If you’re trying to live a more eco-friendly life, there are plenty of things you can do. From composting food scraps to cutting out paper towels and plastic bags, every little sustainable switch you make helps the planet. If you’re searching for another way to be green, look no further than your closet.
We’ve shown you how to shop for clothes sustainably, but you might be surprised to learn that one of the most wasteful things in your closet is actually your shoes. “Most shoes are a sandwich of environmentally harmful materials held together with toxic glues that last forever, and never go away,” says Elizabeth Cline, author of “The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good.” “Some shoe components take hundreds if not more than 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.”
Synthetic rubber, EVA foam, plastic, leather and a bevy of harsh chemicals are commonplace in the shoe industry, which is why finding new kicks made from sustainable materials is incredibly important. “Some eco-friendly footwear materials include [recyclable] or recycled content (which cuts down on virgin resource usage), as well as biodegradable or renewable content, whether it’s cotton canvas or natural rubber soles,” Cline says.
However, she emphasizes that materials aren’t the only thing you need to look at when shopping for shoes. “The shoes need to be made within a sustainable system too, namely in factories that conserve energy and water, don’t use or discharge any hazardous chemicals, and pay living wages and [are] sold by companies that have a commitment to the environment that goes beyond green marketing.”
That may sound like a daunting checklist to meet, but there are tons of brands out there that put sustainability first, and there are tools that make finding them easier than you think. “The truth is that the fashion industry is very complex and not transparent enough, making it difficult to get the nitty-gritty information you would need to feel comfortable about a purchase,” says Katrina Caspelich, the director of marketing for Remake, a nonprofit fighting to end fast fashion. Thankfully, Remake has a Sustainable Brand Directory, which lets you search your favorite brands to see how sustainable they are. Good On You is a similar site and breaks down a brand’s sustainability into three cateogires: planet, people and animals.
After verifying a shoe’s sustainability, you still have to ask yourself one more simple question: Do you actually like them? As Saskia van Gendt, head of sustainability at Rothy’s, explains, “Aside from low-impact materials like recycled plastics, the biggest thing consumers can consider is purchasing shoes that last in both style and quality that won’t be thrown away for next season’s trend.”
Caspelich echoes this: “By taking a moment to thoughtfully consider all purchases, we not only end up with shoes that reflect our taste and values, but we end up with less stuff, which also means less waste,” she says. “While shopping for eco-friendly shoes or not, it’s important to prioritize comfort. What good are shoes if you never wear them?”
There are tons of brands out there making a lot of eco-friendly claims, so to help narrow it down we asked our experts for their favorites and scoured the internet to find shoe brands that are trying to save the planet. Check out our list below for some of the comfiest, most stylish and, of course, most sustainable shoes out there.
“Thousand Fell’s chic white sneakers are made from entirely biodegradable and recyclable materials and they take their old shoes back for recycling, giving shoppers a discount on their next pair,” says Cline.
As Cline mentions, part of Thousand Fell’s appeal isn’t just that its shoes use sustainable materials such as natural and recycled rubber, castor beans, coconut husk and recycled water bottles, but also that you can send your old shoes back to the brand for free so they can turn them into a new pair. Plus, you get a $20 credit that you can use for some more sneakers. Check out some of the brand’s shoes below.
$145 at Thousand Fell
$120 at Thousand Fell
You can find the women’s version here.
“Rothy’s is rooted in the belief that things can be done differently, and that conventional practices are meant to be questioned,” says van Gendt. “At Rothy’s, we transform recycled water bottles into our signature rPET yarn, and pair the durable knit with algae-based foam, recycled TPU and other repurposed and natural materials to create products that are less harmful to the environment than traditional manufacturing materials.”
To turn water bottles into shoes, Rothy’s takes little flakes from single-use plastic bottles, presses those flakes into little beads, then transforms the beads into threads. Some models have a mix of this water bottle thread with merino wool, which is humanely harvested and crafted at a sustainable Italian mill.
Rothy’s doesn’t stop its sustainability there. The outer soles are made from either carbon-free rubber or vegan leather. The inner sole is also created with recycled foam, this time out of bio-based castor oil and other recycled materials. If you’re interested in shoes using alternative materials, check out some of our favorites from Rothy’s below.
$145 at Rothy's
$125 at Rothy's
$145 at Rothy's
Nisolo comes recommended by both Caspelich and Cline, and is one of the most transparent shoe brands we’ve found. “When it comes to worker well-being, Nisolo is doing everything right,” Caspelich says. “The company ensures a living wage for all of its makers, providing those who join the Nisolo factory a 47% increase in their earnings on average.”
Nisolo’s website has a deep dive into its sustainability, detailing its supply chain and the treatment of its workers. While its materials are all sourced sustainably, much of the website lays out statistics on how its workers are treated, and for good reason. At the Nisolo-owned factory in Trujilo, Peru, 100% of the team in the factory is Peruvian. As Caspelich mentions, on average those workers experience a 47% increase in earnings from their last jobs and for those who have been there three years or more, they’ve experienced a 152% earnings increase on average.
