13 Amazing Eco-Friendly Shoes from Ethical Brands

You probably already know how much damage fast fashion is doing to our environment (if not, read this article to find out). There's only one way to stop them, and that's by not buying their products.

I've written recently about some of the top eco-friendly clothing brands that are trying to make positive changes in the fashion industry. But what about eco-friendly shoes?

Can you really get high quality, stylish shoes made from eco-friendly materials that don't damage the planet?

In fact - yes you can! In this article, I would like to drill down into one specific area of fashion...sustainable shoes (or, rather, sustainable footwear in general).

Read on as I uncover which footwear brands are currently making the biggest waves in the ethical shoe industry.

13 Of Our Favorite Shoe Brands Working Wonders With Eco-Friendly And Recycled Materials

Eco-Credentials:

Feminist brand supporting women in the fashion trade
Fair labor practices
B Corp

They Say: The hides for all of our leather products would have been discarded, but we can repurpose them into beautiful products instead. This process uses less energy than the production of vegan leather. In the current marketplace, the majority of leather substitutes classified as vegan are either chemical or petroleum based, and thus harmful to the environment.

We Say: Able is a brand we recommended for their sustainable clothing range.

The formative roots of this women-led company are in leather, so it feels only fitting to highlight their range of footwear specifically.

A wide range of sustainable shoes is available, all of which are produced to Able’s exacting sustainability ethics.

Eco-Credentials:

Fair trade certified
Vegan Shoes
Cruelty-free

They Say: Aks in Urdu language means reflection. It is our belief that what we wear is a reflection of who we are, so all of Aks products reflect the values with which they are made. Values of fairness, sustainability, women's development and inclusiveness. When you wear Aks, you are reflecting the values that YOU stand for.

We Say: Aks like to keep it simple. No unnecessary processes and no blends of material. Just natural organic materials pieced together and decorated sustainably.

By not using any blends, all Aks sustainable sneakers are naturally biodegradable.

This is not your average sneaker brand. Each pair of Aks sneakers are unique due to the slight variations of designs associated with the artisan hand-embroidered techniques used.

Eco-Credentials:

Carbon offset option
On-demand production reduces waste
Leather Working Group

They Say: At ALOHAS, we’re doing a lot more than making shoes; we’re trying to disrupt consumption as we know it and change the way people shop for fashion.

We Say: Alohas is a Spanish-based brand specializing in on-demand and local production.

The on-demand aspect of the production cycle helps reduce waste by not holding mountains of stock that might eventually be thrown away.

The local aspect of the production cycle reduces their carbon footprint and helps employees in the local area.

On the subject of carbon footprints…there is a neat option at checkout that allows you to pay a couple of bucks extra to offset the carbon generated by your order with carbon-neutral shipping. You can even choose which offset project your donation goes to.

Eco-Credentials:

Recycled polyester
Repurposed algae
Recycled packaging materials

They Say: We know a thing or two about comfort. We’ve been perfecting it for over 70 years. Dearfoams has done comfort better than anybody else. With the softest, warmest fabrics and extra cushioning in every pair, there’s no slipper that feels better. Because comfort never goes out of style. 

We Say: Dearfoams, as the name hints at, specialize in foam cushioned comfort footwear.

This heritage brand reminds me of my lovely old nan (God rest her soul), who always wore Dearfoams slippers around the house.

It’s no longer just ‘old lady’ slippers on offer. There are multiple ranges on offer for all ages and all fashion needs.

Their most eco-friendly offering is the ‘Alpine by Dearfoam’ range utilizing BLOOM materials.

BLOOM technology turns harmful algae into sustainable supersoft soles that protect the environment and cut down on waste.

Eco-Credentials:

Handmade in Peru
Fair trade
Natural materials
Pre-Loved

They Say: Since 2010, Fortress has worked with family-owned and operated factories and workshops to maintain the quality and craftsmanship that first inspired us more than ten years ago in Peru. We always ensure that the working conditions of the people who create our shoes are safe and that they are paid fair wages.

We Say: Fortress works with a hand-selected group of shoemakers in Peru. 

Fortress can offer safe working conditions and fair pay by keeping the supply chain as local as possible. In fact, they pay their shoemakers more than the average Peruvian living wage.

There is also a neat Pre-Loved service that allows you to sell your Fortress footwear when you no longer need or want it. This stops needless waste and gives quality products a new lease of life. It also means you can pick up a Pre-Loved bargain of your own!

