Over the last decade or so fashionable sneakers have become a world wide phenomenon. Since 2009, the industry has seen 133% growth and in 2019, global sneakers sales are projected to top $142 billion.
Social good and ethical practices by brand definition can mean different things. Tom’s is built on a one for one model, but some brands are taking their definition of social good and ethics a bit further.
These sustainable sneakers are making products in different ways, using fair trade practices, ethical supply chains, organic materials, donating profits, and going out of their way to get B-certified and Fair Trade certified.
As a sneaker-head and conscious consumer, I am always looking for easy ways to shop more ethically in my life and these sustainable sneaker brands are making it that much easier.
They have found a place to exist in the ethical brand market, especially with young conscious consumers.
The Environmental Impact of Sneaker Production
Traditional sneaker production is notorious for its heavy environmental footprint. From the sourcing of raw materials like leather and rubber to the energy-intensive manufacturing processes, the sneaker industry has been contributing to pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste generation.
- Material Sourcing: Leather and synthetic materials like polyester are commonly used in sneakers, both of which require extensive resources and energy to produce. Additionally, the leather industry is associated with deforestation and harmful chemicals.
- Manufacturing: Sneaker manufacturing involves complex assembly lines, energy-consuming machines, and transportation, leading to a considerable carbon footprint.
- Waste Generation: Mass production often results in unsold stock and waste materials that end up in landfills or incinerators, causing further harm to the environment.
Enter Sustainable Sneakers
The rise of sustainable sneakers offers a glimmer of hope in the world of fashion. These eco-friendly footwear options prioritize environmental responsibility and aim to minimize their negative impact.
Here are some key features of sustainable sneakers:
- Eco-Friendly Materials: Sustainable sneakers use organic and recycled materials like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, recycled polyester, and even innovative materials like Piñatex (made from pineapple fibers) and Mycelium (made from mushroom roots). These alternatives reduce the demand for new resources and promote circularity.
- Ethical Manufacturing: Brands producing sustainable sneakers often ensure fair labor practices and safe working conditions for their workers. Some even go the extra mile by supporting local artisans and communities.
- Biodegradable and Recyclable Components: To combat waste generation, some sustainable sneakers are designed with biodegradable or easily recyclable components, making it easier to dispose of them responsibly at the end of their life cycle.
- Reduced Carbon Footprint: Brands are implementing innovative production techniques, like 3D printing and waterless dyeing, to decrease energy consumption and carbon emissions during the manufacturing process.
- Transparency and Certifications: Many sustainable sneaker brands are committed to transparency, providing information about their supply chain and certifications, like B Corp or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), to validate their eco-friendly claims.
The Growing Popularity of Sustainable Sneakers
Consumers’ mindset towards fashion is evolving, with an increasing number of people becoming conscious of the environmental consequences of their choices. As a result, sustainable sneakers have gained popularity for several reasons:
- Environmental Consciousness: Eco-conscious consumers are actively seeking products that align with their values, including sustainable footwear that treads lightly on the planet.
- Fashion-forward Designs: Sustainable sneakers are shedding their old image of being bland and unattractive. Today, these sneakers boast stylish designs, catering to the preferences of fashion-forward consumers.
- Supporting Ethical Brands: By choosing sustainable sneakers, consumers actively support brands that prioritize ethical practices, contributing to positive change in the fashion industry.
The Road Ahead
While the demand for sustainable sneakers is on the rise, the industry still faces challenges. Limited access and higher price points are common barriers that prevent wider adoption. However, as the market grows and technology advances, it’s likely that these barriers will gradually diminish.
As consumers, we hold significant power in shaping the future of fashion. By making informed choices and supporting sustainable sneaker brands, we can collectively drive the industry towards more eco-friendly practices.
Going forward its going to be fun to watch brands innovate in the sneaker arena with new ethical sneakers, sandals, and other forms of footwear.
Below, we have highlighted of few of these ethical shoe brands that are producing great products in innovative ways. Check them out.
