I find buying sustainable, ethical shoes in Ireland an absolute nightmare. It seems that either you go for vegan plastic or biodegradable leather. I’ve know canvas shoes are in vogue at the moment and I’d happily chance a pair of canvas trainers in showery Ireland but not a pair of canvas pumps – too risky! To date I’ve limited myself to trying to buy the most durable shoes I can find in an effort to buy less shoes overall but this article has introduced me to some really stunning options that I’m keen to road test in the future.
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I’ve debated whether to include vegan shoes and brands in this article because they typically use plastic in their uppers. I don’t have an issue with plastic being used where it will last a long time but in my experience plastic uppers aren’t long-lasting, which, in my opinion, makes them unsustainable. That said, I do feature leather which for a lot of people is unethical. I include it because it’s long lasting and from what I’ve read leather is a byproduct of the meat industry and not the other way around. But all things considered I prefer to prefer to give people as much information as possible so that they can chose what suits their values best and so I’ve included both in this article. To find out a bit more about the materials that shoe companies use check out my article on Sustainable Ethical Fibres and my Pros and Cons of Sustainable Materials.
Before we launch into brands of new shoes I want to give a shout out to Sole Responsibility, a UK reseller of ex-display shoes!!!!
Made of Cork in Cork! sell bags, wallets and shoes made from cork leather in Portugal. The store owner told me that no plastic or synthetic chemicals is used in making the cork leather, just adhesive to stick it to the backing fabric, which may or may not be natural so check before you buy.
Timberland now offer shoes and boots made from leather created in an energy efficient factory, coupled with with a percentage of recycled plastic and recycled rubber. They also have a trainer made from recycled plastic bottles.
Schuh has a Converse shoe made with recycled PET from plastic bottles.
Nike are now selling trainers made with 50% recycled content.
Adidas now have trainers made with 70% recycled content.
G-Star have sneakers made from 100% recycled denim
If designer brands are more your thing then check out the range of pre-loved designer shoes at Siopaella, either online or in their store in Dublin.
If your definition of sustainable includes locally handmade shoes then check out Tutty’s Handmade Shoes in Co Kildare.
Salt-water Sandals are made with plaited leather uppers and stitched rubber soles. They come with rust proof buckles are suitable for wearing in water. The company are partners and avid supporters of The Marine Conservation Society and their packaging is now completely plastic free. In addition, 10% of all sales from their Turquoise sandals go to the MCS on a permanent basis.
Vivobarefoot in the UK are not a traditional shoe company. They don’t do heels or stiff soles believing that less or more and so provide shoes that have ultra-thin soles. They dream of a shoe that will last a lifetime and so offer a repair service for their range of Handcut shoes. They also sell shoes made from recycled PET bottles with each pair of shoe in this range using up 17 bottles, and a style made substantially from plant fibres called the Primus Lite II Bio Mens.
OFKT designs and manufactures classic fashion footwear in Yorkshire using offcuts of leather to make the uppers of the shoes. The dustbag, and the info label are made using wastage materials from SCRAP, Centre of Creative Reuse, Play and Learning: a social enterprise based in Leeds, focused on helping the environment by reusing waste materials from businesses as resources for art and play and the shoebox is recycled too!
Green Shoes are handmade in Devon and are repairable so last for many more years than mass produced footwear that just end up in landfill. They also offer a range of vegan shoes.
Ottowin handmake select pieces of footwear in Bristol, UK from industry waste leather hand picked by them from U.K. suppliers. Some of the components are made from natural vegetable tanned leather. Each pair of shoes is made to order by one person and the lead in time is 2-3 weeks.
UK based Swedish Clogs make clogs from swedish alder and Birch wood, natural grain leather, vegetable dyed leathers, nubuck and suede. Each pair is handmade by craftsmen in the forests in Southern Sweden.
