As the class concludes, I step off the bike and grab my right foot to stretch out my quad. As I remove my hand from my sneaker I notice it is heavily marked black. Not only are the soles long devoid of grip, the left with a tear in the side from a cycle class incident (tuck your laces IN when on a bike!), but now the top of them is also removing itself when touched. After loving my sneakers for six years, I believe it's time to move on. Here lies the drive for this sustainable sneaker guide.
I've curated this list with quality and style in mind. The best purchases we can make are multifunctional - so I set out to find sneakers I could wear out, and also to the gym. Thank you to those that sent me their favourite sustainable sneaker brands on instagram. Veja was the obvious pick, so I've dug a little deeper and discovered some alternative brands whos initiatives get me excited - from algae soles to a glue-free product.
A sustainable and stylish sneaker? Now is the time.
Trust my expertise and don't have time for the details? Here are the brands that made the list in alphabetical order:
Stella McCartney $$$
Tropic Feel $$
$ $100-$150 AUD
$$ $150-$200 AUD
$$$ $200+ AUD
Tropic Feel use recycled and innovative materials to make their products including Bloom foam; a flexible foam harvested from algae.
Each pair is multi-functional, meaning they provide the “benefits of an aqua-shoe (i.e. you can wear them while swimming), the comfort of a walking shoe, the outsole of a hiking shoe, and the look of an everyday sneaker”. The company donates 1% of sales to organisations that protect wildlife and actively measures its impact with the help of an external agency. They have a continual focus on improving every step of their supply chain. Overall a really exciting brand to invest in.
Spanish fashion label Ecoalf makes lightweight trainers from recycled PET bottles and renewable Sonora fibres. They were the first Spanish fashion brand to become B-Corp certified. Ecoalf repurposes waste such as fishing nets, old tires (they have launched a collaboration with Michelin), and even coffee grounds into high-quality materials. While most of their shoes are animal-free, they do use recycled wool and down in some products.
Allbirds is a New Zealand-American startup that's not new to the scene. I first received a pair in London in 2018, and although I was initially unsure of wearing a wool sneaker, they quickly became a favourite. Allbirds use a variety of eco-friendly, innovative fibres including TENCEL™ Lyocell (which uses 95% less water than traditional cotton and cuts their carbon footprint in half) and have created their own materials- SweetFoam™ and Trino™ yarn. SweetFoam™, used for shoe soles, is made using sustainably sourced sugarcane and Trino™ yarn is created using a mix of eucalyptus tree fibers and ZQ Merino wool. Allbirds is Forest Stewardship Council® certified (meaning they responsibly source these materials, meeting strict standards to protect forests, animals, and the people who depend on them) and B-corp certified. They have just released a merino-wool fluffy sneaker, and if it were gym appropriate I would already have them in my wardrobe.
"The standard sneaker emits 12.5 kg CO2e. Our average shoe emits 7.6 kg CO2e. Better, but we want to do more. Our goal—have no carbon footprint from the start."
Nae is a 100% vegan Portuguese footwear brand using innovative materials to create shoes with 'no animal exploitation'. Its sustainable shoe materials include recycled PET from bottles, OEKO-TEX® certified microfibres, recycled car tires, natural cork, recycled thermoplastic, and pineapple leaf fibre. Nae also lines its sneakers with materials made via a carbon-neutral manufacturing system. They have unisex offerings, which is a plus, and my pick would be the Nilo sneaker which includes recycled rubber soles.
“Circularity is an intrinsic part of our ethos, a vital step in conserving the planet’s natural resources and utilising those materials we already have.”
In 2018, I was lucky enough to visit Stella McCartney’s Bond St London Loop lab. With circularity in mind, they also had a recycle station in store- where you could bring your old Stella sneakers to be correctly placed for their after life.
In the Loop Lab, the innovation focused on a new method of attaching the upper to the sole without glue, instead, using interlocking clips, so at the end of the sneaker’s life the upper can be removed from the sole and each part recycled or reused. A great feat in circularity for sneakers. Within their sneaker offering, materials also include recycled polyester and in line with the brands ethos, all shoes are 100% vegan. More of a fashion statement that gym appropriate, but evidently the most sustainable sneaker from a luxury brand.
You can also consider the Stella McCartney x Adidas range for a slightly more affordable buy (pictured below).
Everlanes ethos is that of 'radical transparency', sharing not only their factory information but also the cost breakdown of each piece. Tread by Everlane is the brands shoe offering, using recycled and certified fabrications. 'The Tread Runner' (pictured) boasts a sole of recycled and natural rubber — preventing an estimated 18,000 pounds of rubber from making its way into landfills and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 54%. The upper uses recycled PET, and the lining and laces are 100% recycled polyester.
A sustainable sneaker in many ways, the brand claims to have created 'the most eco-friendly, durable and comfortable sneaker ever built.' With the science in on durability and the eco-positive growing process of hemp in comparison to other fibres, they may be right. The sneakers are 100% vegan and made using algae Bloom soles, hemp fabric uppers and the world's 1st hemp insoles. The brand only offers one style, a business decision that avoids waste through consolidation and smart use of resources. A brand I will be keeping my eyes on for sure.
All images and information courtesy of the brands.
Did this 'Sustainable Sneaker Guide' help you? These guides are to assist you in making more sustainable shopping choices. Please share your feedback, I'd love to hear from you: email@example.com
This article is an opinion piece, I have not been paid by brands mentioned.