Komrads APLS Maça Low
Komrads’ commitment to sustainability is evident in every aspect of their production process. They meticulously select raw materials that are not only recycled and certified but also vegan and traceable, ensuring that each pair of sneakers leaves a minimal carbon footprint.
Proudly manufactured in Portugal, every step is taken to ensure that ethical practices are upheld, creating sneakers that are both eco-friendly and socially conscious.
One of the most striking aspects of Komrads’ sustainability efforts lies in their dedication to reducing waste. They have introduced a groundbreaking closed-loop system, inviting customers to return their old shoes.
Through this initiative, these worn-out sneakers find new life as they are skillfully recycled into raw materials for use in other products.
It’s a remarkable step towards combating the alarming reality that an overwhelming 97% of the approximately 24.2 billion pairs of shoes manufactured worldwide each year end up in landfills or incinerators, lacking proper recycling solutions.
With this initiative, Komrads shatters the norm, ensuring that their sneakers have a lasting impact and do not contribute to the staggering waste crisis.
Their vision extends far beyond mere style and profit, as they actively promote a circular economy, where resources are repurposed and utilized efficiently.
By collecting and upcycling old Komrads sneakers, the brand embodies the essence of sustainability, leading the charge towards a brighter, greener future. With their stylish designs and unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship, Komrads demonstrates that fashion can be both fashionable and eco-conscious.
In a world where only 3% of sneakers are given a second life, Komrads stands as a beacon of hope, inspiring the industry and consumers alike to tread more lightly on the planet.
COMUNITY Women’s Westsider LE – Sunset
COMUNITY is a shoe brand creating socially conscious sneakers and looking to innovate the industry. Three footwear industry veterans with past collective experience from TOMS, ASICS, Nike, Vans and Sanuk, have joined forces to launch this premium-quality, small batch footwear company headquartered and manufactured in Los Angeles.
Each pair of shoes purchased by the customer will allow COMUNITY to donate $10 USD of their sale to a curated group of non-profit organizations in downtown Los Angeles with the intention of empowering its members to be happy and successful contributors to the community.
As a certified B Corp, Allbirds does business differently. The environment is a stakeholder at the company, and how they treat it is just as important as the bottom line.
Allbirds uses some innovative materials in production of its products, including, recycled water bottles, castor bran oil, recycled cardboard, and bio-tpu.
The products they use are also Forest Stewardship Council® certified, meaning the materials meet strict standards to protect forests, and the animals and people who depend on them.
Oliberté is a sustainable brand supporting workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Oliberte believe in empowerment, transparency, and doing the right thing within its business model.. This means making premium quality products with a lifetime warranty, and it means treating every employee, everywhere in the world, with respect.
In 2009, they started off as a small footwear company partnering with factories and suppliers in Africa. Since then, they have gained enough momentum to launch their own factory in 2012.
Now, they make every single pair of Oliberté shoes at the factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In September 2013, Oliberte became the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory.
Indonesia’s landfill problem has met its match with Indosole – a brand on a mission to turn old tires into stunning sandals and shoes, all while championing organic, toxic-free, and environmentally sustainable production practices.
But that’s not all – this innovative process also empowers many in Indonesia by providing them with dignified work opportunities.
For over a decade, Indosole has been a trailblazer in environmental conservation. By combining artisanal skills with a powerful social impact, they have crafted a unique shoemaking process that skillfully transforms discarded tires into the soles of their footwear, all done by hand.
Thanks to this ingenious approach and their forward-thinking mindset, Indosole has rescued and repurposed over 80,000 tires, sparing them from an eternity in landfills. This achievement alone is a testament to their dedication to making a meaningful environmental impact.
However, to truly scale up their environmental efforts, Indosole recognized the need for a breakthrough technology. They understand that achieving mass-scale change requires innovative solutions, and they are determined to lead the way in implementing them.
Indosole’s commitment to sustainability, craftsmanship, and positive social change sets them apart as a brand that not only produces remarkable footwear but also leaves a lasting impression on the planet and its people.