Funky Kalakar in the UK offer vegan shoes ethically made from sustainable/ upcycled materials. The soles on their Brelite collection are made from scrap tyres and the upper of the shoes are made of handwoven cotton fabric which is handwoven to give a beautiful texture. Their Swarang collection is made with vegetable dyed cotton.
Wills Vegan Shoes in the UK sell carbon neutral shoes that are ethically made in Italy under European Union employment, discrimination and health & safety law.. Their vegan leather is created with bio oil sourced from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe. The rest of their products are created with suedes made in Italy and Spain that meet Oeko Tex 100 and REACH regulations. Most of their outsoles are made from rubber and their insoles have been made in Spain with recycled rubber. Their online store operates a plastic free Carbon Neutral supply chain using sustainable materials. They do this by offsetting their carbon footprint with investments in renewable energy projects. They do not use plastic bags or plastic packaging and all the materials in their deliveries are said to be environmentally friendly, sustainable and can be recycled.
Juta Shoes in London is a social enterprise empowering disadvantage women, like migrants and refugees by helping them to handcraft espadrilles with leather offcuts and reclaimed vegan faux fur.
Two Degrees in the UK make loafers from European leather that’s been treated without the use of heavy metals and will bio-degrade in landfill in 15 days. Their soles are made with some recycled content and the shoe box is plantable. Also 1000 square feet of South American forest is protected with every pair sold.
Here’s a very comprehensive list of shoe brands with some styles made in the UK by the website UK Made
Paris-based OFH (#Off the Hook) offer a recycled tyre leather trainer made in Europe. They also offer a recycled leather upper, made from the offcuts of gardening gloves. They are investigating how best to make a plastic-free biodegradable vegan shoe that. They are trialling deliveries with a company that utilises empty space on private and public transport vehicles in order to reduce carbon emissions. And their shoeboxes are adhesive and plastic free.
The company 1083 is named after their goal to make and sell clothes and shoes that travel no longer than 1083 km; the furthest distance between two towns in France. Their rubber-soled runners / sneakers / trainers are made from leather tanned without chrome 6, sewn together so only needing water-based glue and finished with cotton laces.
Sessile make trainers in France from vegetable tanned European leather, recycled rubber soles from Portugal and cotton laces from France. You can send the shoes back for repair, and at the end of their life to be resold or recycled into soles for new shoes. Their packaging is made from glue-free recycled cardboard made in France
French brand Viron use vegan leather, recycled canvas and recycled rubber to make their vegan and PETA certified shoes in a vegetarian-friendly factory in Portugal that tracks it’s energy and water consumption. They also take their recycled rubber soles back to remake into new soles. Their packaging is recycled, compostable/ recyclable cardboard sealed with paper tape, and designed in such a way as to not need additional packaging when posted. The company is currently tracking it’s carbon footprint with a view to publishing it in 2021.
French company Etre Amis makes shoes and leather goods from 100% deadstock leather sourced in Europe, in their family factory in Portugal. To reduce waste the reuse heels from a vintage library. They package their shoes in FSC certified boxes printed with vegetable ink.
French shoe brand Minuit Sur Terre makes Peta approved vegan shoes from by-products of the food industry, recycled polyester and recycled cotton in factories in Portugal. It also resells second-hand versions of it’s shoes on it’s own platform, and gives a breakdown of pricing on it’s website. It is also currently recruiting participants for a project to recycle worn-out shoes back into soles for new shoes.
Norm sells carbon-neutral PETA approved vegan shoes made from up to 90% recycled materials. They list all of the materials contained in their shoes and are actively working towards complete circularity of it’s shoes, i.e. having shoes infinitely recyclable. Their shoes actually generate 6.5 kg of carbon, which they offset by planting trees in Madagascar. They also reduce their emissions by using renewable energy, green transport methods and limiting travel. They claim to work with child-labour free, ethical workplaces and give details on their various suppliers, although not independent 3rd-party certification for this was visible on their website, although all their suppliers are based in Europe.
