Sustainable Sneakers: 8 Brands That Will Suit Your Feet And The Planet

As repeatably discussed, the fashion world, and us -sometimes-too-loyal-customers, still have some efforts to do. If you could not find a satisfactory pair of sustainable sneakers at your local second-hand store (let’s try to apply the 5Rs as often as possible), then continue reading.

To find footwear brands with sustainable sneakers that have excellent sustainable and ethical business practices, we went out and tried some of these ourselves. However, we can not claim that we found a perfect list or THE ideal solution towards slow and responsible footwear fashion.

What we are saying is that the below is a MUCH better way out for fashion workers and our environment than 5 USD shoes from questionable – likely sweatshops – manufacturers with shady practices.

As discussed in other similar reviews, we believe that to this day, the best fabrics are the ones that are part of a circular economy. Fabrics that are renewable, easily recyclable, and do not involve harming the planet or the people because of, for example, harmful chemicals involved in the process.

Thus, even though recycled water bottles appear as a favorable, positive alternative partially solving imminent pollution issues, it does not mean that these shoes made of recycled PET are 1/ easily recyclable and will not end in oceans AGAIN, and 2/ are produced without releasing further microplastics.

Therefore, if we follow the logic of the most sustainable fabrics today, we encourage you to first opt for natural, organic certified fabrics that are renewable, biodegradable, and easily/safely recyclable.

Then, for innovative fabrics such as Tencel or Lyocell. And finally, why not have a look at brands that created recycled plastic-based products should they do so in secure, thoughtful manners.

Let’s take a look together at why we handpicked each of the below pairs of sneakers.

Allbirds
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Allbirds
  • Innovative fabric
  • Smart packaging
  • Carbon neutral
Nisolo
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Nisolo
  • Best non-vegan brand
  • Fights for climate change
  • Shoe reclamation program
Etiko
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Etiko
  • All vegan footwear
  • Natural fair trade certified
  • Human rights activists

Allbirds - USA/Europe

Materials & Packaging

Original from New Zealand, Allbirds founder Tim Brown started his company with the idea to revolutionize the footwear (and sneakers in particular) industry thanks to the remarkable qualities of merino wool.

Allbirds closely work with leading organizations with ZQ Merino to guarantee high standards of farming and animal welfare.

Opting for natural, durable, and/or using recycled materials is at the center of the company’s sustainable practices. For example, laces are made with recycled plastic bottles and midsoles from dual-density sugarcane.

Highlighting how Mother Nature is their muse, Allbirds also designs its footwear with an innovative, homemade super yarn called Trino. In other words, they combine two renewable materials (Tree + Merino), which results in a soft, breathable fiber.

The FSC Certified tree fiber (also known as TENCE Lyocell) comes from farms in South Africa that minimize fertilizer and rely on rainfall, not irrigation.

Packaging wise, the brand uses FSC recycled, certified boxes for all its footwear. They redesigned traditional shipping practices by creating a 3-in-1 box: their 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard serves as a footwear box, shopping bag, and mailer. An all in one, innovative and low waste solution!

allbirds sustainable sneakers
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Allbirds' sneakers - approved by Abel!

Social & Environmental Practices

Allbirds’ eco friendly footwear are either handmade in South Korea or in their WRAP-certified factory in China. They ensure safe and fair working conditions by sourcing from a select number of strategic suppliers willing to abide by their Code of Conduct.

Additionally, these factories are regularly audited by independent, third-party social assessment firms. Thanks to a selective product range, the brand is able to maintain a small, tight-knit supply chain.

Whenever you return your shoes or sneakers (even if lightly worn), these get donated to Soles4Souls. Circularity is one of the key improvements the brand is willing to work on in the future.

The B corporation fashion brand also won a spot on this list for being a climate-neutral certified business. Thus, by combining the use of natural and recycled materials and by offsetting what is left with certified carbon credits, Allbirds is dedicated to producing fashion items that are planet-friendly.

Style - Our Pick

Simple in design, available in various colors, each pair of sneakers is designed to last long; nothing too flashy nor too dull; in other words, you will not grow tired of these highly comfortable shoes!

