Sneakers are one of the world’s most popular shoes, but nearly all are made in Asia from leather in countries with poor welfare laws for both animals and humans (and the tanning process is also very polluting). Cotton (used for many sneakers) is also responsible for a quarter of the world’s pesticides. So instead choose vegan-friendly brands that are sustainably-made and packed. For sneakers made from recycled plastic or synthetics, use a microplastic catcher if washing in the machine.
Sneakers have been around since the late 1800s when rubber-soles shoes became available for people who would play tennis or croquet, the idea being that they were more silent so better to win at both games. The first company was Converse (responsible for the popular red hi-top sneakers) that began in 1908 and it wasn’t until the 60s that brands like Nike came into being. Also invented were basketball shoes by Adidas. Many sneakers not only feature chemically-grown cotton and leather, but many feature k-leather which is made from kangaroos.
As most quality vegan shoes are still sold online, visit the shoe shop (afternoons when your feet are their proper size) and get your feet measured (or measure your own feet). If you’re a half-size, it’s usually okay to order the bigger size (feet swell when running and you’ll likely be wearing socks). But it’s best to try to find the exact size for other shoes (European brands don’t offer half sizes).
RationL is a brand of vegan shoes made with nontoxic PU leather and organic cotton. Designed for either sex in a range of lovely colours, these are super-stylish and comfortable. The shoelaces are also made with organic cotton, and even the eyelets are made from recycled aluminium. Sent in plastic-free packaging. Buy at the link above to support online store Vegan Outfitters, which gives 10% of all profits to farm sanctuaries that have rescued animals from abuse and slaughter. Your purchase helps to buy kale for friendly goats, hay for sheep during colder months, sweetcorn to chickens (as a treat!) and watermelon for turkeys (they adore it!) If you’re a member of StudentBeans, you qualify for a 10% discount.
carbon-positive vegan sneakers from Denmark
Elliott Footwear (Denmark) is made from sustainable recycled materials, and easily cleaned with a little baking soda in a bowl of water. Return for recycling, and get 15% off your next pair. Beautifully designed and comfortable with vegan leather and vulcanised soles. High-tops have recycled cotton canvas, and anti-slip rubber soles.
vegan bio-based sneakers from Spain
SAYE (Portugal) are not just made from vegan materials, but their Greens Capsule range is made from rescued fruits and vegetables, that would otherwise have gone to trash. Some are made with mangos that don’t make the cut to market, and give a ‘brown stripe’. And the red accents come from leftover apples! These unisex retro sneakers are made with corn vegan napa, and feature interiors made with soft bamboo and recycled plastic waste. The insoles are made with leftover waste from a mattress factory, and the company funds the growth of two trees, for each pair sold.
organic fair trade ‘hi-top’ vegan sneakers
Etiko (Australia) is a well-known ethical footwear brand. These sneakers are Fair Trade and made with organic cotton, mostly in high-top styles (like vegan organic versions of Converse sneakers). Made ethically in Pakistan, they are sent in zero waste cardboard packaging. The soles are made from natural latex rubber, and the inside sole has super-comfy built-in rich support, with zero animal glues and nontoxic dyes. The company also offers sneakers for children.
Spanish vegan sneakers (made from fruit!)
All My Eco is a Spanish company that makes snazzy sneakers, made from fruit leather! This is very popular in Europe, as a way to use up the vast apple waste, usually in northern Italy. These sneakers are harmless in ecological terms and tested for harmless substances. And the company plants 5 trees for each order. Kind to animals, the sneakers are vegan-friendly and this is also good for the planet (factory farming products over a third of global methane emissions). The colourful stripes on the sides are made with pineapple fibre, obtained from the discarded leaves of the harvest, and needs no extra land, water, chemicals etc to be produced. The shoes keep your feet comfy with PET (each pair recycles 2 plastic bottles) and the shoe tongue is decorated with cork (no trees cut down, it’s stripped from the tree every few years). Made ethically in Spain to strict European standards.
recycled vegan sneakers from Bordeaux
Zeta is a brand of vegan sneakers that are designed in Bordeaux (France) and made ethically in Portugal. 70% of the world’s sneakers are made in Asia with polluting materials like tanned leather, plastic or polyester. Instead, this company uses partly biodegradable and recycled materials and you can also recycle them at end of use (just 20% of sneakers are presently recycled in France at present).
A company designed to deconstruct the footwear industry, these sneakers are made by people they know from materials they trust – good for people, animals and the planet. Using quality selected materials, the sneakers are made from:
Grape waste produces a vegan leather made from the waste from wine production (skin, pips, residue) that is mixed with vegetable oil after grinding to produce a thick paste. Then a vegetable dye is added to spread and compress into a grain leather.