Komrads are made in Portugal from recycled rubber, recycled plastic bottles and recycled cotton, and bio-based apple leather. Their packaging is made with FSC certified paper and card.
Holland / The Netherlands
Loints of Holland started in a shed in 1918 and their shoes are still handmade in their own factory. They offer shoes that are made to last and most of their designs require no lining, which saves leather, glue and labour. The tanneries that they work with do not use Benzidine or PCP, and have extensive water treatment plants, and the manufacturers of their PU-outsoles do not use freon.
In 2010, a sneaker from German company Ethletic (see top photo) became the first sneaker on the market to be certified with the Fairtrade quality seal for organic cotton and because their shoes are made exclusively from natural materials – except for the metal shoelace eyelets and the shoelace end tips found on some models – they are completely biodegradable. The company uses Ethletic natural latex milk, extracted by hand for both shoe soles and as glue. The natural rubber is from Sri Lanka, which is the first place in the world with FSC certified rubber plantations, an international certification system for sustainable forestry methods. The company claims that according to Indian researchers, one hectare of rubber tree plantations absorbs seven times more carbon dioxide than a hectare of rainforest. The company say that they regular visit smallholders and their plantations, from which they get our natural resources and they pay an additional €0.50 per reaped rubber. The company says it only works with organic cotton that has been sourced from FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International) certified smallholder plantations in India. The cotton doesn’t appear to be certified as being organic, only fairtrade, but on their website the company states that the name of the smallholder community from which their cotton originates is Chetna Organic. The company also claims that employees in their factories are given a decent minimum wage, adequate workplace safety and a voice in their workplaces and by promoting their own community projects. The company also voluntarily donates 15% of the value of every invoice to an Employee Welfare Society. At present, these funds are being used to finance health insurance policies, doctor visits, hospital stays, school materials for children and clean drinking water facilities – all decided by the employees themselves. You can buy them from their online store but a little birdie told me that they’re often cheaper on Ethical Superstore
Giesswein in Germany make trainers from muesling-free merino wool in Austria. In their production facilities the company create 0% scrap material, use up to 90% recycled water and use only 100% renewable resources. The company also make clothing.
Thies make a Eco line range of shoes in Spain and Germany using GOTS ® certified organic cotton, felts made from recycled PET bottles, cork footbeds and vegetable tanned leather and olive leather ®, some of which are vegan.
Langbrett use natural materials such as GOTS-certified organic cotton , chrome-free tanned leather from leftovers, recycled rubber, wool from controlled organic animal husbandry without chemical additives, solvent free glue, . They say their shoes are made in a closed-loop cycle in small factories in Germany, Portugal and Spain, and logistics are optimised to reduce transport emissions. They regularly run upcycling and repair cafes in their stores and offer a take-back service. They’ve teamed up with Stop Micro Waste to help finds ways to reduce microplastics in our waterways.
Miret offer runners / trainers / sneakers made in Croatia from natural materials, including eucalyptus, flax, hemp, linen, cotton, kenaf, cork, rubber, jute and corn and cradle-to-cradle certified wool from New Zealand. Their soles are made from natural rubber and uppers are made from hemp, wool and a cradle-to-cradle vegan upper (although they don’t disclose what type of material it is).
Spanish company El Naturalista create vegan shoes made from fabric, mostly microfibers and cotton and chrome-free leather shoes. Their factories are in two locations: La Rioja in Spain and Tangier in Morocco. Their leathers come from recognized European producers and tanneries always observing the European regulations. As part of an European Eco-Innovation project Naturalista supplies shoes to a company that crushes and separates their components for reuse in different fields of work: creating paving, children’s playgrounds, technical parts for speed reduction devices, etc. Also they claim that all of their production centres have implemented initiatives aimed at the commitment to counteracting the effects of climate change, focused on energy savings, rationalized water use and improved quality, and the efficient use of resources and waste management.