Their everyday sneakers collection starts at a reasonable price of 95 USD. Allbirds also offers minimalist high-tops sneakers ideal for warmer days, as well as running shoe in almost 10 different colors.

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Nisolo - USA

Materials & Packaging

Each product of the Nashville-based fair trade brand is handcrafted. Most of the tanneries they use are certified through the Leather Working Group. And they are committed to high-quality sourcing materials.

When it comes to its shoes and sneakers collection, the leathers used are nubuck, full-grain, top-grain, and vegetable-tanned leather. The latter is mainly used for bags and sneakers and is tanned with natural oils from bark or plant tannins, and therefore free of harmful chemicals.

We particularly like this eco friendly brand as well for its Shoe Reclamation Program: Nisolo is committed to a circular fashion model, and therefore, you can return old shoes that will be repaired and recycled appropriately, in collaboration with Soles4Souls.

Whether for purses or shoes, Nisolo has earned a spot on this list for its ethically sourced materials. It is, for us, one of the best non-vegan, sustainable sneaker brands on the market.

Unfortunately, we could not find any information on the type of packaging used, hence the lower rating for this category.

Social & Environmental Practices

We appreciate Nisolo’s transparency regarding its supply chain. For in-depth analysis lovers, their impact report is available here. The manufacture of their collection occurs mainly in Peru, while the rest is produced in Mexico or Kenya.

All factories must comply with their Code of Conduct and are regularly visited by the Nisolo crew to ensure standards are met. They have striven to pay a LIVING wage to their workers by determining such countries’ minimum pay requirements. On average, their producers in Peru earn 33% above fair trade wages.

B Corp certified since 2017, the purse and sneaker brand has scored an impressive 94 out of 100. We also commend Nisolo for their vision and humility in learning what went wrong in the first place.

They acknowledge the issues around wages in the fashion industry and how we, as customers, can help make things right by demanding fair living wages and decent working conditions.

Moreover, they actively contribute to protecting forests in the Amazon Basin through their partnership with Ecosphere. Concretely, so far, they have offset their carbon footprint by more than 1,200 metrics tons of CO2 (similar to taking 264 cars off the road for a year!).

Lastly, another great best practice from Nisolo is their Ethical Marketplace. By handpicking a few of their favorite eco friendly products from other like-minded brands, they want to make sustainable shopping – even – easier.

Style - Our Pick

We are huge fans of the white Reina’s Top Sneakers, made of Leather Upper, Vibram rubber sole, and cotton laces. Handmade in an ethical factory in León, Mexico, they fit perfectly with casual chic and sporty looks. These eco friendly sneakers are available in tobacco color as well.

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Etiko - Australia

sustainable sneakers from Etiko
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image by Etiko.com.au

Materials & Packaging

The wear-no-evil brand is an ambassador of ethical fashion. Their vegan sneakers are designed with materials like organic cotton (GOTS certified), and the soles are made of natural rubber (the latex of the rubber tree).

The rubber components are a mix of FSC certified rubber and recycled rubber. In terms of other natural materials, they ensure that neither animal clue nor toxic dyes are involved at any fabrication stage.

We commend Etiko’s ongoing project to explore its sneakers’ biodegradability; they are, just like us at Puratium, preoccupied with the entire lifecycle of their products.

They suggest separating the metal and plastic parts from the rest of the shoes made of cotton and rubber, as these last two are compostable. More innovative ideas should come out soon on this matter.

Packaging-wise, Etiko sends every pair of shoes and sneakers in post-consumer waste boxes. 

Social & Environmental Practices

Etiko – from the Greek ethical – produces its collections in India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

They have pledged to put their workers’ well-being first and are human rights activists since their beginning in 2005. Thus, in addition to being B corporation certified, they were among the first brands in the Southern hemisphere to be Fair Trade affirmed.

The sustainable footwear and sports ball business was created with the impetus that fashion items had to be free of inhumane practices like sweatshops (often employing children) and workers’ exploitation.

Etiko produces its sustainable sneakers in a Sri Lanka factory that, in addition to being fair trade, only uses FSC-certified rubber.

The brand openly shares its future ambitions while acknowledging the need for any business to do better than merely ‘no harm.’