Nisolo is also a B Corporation, a certification with a strict set of standards that looks at a company’s entire social and environmental impact. Aside from making sure all its workers are paid fair wages and using sustainable materials, Nisolo also offers an “Ethical Marketplace,” a section on its site of handpicked products from like-minded, sustainable brands. Here are a few of our favorites from Nisolo’s handcrafted shoes below.
$160 $119 at Nisolo
$150 at Nisolo
$200 at Nisolo
$130 at Nisolo
Veja is another shoe brand recommended by Caspelich, and it’s transparent enough to show a full look at the company’s practices here on its own website. “Labeling their company philosophy as a ‘project,’ Veja is not only a super-cute sneaker company, but they’re serious about knowing who grew the cotton, tapped the rubber and stitched your shoes together,” says Caspelich.
The brand focuses on using organic, raw materials and fair trade to make high-quality shoes without any shortcuts. Veja claims it costs five times more to make its shoes than traditional counterparts because of all these steps, but the end result is a beautiful shoe that’s also good for the planet.
The company is also pushing the boundaries by using alternative materials such as B-Mesh (created from plastic bottles), fish leather and more. While the company is doing many things to make its shoes friendlier for the planet, it admits there’s room for improvement. If you dig Veja’s shoes, check out a few we love below.
From $150 at Nordstrom
$180 at Nordstrom
“Salt + Umber sells eco-luxe slides and sandals that give back to its supply chain, in particular the female artisans who hand-weave the brand’s accessories,” Caspelich says.
On top of this, Salt + Umber uses small-batch, sustainable manufacturing processes and recycled materials as often as possible. You can read more about the brand’s sustainability efforts here, and check out some of its shoes below.
$109 at Anthropologie
Cariuma prides itself on sourcing its raw materials extremely responsibly, and even has detailed descriptions of where each material comes from on its website. Cariuma ensures all its cotton is fair trade, its rubber is tapped from trees without harming them and any and all leather the company uses meets strict standards. Plus, the brand uses recycled plastic bottles to make the laces, labels, uppers and threads of its shoes.
Cariuma carries on its commitment to reducing its environmental impact even after the shoe is made. It makes sure to package the shoes in materials that are 100% recycled and recyclable. Its packaging suppliers are all certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit that sets standards for responsible forest management. Cariuma puts the environment high on its priority list, and even plants two trees in the Brazilian Rainforest for every pair of shoes sold.
Many of these shoe brands are packaged in more or less sustainable materials (nothing is worse than researching the most eco-friendly shoes for them to show up wrapped in plastic!), but one thing Cariuma does that many other brands don’t is purchase carbon offsets for every single shoe it ships. That means the shipping and transportation of all Cariuma products is 100% carbon neutral. Take a little environmental dread off your shoulders and check out some Cariuma shoes below.
$79 at Cariuma
$98 at Cariuma
$89 at Cariuma
Everlane is one of our favorite sustainable clothing brands, with a wide selection of stylishly sustainable shoes and sneakers. The brand has several models of sneakers, including the Court and the Forever Sneaker (check out our full review of the sneaker here.) The Court is made from full-grain leather from a tannery that is Gold Certified from the Leather Working Group. The sole consists of a blend of natural and recycled rubber that’s 94.2% free of virgin plastic, with a lining made from 100% recycled polyester.
The Forever Sneaker — which has a slip-on version for men and a platform version for women — is fully recyclable, and you can drop off your used pair at any Everlane store or ship them to the brand for recycling.
Aside from sneakers, Everlane makes tons of other fancier shoes for women, including heels, loafers, boots and more. While the brand’s sustainable shoe options are impressive, its transparency is even more impressive. No matter the shoe (or product, for that matter), you can easily click to a page with details about the factory it was made in. You can then determine if the products are up to your own standards. Below are some of our favorite picks from Everlane we think you’ll love.
$65 at Everlane
$110 at Everlane
$130 at Everlane
We absolutely love Allbirds. The trendy, internet-famous shoes are incredibly comfortable and look great. But did you know they’re environmentally conscious too? All the materials that go into these super-cozy shoes are sustainably sourced and much better for the environment than their traditional counterparts. The merino wool, for example, comes from ethically farmed and raised sheep, because happy sheep means happy feet.
The foam in Allbirds’ soles are made from sugarcane, the laces are made from recycled bottles and even the eyelets are constructed from bio-TPU, a microorganism that eats plant sugars. For the shoes not made of other materials, Allbirds uses fibers responsibly taken from eucalyptus trees. The company is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, so there’s no need to worry about deforestation when buying these cozy sneakers. If you want to learn more about Allbirds, read our review here, or check out some of our top picks below.
$110 at Allbirds
$105 at Allbirds
$110 at Allbirds
Adidas is a huge name in the shoe industry, which is why it means so much that the athletic brand is taking initiative in making eco-conscious shoes. Its Adidas x Parley collection creates shoes using plastic trash cleaned from remote beaches and coastal communities. Parley cleans plastic from polluted areas, then sends the cleaned materials to Adidas where it’s formed and spun into “Ocean Plastic,” a high-performance yarn that’s used in a wide variety of shoes, shirts and tights. Each piece in the collection is made with at least 75% trash picked up from the ocean.