Spanish company Natural World offer very reasonably priced shoes for men, women and children from, according to their website, 100% ecological materials: cotton, natural rubber and recycled cardboard for the boxes. Their website states that they make their shoes in Spain, do not use any material detrimental to health and no underage workforce. Their cotton comes from Spain and the company holds a ‘Made in Green’ certification, which confirms that their production process respects the environment. The natural rubber soles are joined onto the cotton using heat and pressure meaning that no glue or chemicals are required. Their shoes are machine washable and the company offers a free return service.
Neosens shoes are built to last in their factory in Spain and their website explains how this is achieved with various design and construction features. The use leather and wood in their shoes, with a leather liner.
Ecoalf is a Spanish brand for men and women that uses recycled nylon (from fishing nets) to make sneakers and recycled tyres to make flip flops. Through it’s foundation Ecoalf are involved in a project to clean our oceans of waste called Upcycling the Oceans
Jutelaune shoes are handmade in Spain by local artisans using working methods and traditional materials like canvas, leather, jute and rubber.
Vesicapiscis Footwear make vegan shoes for men and women from recycled polyester, recycled cotton, GOTS certified organic cotton and recycled natural rubber.
Saye make trainers / runners / sneakers from GOTS certified organic and recycled / end-of-line materials in Europe. Their boxes are made from recycled card and their tissue paper is from FSC certified sources.
Basq Company make cruelty-free trainers from recycled PET, recycled cotton and recycled tyres in Spain by a small scale shoemaker using solar power.
Wasted shoes make vegan shoes in Europe from certified organic and recycled materials, with natural rubber soles. Unfortunately their website is only available in Spanish so I wasn’t able to get all the details I’d normally look for.
Po Zu is a UK brand of ethical footwear who claim that all our their materials come from naturally renewable sources and are responsibly harvested. They contain no pesticides, bleaches or toxic dyes and are locally sourced wherever possible. They use organic cotton, natural latex, FSC certified timber, cork, wool, coconut husk and chromium-free leather. They have also recently introduced a vegan, solvent-free eco microfibre. All of their shoes are made in a small factory near to the historic town of Guimaraes in Portugal. The factory employs 70 local workers, has a strict non-toxic policy and recycle nearly all their waste products, including fabric off-cuts and water. The company ships their shoes to European destinations by land and to other continents, whenever possible, by sea, saving approximately 15 tons of C02 a year compared to airfreight. The company donates a minimum of 3% of their sales income to four environmental charities and provide internships to ethical designers, work with a range of NGOs to raise environmental awareness, and help to promote sustainable lifestyles. The company abides by the Ethical Trading Initiative Code of Practice and are certified by the Ethical Company Organisation as a company that upholds human rights and animal welfare, and works to protect the environment. They also see an edible shoe cream made from coconut oil!
Veja are a Portuguese company that offers shoes made from low-chrome leather, organic cotton, recycled rubber and wild rubber. They also sell a line of vegan shoes. According to the company’s website their cotton chain complies with the organic standards but is globally involved into a more ambitious scheme: agro-ecology, i.e. does not have organic cotton certification. Similarly the company began the accreditation process for Fairtrade status 8 years ago but have yet to attain it. It appears that all of their shoes are made in Brazil so buying directly from the company may make them a less sustainable option. That said they do have a few stores around Europe and England so next time you’re on your holliers you could stock up!
Nae is a Portuguese vegan shoe company using OEKO-TEX certified microfibre, cork, post-consumer pineapple leaf fibre, recycled airbags, recycled PET bottles, and recycled tyres to make it’s shoes
Bisgaard make shoes from natural toxin-free materials and recycled & recyclable materials for adults and children mostly in Portugal, and some styles in Asia. All packaging including shoeboxes, papers, flyers and hangtags are FSC and PEFC certified sustainable sources.
Swedish Hasbeens are retro-styled and handmade in the old traditional way in small factories that have made shoes for decades. They are made to last with natural grain leather and soles made from a single piece of alder or lime tree.
