Leather-free sneakers have gone mainstream, and the best ones are coming from luxury brands now offering sustainable options for every look. From the runway to the streets, sneakers are definitely in.
A great pair of sneakers is the key to any good wardrobe. Not only are they extremely versatile, pairing with pretty much anything in your closet, but they are also the best way to walk around in comfort. It is no wonder they have replaced the stilettos of seasons past.
However, sneakers aren’t traditionally known for their sustainable features, most being made from polyester or leather. But a new wave of shoes making the rounds are changing that. Made with eco-friendly materials from bio-based textiles to recycled polyester and even cactus leather. The sneakers of the 21st century are flashing their sustainability without compromising their style.
What makes a sneaker sustainable?
Since there’s no regulation on the term sustainable, it can be a difficult metric to quantify. But there are some core considerations when shopping for sustainable sneakers.
First up: leather. Derived from animals including cows, kangaroo, and buffalo, along with more exotic skins like crocodile, alligator, or snake, leather is a leading contributor to climate change. Livestock production accounts for about 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. It also brings a whole host of ethical issues, unlike vegan leather, which can be derived from plants, fungi, and synthetic materials.
Other considerations include upper materials, which can be virgin plastic-based nylon or polyester if not leather. The soles can also be made from unsustainable materials such as polyurethane and synthetic foams. Laces too can come from GMO cotton or plastics.
The best rule of thumb is to look for shoes that clearly identify the source materials and practices that go into the shoes.
Some shoes are now touting biodegradability — meaning the shoes break down just like organic matter leaving no trace. Just be sure to read the fine print, here. Are all materials biodegradable or just part of the shoe?
And when it comes to end of life, most all shoes can be recycled—at least in part. But don’t throw them in your blue bin. You’ll need to send those old kicks back to the manufacturer or look for stores offering takeback or buyback programs. Sometimes there’s even an incentive for the consumer such as a discount on your next purchase.
The best sustainable luxury sneakers
The luxury footwear market is experiencing a stampede of sustainable offerings. And they’re well worth the spend. Not only are you getting a stylish pair of luxury shoes, but the combination of high-quality materials and craftsmanship along with knowing they’re made with sustainable and ethical materials make these sneakers worthy of wearing virtually everywhere.
1. Adidas x Stella McCartney Earthlight Sneakers
Stella McCartney is known as a leader in the sustainable fashion space and her partnership with Adidas is just as sustainable. These Earthlight Sneakers are made with 100 percent recycled polyester that comes from ocean plastic.
2. Adidas Stan Smiths
The Adidas Stan Smith sneaker is iconic. They have been around since 1971, and while their style remains untouched, the materials are new and improved. Made with a series of recycled materials, the upper features at least 50 percent recycled content in a quest to help end plastic waste.
3. Valentino Open for Change Sneaker
Another newcomer to the sustainable sneaker game, Valentino has reimagined its fan-favorite sneakers with sustainable materials. The sneakers, made ethically in Italy, are crafted from a combination of polyurethane and sustainable viscose.
4. Gucci Bananya Rhyton Sneaker
Gucci’s traditional Rhyton Sneakers takes an eco turn with the brand’s Demetra textile. It is crafted from animal-free raw materials which primarily come from sustainable, renewable, and bio-based sources. Crafted with the same processes used for tanning crates a sustainable material that is pliable and resilient.
5. Prada Wheel Re-Nylon High-Top
Prada has set out to remove all virgin plastic from its supply chain, opting for its in-house Re-Nylon material instead. These high-top sneakers are crafted solely from this Re-Nylon in the brand’s sleek, high-top style. Pair them with everything from jeans to dresses for an instant outfit upgrade.
6. Veja White Cobalt Butter Sole
Veja knows how to craft a beautiful sneaker so it’s no surprise they are a celeb fave. Its line includes sleek white kicks, trendy high-tops, and even athletic tennies. These high-tops are made with an upper crafted from organic cotton and covered in resin from corn and castor oil. The V logo is made of rubber and rice waste, the laces are 100 percent organic cotton and the inner lining is a combination of organic cotton and recycled polyester.
7. Cariuma Knit Slip-On
You’ll be able to walk for days in the knit slip-on from Cariuma. Crafted from sustainably harvested bamboo and recycled plastics and ultra-comfortable. The insole is made from removable lightweight memory, cork, and Mamona oil. The green EVA on the outsole is crafted from sugarcane.
8. Saye Modelo ‘89
Saye is on a quest to become a zero-waste brand by using all bio-based and recycled materials. All of its shoes are made in certified Fair Labor factories. It also works towards fighting deforestation by empowering local communities, planting 2 trees for each sneaker sold (200,000 trees and counting). Its Modelo ‘89 has a carbon footprint of nearly 54 percent less than the average sneaker.
9. AVRE Swift Icon
Every pair of shoes from AVRE’s collection is made from 8-10 recycled bottles, collected from our oceans. This innovative material not only helps clean up our plastic problem but the material is also moisture-wicking and provides incredible flexibility to these sneakers. Its insole is made from Bloom, which is a new material made from algae. The foam helps to remove harmful algae to reverse the effects of water pollution and rising global temperatures by restoring healthy ecosystems and generating clean water.
10. Ella and Witt Goodall II
These eye-catching sneakers are made from corn leather. The plant-based leather is crafted from corn waste and recycled PET bottles. The lining is also corn leather with a cellulose backing. The material is naturally antibacterial, breathable, and absorbs moisture. The shoelaces are 100 percent compostable Tencel.
11. NAE Edda Sneakers
NAE is known for its incredible animal-free shoe range. All its shoes are made in ethical Portuguese factories. The entire collection is also made from a range of sustainable materials including cork, pineapple leaves, recycled airbags, and plastic bottles. The Edda Sneaker is crafted with sustainable vegan leather and lined with 100 percent recyclable OEKO-TEX Certified microfiber.
What if one shoe worked for nearly every occasion? That’s the premise behind the sustainable All-Dai Shoe from Munjoi. The versatile shoe, which can be worn four different ways: as a sneaker, sandal, mule, or open-toe sneaker. Munjoi has calculated the greenhouse gas emissions for its All-Dai at 5.87 kg of CO2. The company says it offset emissions for each shoe, rendering them climate neutral. It does not specify if that includes Scope 3 emissions.
“Our closets and travel bags are full of too many shoes,” Patrick Hogan, CEO and founder of Munjoi, Inc, said in a statement. Prior to launching Munjoi in 2020, Hogan created global, performance sneakers for leading brands including New Balance amd Saucony. “It took me more than two years to develop a comfortable, stylish, sustainable shoe that gave people multiple footwear options at the ready,” Hogan says. “Focusing on thoughtful design and materials, my goal was to give consumers a more versatile, eco-friendly shoe they’d really want to wear.”
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