Each is responsible for generating a positive impact in the lives of its workers and the overall surrounding community, which lead to immediate improvements in the workers’ food security and quality of life. Quite an interesting read here.

Lastly, Etiko has managed to become almost entirely carbon neutral in 2020. Even though its emissions are in essence lower than similar fashion companies, the Aussie brand has partnered with Carbon Social. This has resulted in helping subsistence farmers in Baguia by building village economies and planting trees.

Style - Our Pick

The White Low Cut sneakers made of organic cotton have caught our attention! Timeless, breathable, and comfortable, as well as designed with non-toxic, sustainable materials.

Etiko offers high top and low-cut collections for men, women and kids. Color-wise, expect white/black, as well as blue/red/khaki.

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Baabuk - Switzerland/USA

baabuk sustainable sneakers
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Image by baabuk.com

Materials & Packaging

The Swiss slippers and sneakers brand has become famous for its choice of high quality, closely sourced, and eco friendly materials: namely, wool, which is by nature a renewable, long-lasting fabric.

It is sustainable, easily recyclable while being strong and flexible. Shearing is a necessity for the sheep to be able to maintain their temperature and overall health.

However, there has been considerable controversy on the methods surrounding wool sourcing, and in particular, the mulesing technique.

As described by the Peta organization, Mulesing is a barbaric procedure and a crude attempt to create smoother skin that won’t collect moisture (1).

Like any other cruelty-free fashion or beauty product, make sure to look for mulesing-free wool for clothes and shoes.

As stated by Baabuk, ‘We go to great lengths to ensure the best possible care is given to the animals that provide our wool and that there are traceability and accountability for all the resources we use.’

Hence, the mulesing-free certified wool used for their sneakers is sourced from Portugal, where the sheep live in a large, protected park.

The soles are typically made of a durable TPU material, lightweight yet strong, to withstand daily use.

Lastly, Baabuk uses recycled paper boxes that dually serve as shoes and shipping boxes.

Social & Environmental Practices

Designed in Switzerland, Baabuk’s sustainable sneakers are made – craftily manufactured – in the historic Burel Factory in Portugal, the country where the wool is also sourced. 

Whether at the manufacturing or shipping level, reducing their carbon footprint is at the core of the family-owned company’s business model.

One particular initiative exemplifying that they strive for being more carbon neural is their innovative U-Turn Program. In case of incorrect sizes, they encourage you to donate your purchase to a person close to you rather than send it back. Rest assured, though, you’ll get a discount for ordering the right shoes size.

With a current – impressive – return rate of only 8% (while the fashion industry is at around 20%), there is a pretty good chance you or someone you love will find the right match!

Moreover, you can easily opt for an affordable repair kit to make your sustainable sneakers even more… eco-hip!

certified B Corp brand, Baabuk is committed to making a difference that goes beyond beautiful products and materials. They firmly believe that it is their responsibility to conduct business with high ethical standards.

Thus, they have partnered with a local Swiss organization that employs people with physical and mental disabilities.

Style - Our Pick

Baabuk was created (and named after) as a homage to ancestral roots and wool’s central place as part of traditional heritage.

While you may think that wool-made sneakers could only be worn in cold temperatures, it is an excellent material to wear during the summertime too!

Wool’s natural crimps and air pockets allow temperature regulation yet still allowing your feet to breathe. And you can even wash these sneakers made of wool on a cold program!

Each unisex collection comes in a wide range of 5 or 6 colors, from bright to classical grey/back nuances, so you’re sure to find the ideal ethical fashion accessories for your feet.

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Saola - France

Saola sustainable sneakers
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image by saola.com

Materials & Packaging

The high proportion of eco friendly materials in Saola’s shoes makes the French company a great pick on your shopping list. They use recycled materials, but also organic and bio-based components.

Typically, the sneakers are made of recycled plastic bottles, such as the Cannon Rose Gold (Canvas 100% Recycled + Mesh 80% recycled PET.). The insoles are typically made with another durable, renewable material, aka cork, in this case.

The brand goes further in terms of innovative, sustainable materials by using a combination of recycled plastic and banana fibers.

