current planet-friendly offerings, Native pledges that by 2023, every pair of shoes the brand produces and sells will be 100 percent lifecycle managed, with old pairs of Native shoes being reground into a versatile material mix that can be used for playground flooring and insulation, amongst other purposes.
French label VEJA is one of the most recognizable and responsible footwear brands around. Founded in 2003 and now stocked in some of the most prestigious stores worldwide, VEJA has always placed great importance on producing sneakers that have "one foot in design, and the other in social responsibility."
The brand works closely with organic farming co-operatives out of North-Eastern Brazil to source their cotton, ensuring fair wages and a planet-friendly approach in the process. The rubber soles are made using naturally occurring rubbers from the Amazon, working with native rubber tappers to sustainably source this precious material without the need for deforestation. Finally, waterproof mesh is applied to the soles of VEJA sneakers, with each sole requiring three recycled plastic bottles to be made.
VEJA has since expanded into 100 percent vegan footwear with the V-10 style, which carries the recognizable V logo on the upper. Other notable styles include the recent V-Knit collaboration with Rick Owens and the classic Campo tennis silhouette.
Old-school sneakers, new-school ethics — this is the ethos of Brazilian footwear brand Cariuma. Founded by former sneaker industry executives, with the view to weaving sustainability into their products without compromising on comfort or style, the uniquely sourced materials ensure you can feel good as well as look good.
Organic cotton, ethically sourced rubber, and leather from suppliers that operate under strict environmental protocol to reuse 100 percent of all water that goes into the production are just some of the ways that Cariuma lessens its impact on the earth.
When it comes to packaging, all boxes are made from recycled materials and are 100 perfect recyclable. Impressively, Cariuma boasts a 100 percent carbon neutral footprint when it comes to delivering its products. This is achieved through purchasing carbon offsets to ensure a zero footprint.
With a selection of high and low top sneakers in its roster, Cariuma caters for the casual, everyday sneaker market with accessible, classic styles.
Catering more towards the higher-end eco-friendly consumer is Italian-made brand Yatay. Founded only in 2018, the label has already made a great impact. Certified 100 percent vegan, with one tree planted for every pair sold, Yatay even works with green data centers, benefitting from half the energy consumption of traditional facilities.
After two years of research and development to bring together the best Italian-made sneakers with advanced green fashion technology, Yatay released its first style, the Neven Low. Available in an array of colors, this sleek silhouette is certainly one for fans of Common Projects and Axel Arigato styles. Accompanying the Low is the Neven High; both sneakers are cruelty free, lightweight, and breathable, with all the quality of Italian-made footwear.
Founded by Sven Segal, Po-Zu tells the story of one man’s mission to produce the most sustainable shoe possible. The brand's name stems from the Japanese word ポーズ, meaning to pause, echoing Segal’s thought process. Po-Zu produces ethically sourced footwear, made from natural and sustainable materials. They are also designed to be good to your feet, with comfort engrained. This slow process results in some truly unique pieces that can be shopped guilt-free, and were created putting the planet first.
From fully vegan styles to a recent collaboration with the Star Wars franchise, Po-Zu offers an array of unique and individual styles.
"The world’s most comfortable shoes," reads the tagline of Allbirds, a New Zealand-born brand focussed on the use of merino wool compounds in footwear. Founded by Tim Brown, an NZ native with plenty of knowledge as to the qualities of merino wool — a sustainable, highly comfortable resource — Allbirds filled a true gap in the footwear market.
After teaming up with Joey Zwillinger, an engineering and renewables expert, Allbirds took flight (excuse the pun), developing an entirely new category of footwear inspired by natural materials.
The merino wool used to create the uppers requires 60 percent less energy than alternative materials, and is unrivaled in comfort. For the laces, each pair is made from one recycled plastic bottle, and as a certified B Corp, Allbirds is committed to putting the planet first, when it comes to materials, packaging, transport, and the people who make them.
Offering a variety of silhouettes and with their array of runner-esque styles, Allbirds caters to the casual aesthetic. Lace-up, slip-on, and high top options are available, with notable styles being the Runner Up Mizzles and their classic Wool Runner.