According to the Swedish company Ten Point their shoes are designed and made by hand in Europe, using sustainable production methods and fair business practices. Unfortunately no independent verification of this claim is available to view on their website.
Kavat offer a range of shoes with eco-labelling, a certification scheme by the EU given to products that have proven themselves to be less harmful to society and the environment. They purposely use classic designs that reduce waste and avoid using unnecessary details that have no function. They work with environmentally friendly leather, environmentally friendly SEBS rubber, GOTS certified cotton, waste leather. In 2019, they became the first company to make rubber boots partially from sugarcane. They also offer a repair service for their shoes. They also do a kids range of shoes.
Baabuk make sneakers and slippers for adults and kids from muesling-free Portugeuse wool and New Zealand merino. Their slippers have natural latex soles, have a 100% natural upper and are made in Nepal where the workers get paid 25% more than the average. They also make a point of hiring women when they can and their factories in Nepal have a higher ratio of male workers to female. The sneakers are machine washable and are made from Portuguese wool within a 200km radius of the farm to reduce their carbon footprint.
Adidas are now offering UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley runners made from a mix of Ocean PlasticTM, created from plastic waste retrieved by Parley coastal interception and clean-up operations in the Maldives (95%), and recycled polyester (5%); with each pair reusing eleven plastic bottles. The shoes laces, heel cap base material, heel webbing, heel lining and the sock-liner cover are also made with recycled materials. The shoes aren’t cheap at €199,95 but seem to have received rave reviews from customers.
Toms are a very well know brand of shoe that started with the concept of donating one pair of shoes to children in poor countries every time they sold a pair. The company has now extended it’s philanthropy and supports a range of charities across the globe. They state that their shoes are made from sustainable and vegan materials including natural hemp, organic cotton, and/or recycled polyester. They now have a range, called Earthwise, which features plant-based dyes, recycled plastic uppers and I’m green™ EVA, a bio-based alternative to the traditional petroleum-based ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). Also all of their shoe boxes are made from 80% recycled post-consumer waste and are printed with soy ink. Their shoes are made in China, Ethiopia and Argentina. They claim to be active members of Environmental and Social Responsibility Committees of the AAFA (American Apparel and Footwear Association). Even though this is an American brand that manufacturers outside of Europe I’m including them because they sell through retailers in Ireland, namely Schuh and Kurt Geiger. I’ve also seen them on sale in TX Maxx on occasion.
Allbirds is an American brand with an UK base using New Zealand merino wool and Tencel in the uppers, sugar cane in the soles and caster bean oil in the insoles. They also use recycled plastic to make their laces, resell lightly-used shoes and use recycled cardboard in their boxes.
Matt and Nat are a Canadian based vegan Shoe and Accessory company with distribution centres in Europe. The linings inside all of their bags are made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles and they state that they use sustainable cork and rubber for their shoes. They do use plastic in their products including, PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). According to them PU is less harmful for the environment than PVC and they make a point to use it whenever possible. As with American brands I’m only mentioning them because a lot of Irish and UK etailers stock this brand.
Online Retailers that sell Footwear
- Spirit of Nature stocks Ethletics, Komodo and Rider.
- The Natural Collection and Frank and Faith stocks Ethletics, Komodo and Matt & Nat.
- The Ethical Superstore stocks shoes made by Ethletics, Komodo and Rider.
- Gather&See offers ethical shoe brands Jutelaune, OFKT and Veja.
- FAAM is an online retail store that stocks the following shoe brands; Kitty Clogs, Ecolaf, Vega, Ten Points, El Naturalista, Neosens, Art
- Ethical Market is an online marketplace for small makers of ethical goods, including footwear.
- Peryvan Vegan sell a range of vegan shoes and accessories.
Rankabrand is a very useful website that, as the name suggests, ranks brands based on their sustainability.