They even use beeswax to add water repellency to the shoes, without any harmful chemicals. All laces are made of organic cotton.

One of the main reasons Saola is on our list is for its inspiring choice of recycled Algae Foam for most of its insoles and outsoles; they partner with Bloom Foam, which removes harmful algae from lakes and rivers and converts it into powder.

The resulting mix allows them to use 15% to 20% less synthetic materials in their soles while cleaning the waters of harmful algae.

In terms of packaging, Saola is ticking most of the zero waste boxes: they ship in recyclable cardboard boxes and wrap the shoes with biodegradable carton. Proof from Abel’s picture below!

Social & Environmental Practices

Named after one of the rarest animals found on the planet (pronounced SOW-la), the sustainable sneakers company uses both GRS (global recycled standard) and GOTS certified materials.

These certifications ensure the transparency and traceability of the production line of these materials.

However, as stated repeatedly on Puratium, these are excellent indicators of a brand’s sustainability but are not a must as such. As a matter of fact, most family-owned, small-scale brands cannot afford to go through the lengthy and costly efforts of certifications.

Did you know that each pair of Saola’s shoes contains the equivalent of about 4 to 5 recycled bottles?

Moreover, they donate 3% of their revenues to various organizations protecting wildlife and biodiversity worldwide.

Style - Our Pick

Let’s make sure you can go out with a stylish, eco friendly flair thanks to the Semnoz clean aesthetic nature. 100% vegan, these sneakers made of recycled plastic and recycled EVA are super lightweight and easy to wear with or without socks.

For both men’s and women’s collections, expect a reasonable price range of 80 to 100 EUR.

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Rothy's - USA

Materials & Packaging

Rothy’s sneakers are durable, machine washable (delicate cycle), and mainly made from recycled/repurposed water bottles.

Moreover, their stylish, wear-at-all occasions shoes are made with bio-based gum outsoles made of either natural rubber or bio-based TPU for the sneakers in particular.

Rothy’s sneakers are entirely vegan and latex-free. However, bear in mind that the brand has launched a new footwear collection with a unique signature blend: premium wool (merino) and recycled plastic bottles.

Rothy’s is one of our favorite sustainable shoes and bags brands in terms of packaging strategies.

Practically speaking, the sneakers come in minimal recycled cardboard shoeboxes, made of biodegradable cardboard insets, and sealed with a ribbon made of recycled materials.

Social & Environmental Practices

The sustainable sneakers brand has partnered with various organizations that allow them to collect plastics within 30 miles of coastlines, where the risk of ending up in the oceans is higher.

This collection of single-use plastic mainly takes place where communities lack comprehensive waste management and recycling facilities.

Cleaning up the oceans and minimizing waste is at the core of Rothy’s sustainability strategy. Besides favoring recycled materials, they have also specialized in a 3D knitting technology that minimizes waste at the manufacturing level.

Designed in San Francisco, Rothy’s shoes are made in Dongguan, China, a factory owned by the brand. Thus, rigorous sustainability standards are applied and are detailed here.

Striving to be carbon neutral is another prime axis of the brand’s business model. Thus, they lessen cargo loads by making their packaging leaner and lighter and limiting their shipping routes.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of a company’s footprint can be easily controlled (when will the world have zero emissions cargos and planes?).

Thus, Rothy’s carbon offset credits benefit the Amazon forests and help with converting biofuels in the US.

Style - Our Pick

Thanks to an extremely clear and user-friendly catalog, the brand’s online shop will give you all relevant details on fit, comfort, care, and materials.

Rothys’s offers two collections of sneakers for women; The Lace Up, with adjustable laces, and The Sneaker, with a seamless design offering extra comfort and a different sporty look.

These zero break-in period sneakers come in original, colorful prints.

Rothy’s is slightly more expensive than similar brands on this list. However, these extremely stylish sneakers should counterbalance the guilty feeling.

rothys grqph
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Arcas Bear - USA

Materials & Packaging

The ‘Walking On Clouds’ brand has designed exclusive vegan, dye-free, and plant-based sneakers.