Eco-Credentials:

Cactus leather shoes
Zero waste wool
Uses recycled plastic bottles

They Say: We treat our wool fabrics differently than other companies, focusing specifically on our treatment of wool and sustainable wool use. This creates unique fabrics made of 100% wool. These products absorb and can carry away more moisture - and can keep you warmer - than other wool. In the footwear industry, 20% of cut material is pure waste and is lost forever. We've found a new way to process our wool while producing 0% waste.

We Say: Giesswein is a family-owned business using its expertise in wool to make some really innovative footwear.

I’ve been aware of this brand for a while. Wool Cross is my running sneaker brand of choice when training on rough terrain in warm conditions. The Merino wool keeps my feet cool and dry no matter how intense the training gets.

Giesswein loves to innovate. They make ballet shoes made from recycled plastic bottles and stylish sneakers from the prickly pear cactus. Pretty cool!

Eco-Credentials:

Locally-sourced materials
98% biodegradable leather

They Say: Eye catching from 100 yards away, while so darn comfy you forget you’re wearing them. Yes. Welcome to Jibs. The good looking, go-to slip ons shoe style that is ready for your next adventure. Or Netflix, or scooping up that kid from the sandbox, or wknd roadtrips with your mates… you get the picture. Get out there, enjoy life.

We Say: Jibs range of casual footwear, made from diamond cut eco-friendly leather, offer a distinctive look...that I love! Think Crocs for adults with a bit of style and self-respect!

Those diamond perforations are not just there to look cool. They also keep your feet cool...and provide a luxuriously soft and stretching quality.

The materials are sourced locally in Brazil and then handcrafted into Jibs footwear by highly skilled local artisans.

The leather used is up to 98% biodegradable, compared to the industry standard of around 30%. This means that Jibs leather will turn to compost in approximately 200 days, compared to 50 years for standard leather.

Eco-Credentials:

1% For The Planet
Leather Working Group

They Say: In creating Nomasei, we took the risk of abandoning our secure careers in large luxury houses in order to commit ourselves to bringing meaning back to our business by offering a responsible and sustainable alternative, as well as responding to our generation's need for meaning and change.

We Say: Nomasei is a high-end Parisian shoe brand making quality women’s shoes in Montopoli, Tuscany.

Metal-free leather is used to make all Nomasei products, which means that no metal (chromium 3, chromium 6, etc.) is used during the tanning process.

Their packing, like their leather, has been carefully selected to be as eco-friendly as possible. It’s made from recycled cardboard and GOTS certified organic cotton.

Eco-Credentials:

Plant-based sneakers
Plastic-free sneakers
USDA Certified

They Say: When you find a workout style that makes you feel alive, it’s like unlocking a door to your full potential. Make the time to lace up your gym shoes and get your workout on. Reebok has athletic shoes made for training, studio, running, weightlifting and more. Whether you’re a well-seasoned athlete or a fitness newbie just learning the ropes, there are athletic shoes for you. Reebok’s classics shoes are born from sports straight out of the 80s and 90s.

We Say: Reebok is not an entirely eco-friendly brand, but they’re a major player who appears to be making a conscious effort to release as many eco-friendly ranges as possible.

They offer a range of sustainable footwear and clothing for both men and women.

During my research, I read a lot about Reeboks Cotton & Corn range of plant-based footwear.

However, at the time of writing this article, I could only find one option available. The Cotton & Corn Slip-On Shoes, made with 50% USDA Certified biobased content.

Eco-Credentials:

Made from recycled plastic water bottles
Vegan
Cruelty-free
Soles4Souls
LifeWorks

They Say: SUAVS were created in 2015 with one goal in mind: To create the most comfortable, stylish, and versatile shoe imaginable; a lightweight, easy to clean, easy to transport shoe that can go anywhere and do anything.

We Say: SUAVS is helping to reduce plastic bottle waste with their innovative manufacturing process that turns recycled plastic bottles into breathable and sweat-wicking casual footwear.

SUAVS carefully selects all materials to ensure that they in no way adversely affect human health or the health of the planet.

Any surplus stock is never needlessly thrown away. It’s always donated to worthy causes such as Soles4Souls and LifeWorks.

Keeping plastic bottles out of landfill AND helping the needy. Lovely stuff!

Eco-Credentials:

Closed-loop production
Soles4Souls 

They Say: Fueled by curiosity. Driven by innovation. Inspired by community. The future is closed loop — turning old products into new — and we make everyday sneakers that are recyclable and accessible to all. This is full circle footwear.

We Say: Thousand Fell design their sneakers in New York and make them in Brazil. They use a single, family-owned factory to keep inventory low and quality high.