Some sneakers are made from corn waste, a real alternative to fossil fuels. Harvesting corn has no impact on food chains and other materials are made in a workshop of 25 or so artisans. You can send back old sneakers for free to recycle them on. The company also works at much smaller margins so you are paying for the shoes and a little profit, rather than big brands who pay workers a pittance and take most of the profit themselves.
low-footprint luxury vegan sneakers
LØCI is a luxury sneaker brand that leaves no footprint. Born in a shared London office space, these are expertly crafted in Portugal. Made with recycled ocean and African coast plastic (20 bottles in each pair), they use non-food grade corn waste for the bio-leather, cork interiors with recycled foam and even the laces are recycled. The soles are made from 100% recycled rubber. Ethically made in Portugal.
sustainable vegan sneakers from Sweden
Humans Are Vain (Sweden) is a premium footwear brand that combines modern design with vegan sustainable materials including apple leather and plastic that’s recycled from fishing waste recovered from the sea (each purchase contributes to removing around 20 plastic bottles from the ocean). All the sneakers (including hi-tops) are made in small batches, in ethical Portuguese factories. Founded by those disillusioned with the modern fashion industry, all items can be recycled at end of use.
The brand was inspired by Sweden’s west coast, with the founders concerned over the amount of plastic waste washing up on the shores of this beautiful green country (every hour, around 5 bathtubs of plastic waste washes up on Bohuslän, with nearly all North Sea seabirds and marine creatures ingesting some form of plastic). Now purchasing a pair of sneakers not only saves animals, but directly contributes to safeguarding the ocean and surrounding wildlife in Sweden.
The Challenge V3 is the acclaimed flagship sneaker, which even won the The Independent’s award for ‘best vegan sneaker’. The microfiber lining and in-sock is made from corn fibre and recycled PET and the sole features 70% recycled rubber, with a comfy insole padding made from recycled cork and foam. The laces are made with organic cotton, and toe puff from recycled content. Everything is bound with water-based glue.
sustainable vegan sneakers from Spain
Be Flamboyant is a Spanish brand of vegan shoes, boots and sneakers, made mostly with corn leather (made from the inedible corn waste that emits 88% less carbon dioxide than leather), along with rubber/rice soles and linings/sides made with recycled plastic bottles and seaqual (recycled ocean plastic). The removable insoles are made with leftover plastic waste from the mattress and sofa industry. The boots have comfortable padding, and the smart shoes are as comfortable as your favourite pair of sneakers. Easy to clean with a cloth and natural soap, the footwear is sent in zero-waste boxes and jute bags (they also feature plantable tags, but don’t use these near pets, as wildflowers are unsafe in most cases).
The brand was founded by a young couple from Spain, who wish to make a positive impact on the world, inspired by the beautiful natural area they live in. On their travels to Cuba, they discovered ‘the flamboyant tree’ in Havana, hence the name. They crowdfunded to launch the company, and today their first collection UX68 (named after their flight back to Spain) remains a best-seller, with thousands of pairs sold.
All the footwear is made by hand by local experts in Spain and Portugal, and everything is made to last at fair prices (no Black Friday sales etc, that encourage overconsumption). Materials are sourced from local organic and recycled suppliers, and the company is also carbon neutreal, offsetting carbon emissions by investing in maintaining Galician forests, to help prevent wildfires caused by climate change (and often over-planting of flammable eucalyptus trees for the ‘biodegradable packaging’ industry) or sometimes Tencel clothing.
Managed 50% by men and women, all workers are paid above average salary, and a tree is planted for each pair of shoes or sneakers sold. This is in contrast to the modern fashion footwear industry, where women and children often work over 12 hours a day in poor conditions for a low salary. Do not wash these sneakers in the machine, as not only will it dent their life, but due to recycled plastics used, this could cause microplastics to be released from the machine, and into the sea. That’s why recycled plastic clothing is not usually a good idea. But for wipeable vegan shoes, it’s a good idea!
comfy vegan sneakers from New Zealand
Saola (New Zealand) are super-comfy sneakers made with recycled and bio-sourced materials. Less than 14oz a pair, these keep you light on your feet all day. Made with breathable knit uppers, for each pair sold, they buy 270 square feet of endangered forests, to protect biodiversity.
Vesica Piscis is a company that makes a nice range of vegan shoes, all built with a circular economy in mind. At end of life, you can just separate the soles and send them back, where they get recycled on, and you receive a discount for your next purchase.
The company makes a nice range of sneakers for men and women with unique patterns (like ‘save sharks’) as with as high-top sneakers with nontoxic waterproof coatings, and vegan-friendly belts. The main materials used to make these sneakers are recycled and organic cotton and recycled polyester (mostly from plastic bottles, fishing nets and x-ray plates). The soles are made from natural rubber and cork (no trees chopped down to make it, it’s just stripped from the tree). Some shoes also use a little bamboo.
The shoes are sent out in eco-friendly cardboard boxes, which are assembled by hand with reduced cubic capacity, and free from adhesives. They are made from compressed cardboard and no additional paper packaging, which saves around 1 ton of paper for every 30,000 or so pairs sole (and 2 million litres of water per ton). Even the ink to stamp the boxes is eco-friendly.