Veja is a renowned brand that has revolutionized the sneaker industry with its commitment to sustainability and ethical practices. Their sustainable sneakers are a testament to the belief that fashion can be both stylish and environmentally responsible.
Veja sources its materials responsibly, opting for organic cotton, fair-trade rubber from the Amazon rainforest, and innovative materials like recycled plastic bottles. The brand takes transparency seriously, ensuring that consumers know the entire journey of their sneakers, from raw material sourcing to manufacturing.
By supporting Veja, individuals contribute to a positive impact on the environment and communities, making each step in their eco-friendly sneakers a stride towards a greener future.
The dream of Wills is to bridge the gap between everyday people and ethically produced vegan shoes. Wills is about getting the latest fashions out there at fair prices, while not hurting animals or people in the process.
The entire product line is free of animal products while workers are paid in accordance with European guidelines.
The product designs echo the high street trends, packed into four seasons giving you a year round alternative.
The products are created with microfibers that look, wear, breathe and resist water just like leather. Wills believes buying something well made saves money, provides something to cherish and is better for our environment.
soleRebels is an ethical footwear company founded in 2004 by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in her community of Zenabwork, Ethiopia. The brand recognized that Africa needs fewer charities and more brands whose global reach can leverage good for the country. Good jobs means sustainability and not charity.
soleRebels can already tip its cap to a massive accomplishment. They are the 1st WFTO/IFAT Fair Trade certified footwear company in the world. The company went through a rigorous audit to achieve this goal to prove that this sustainable model can exist and succeed in the country and the entire continent of Africa.
The BANGS model is built to invest 20% of net profits to help start businesses. Every month, they hand-select entrepreneurs to invest in their business ideas. All entrepreneurs are vetted + the loan dissemination and repayment is facilitated by their nonprofit partner, Kiva.
Each entrepreneur builds their business and then repays their loan. 99% of loans given through the nonprofit partner are repaid. This high repayment rate indicates an extremely high rate of successfully growing businesses.
Nisolo works with impoverished artisans to give them an outlet to an established market. Along the way, they’re creating jobs in developing communities and providing a means of consistent work.
Keeping an eye on the next generation, they invest 10% of the profits from the sales of their shoes in local educational programs. More than just spiffy kicks, wearing a pair of Nisolos is wearing a symbol of change.
They firmly believe that ensuring fair trade practices and fair business practices promotes trust and what else, fairness. Whoever says success can’t be achieved with fair play just hasn’t been introduced to Nisolo yet.
Crafted Society is more than just a brand; it is a social enterprise that is reshaping the concept of luxury in the fashion industry. Driven by a passion for creating exquisite handcrafted products, the brand collaborates with the most skilled artisans in Italy to bring their vision to life.
But Crafted Society’s mission goes beyond aesthetics. They have taken it upon themselves to utilize their products as a means to drive positive social impact and preserve authentic craftsmanship.
For Crafted Society, preserving traditional crafts means empowering artisans to pass down their invaluable knowledge to the next generation. However, this noble endeavor has faced challenges due to the shroud of secrecy that has enveloped these talented artisans for decades.
But the brand’s founder knew it was time for a paradigm shift. Embracing the power of transparency, Crafted Society has chosen to challenge conventional norms and bring their artisans and their craftsmanship out of the shadows.
By fostering transparency, Crafted Society not only showcases the exceptional skills of these artisans but also empowers them to thrive in a world that values authenticity and ethical practices.
With each meticulously crafted product, Crafted Society paves the way for a future where luxury is defined by the artistry of skilled hands and the positive impact they bring to communities. The brand’s commitment to transparency marks a new era where social responsibility and craftsmanship triumph over secrecy, setting a remarkable example for the fashion industry and beyond.
Grant is the founder of Causeartist, one of the most influential impact business platforms in the world. Since 2013, Causeartist has been read in over 150 countries. Grant has personally interviewed 700+ impact entrepreneurs from around the world, highlighting innovations in ethical fashion, climate change, ethical technology, impact investing, and sustainable travel.