Circularity is key to everything Thousand Fell does. All their sneakers are designed with their entire life cycle in mind, from raw material to end-of-life disposable.

Don’t throw away your old Thousand Fell sneakers if they have some life left in them. Simply return them to Thousand Fell, and they’ll donate them to someone in need via Soles4Souls.

They even take back sneakers that can no longer be worn. Thanks to their recycling facility in the U.S., they can pull apart old sneakers and make new ones.

Eco-Credentials:

100% wind-powered factory
B Corp Certified
Made from waste
1% For The Planet

They Say: TIDAL flip flops are for living your best life. That means being physically comfortable but also comfortable with who you are and the choices you make. With thicker soles, renewable materials and comfy straps, our flops are also designed to last longer than the average flip flop.

We Say: TIDAL New York has eco-credentials built right into its DNA. They’re a B Corp Certified company and an active member of the 1% For The Planet program.

TIDAL flip flops are made from the same durable material as running sneakers (polyurethane)...but with a clever tweak to the formula that makes it more renewable.

This secret formula means that each pair of  TIDAL flip flops are at least 27% renewable...and they’re committed to boosting this to 100% as soon as possible.

Eco-Credentials:

Amifori
BetterWork
ISO Certified
Bluesign
Global Recycled Standard
GOTS
Climate Neutral

They Say: At Tropicfeel, we are constantly working on making our business more sustainable. We want to transform the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet.

We Say: Tropicfeel is a cool European brand with some serious eco-credentials.

They have five fundamental principles that they live by every day:

  1. Transparency is the first step to being sustainable
  2. Don’t cause unnecessary harm
  3. Reduce your footprint and compensate for everything you cannot reduce
  4. Durability is the key to sustainability
  5. Activate the power of collaboration to challenge the status quo

They achieve this by only working with partners who meet their strict criteria and using sustainable materials, such as recycled polyester, recycled nylon, recycled EVA, and organic cotton.

Their sneakers are lightweight, breathable, and designed to be worn all day long over various terrain.

What Makes Sustainable Shoes Truly Sustainable

Genuinely sustainable shoe brands eco-friendly don’t just use eco-friendly and sustainable materials.

They also implement sustainable practices that ensure eco-friendly shoes are produced in a way that is gentle on the planet, kind to the workforce, and fair to everyone in the supply chain.

What To Look Out For When Shopping For Eco-Friendly Footwear

As if shopping for a pair of shoes wasn't hard enough already! Now we need to keep an eye on the shoe brands to make sure they're legit when it comes to their shoe production practices.

Ideally I'm looking for a brand that's doing as much as possible to lessen their environmental impact, preferably going zero waste.

I want a shoe that's made from recycled rubber or other eco-friendly materials, and ideally one that pays fair trade wages.

Some keys ‘buzz words’ to look out for when shopping for eco-friendly shoes and sneakers are:

  • Recycled plastic
  • Natural and recycled rubber
  • Fair trade rubber
  • Organic cotton
  • Carbon-free rubber
  • Recyclable materials
  • Recycled materials
  • Shoe recycling program
  • Recycled cotton
  • Zero virgin plastic
  • Vegetable-tanned leather
  • Sustainable cork
  • Biodegradable materials
  • Recycled PET
  • Recycled foam

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Is The Best Sustainable Shoe Brand?

That’s a subjective question, and, to be honest, the answer is ever changing.  All of the popular brands mentioned in this article make awesome eco-friendly shoes and sustainable sneakers using recycled materials (such as recycled plastic bottles and recycled rubber). I hope to add more brands to this article over time.

Is Vegan Leather Eco-Friendly?

One of the biggest misconceptions amongst consumers is that vegan leather is always a greener, more sustainable alternative to animal-based leather. This is not always true. It’s often made from toxic synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The Final Word

It’s reassuring to see so many shoe brands now using eco-friendly materials and fair trade business practices.

Sustainable sneakers made from natural rubber and vegan shoes are slowly finding their way into the mainstream shoe industry.

The more we vote with our wallets, the more shoe brands will take notice. Hopefully, one day eco-friendly shoes made from natural materials will become the norm.

Until that day arrives, I’ll keep my ear to the ground and keep you updated on all the latest developments.

Get In Touch

Where do you buy your eco-friendly footwear? Have I missed someone doing good for the planet with recycled plastic sneakers or zero carbon emissions leather? Drop me a line and let me know.

James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.
James Miller
James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.

The Roundup

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