Thus, we particularly recommend Arcas Bear for its smart mix of recycled components (made from recycled water bottles, recycled cotton, or rubber, to name a few) and natural, eco friendly materials such as cork for their soles.

Additionally, we commend the brand for its circular consumption approach: you can return your used shoes for recycling!

Unfortunately, we could not find any information on the type of packaging used, hence the lower rating for this category.

Social & Environmental Practices

Arcas Bear’s shoes are ethically manufactured in Portugal and Brazil.

The company holds an impressive number of certifications, which ensures transparency in its supply chain: PETA-approved vegan, B corporation, GOTS (organic cotton) and are an active member of the FAKE movement (brands and designers that have developed ethical, vegan fashion products).

Not only do they strive to reduce their carbon footprint, but they are also obsessed with water footprint: Arcas Bear wants to empower conscious and responsible consumption.

As a result of their innovative thread – no new color added- the process is dye and bleach-free, thus saving humongous amounts of water compared to similar, conventional shoes.

Lastly, Arcas Bear will plant two trees for each new pair of shoes you purchase.

Style - Our Pick

The California-based offers a very selective collection of footwear, less than 10 pairs of sneakers and a few pairs of boots. We like the exclusivity!

We are also huge fans of their colorful, dotted soles combined with unique prints for the upper textile. These vegan sneakers embody the natural energies of water, air, fire, and even space!

The first place of the podium goes, according to us, to the unisex Arctic Energy top sneakers. Bear in mind that the change-makers brand can also be an exclusive purchase budget-wise.

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Alice And Whittles - USA

Materials & Packaging

Company-owners Sofi and Nick have reached an impressive number regarding the fabrics used in their collection: 90% of the materials used are fully traceable, durable options. And, they are aiming at 100% soon.

Their dedication to creating footwear free of virgin leather and with rubber sourced sustainably managed forests (no clearcutting involved!) has been at the center of their search mission for more trustworthy materials since the beginning of their journey in North Africa.

The upper part of the sneakers is made of a peculiar fabric: recycled leather from seat cars! Yes, we did not even know that it could be possible.

This reminds us of Elvis & Kresse’s ethical purses made from absolutely nothing new: old London fire hoses!

They also use recycled PET, re-claimed plastics from the oceans, and vegan, water-based glue.

Unfortunately, we could not find any information on the type of packaging used, hence the lower rating for this category.

Social & Environmental Practices

Alice & Whittles’ products, and sneakers, in particular, are handmade in a family-owned factory in Portugal, a country well known for its high-quality textile manufacturers.

They demand quality not only for the products they create but also for the people involved in manufacturing them.

As for the brand’s charitable work, they have collaborated with Well Beings, an organization protecting the Amazons. We commend their approach to donate 100% of profits to this campaign from all recycled Purple Laces sales.

Even though we were not necessarily looking for certifications (as noted under Saola’s), we would have appreciated more transparency and details on the supply chain. Thus, a lower rating for this category.

Style - Our Pick

The Toronto-based brand just launched its first pairs of Black Luxa sneakers, a comfy, lightweight city essential. Made with a thick outsole, this sustainable footwear’s minimalist style will be easy to pair with any outfit.

With a simple and versatile design that allows the brand to continuously reduce waste, we also encourage you to have a look at their renowned outdoor footwear. Entirely vegan and free of virgin plastic, these weekend boots are worth the detour as well.

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Final Thoughts

We wanted to build a list made of slow fashion brands putting sustainability as a standard, not as a nice-to-have.

We wanted to show you that if you need a new pair of sneakers, there is a growing number of reliable, ethical brands that opt for recycled/recyclable materials, often combined with plant-based materials.

We hope that, just like us, you found the right match for your price range, whether you were looking for male, female, unisex, vegan, colorful, or understated designs.

If you are looking for a similar review on sustainable, ethical fashion brands creating beautiful underwear, or even more topic-related – socks -, well, we got you covered.

Resources

https://medium.com/modefica-global/recycled-pet-is-not-a-solution-for-sustainability-in-fashion-456d4049563c

https://rothys.com/blog/sustainability/articles/sustainable-fashion-is-more-than-a-statement

sustainable sneakers from Etiko
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