How Ethical Is Vans? - Good On You
vans shoes on a desk
14 Apr
vans shoes on a desk

How Ethical Is Vans?

When it comes to sneakers, one iconic brand has been quietly conquering fans all over the world: Vans. Founded in 1966 in California by Paul Van Doren, James Van Doren, and Gordon C. Lee, Vans (now owned by VF Corporation) became a favourite with skaters, who liked the heavy, sticky soles and how comfortable they were. Vans has over half a century under its belt, but how does this legendary brand impact on people, the planet, and animals? We ask: how ethical is Vans?

You don’t have to be a skater to wear Vans, thanks to the streetwear trend that has stuck around since the 90s. Vans are worn by the likes of Kanye West, Rihanna, and Pharrell Williams, and the brand also collaborates with artists such as Led Zeppelin and released four pairs of David Bowie-branded shoes. Vans even went viral in 2019 thanks to the “Vans Challenge” that saw the thrown shoes always landing upright. The brand make headlines again that same year for a less quirky reason: it faced a boycott in Hong Kong after it removed a shoe alluding to the city’s anti-government protests from a sneaker design competition, stating it has “never taken a political position”, which is a curious comment from a brand with roots in rebellious youth culture! Trivia aside, let’s take a closer look at how Vans rates across the board.

Environmental Impact

Vans is making little progress for the planet. The brand uses few eco-friendly materials in its products, and doesn’t appear to minimise textile waste or packaging. While it has set an absolute target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations and supply chain, there is no evidence it is on track to meet its target. For all these reasons, we rated Vans’ environmental impact ‘Not Good Enough’.

Labour Conditions

Based on our own research and the brand’s Fashion Transparency Index score of 51-60%, Vans labour rating is also ‘Not Good Enough’. Disappointingly, none of its supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights, which are fundamental to a good score here. It does publish some information about suppliers and their policies and audits, as well as some information about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association. However, this step towards transparency isn’t enough to make up for the questionable conditions of Vans’ workers across the supply chain.

Animal Welfare

Vans still uses leather, as well as down that’s accredited by the Responsible Down Standard. It states that it sources wool from non-mulesed sheep and it doesn’t use fur, angora, or other exotic animal skin or hair. It has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms and traces some animal products to the first stage of production. These first steps mean an ‘It’s A Start’ rating for animal welfare, but there is still much room for improvement.

Overall Rating: It’s A Start

So, how ethical is Vans? Based on information from own research, we rated Vans ‘It’s A Start’ overall. The brand needs to strengthen its environmental practices by setting targets and using more environmentally-friendly materials. It also needs to improve its labour conditions by implementing worker empowerment initiatives, but more importantly by making sure workers are paid a decent living wage!

Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

Whether you’re a skater or not, the Good On You team has found some ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ alternatives to Vans.

Good Swaps

Sustainable alternatives to Vans

CARIUMA

Rated: Good
yellow sustainable skate shoes by Cariuma brand

Offers

brown shoes by cariuma

CARIUMA – Men’s Sneakers

Discover CARIUMA's high quality, low impact sneakers: like walking barefoot in the grass, but better. $15 off men's sneakers with code GOODONYOU. (Ends: 31 JUL)

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pink shoes for women by cariuma

CARIUMA – Women’s Sneakers

Better for people and the planet: these sneakers are designed to be sustainable, comfortable, and timeless. $15 off women's sneakers with code GOODONYOU. (Ends: 31 JUL)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU
Shop now

CARIUMA is a sustainable Brazilian sneaker brand that wants you to feel super comfortable while providing effortless style in organic canvas, leather, and suede styles. Find CARIUMA's shoes in US sizes 5-13.

See the rating.

Shop CARIUMA.

Etiko

Rated: Great
person wearing blue and white ethical sneakers by Etiko

Etiko is an Australian designer of organic, eco-friendly, and fair trade clothing and shoes. The brand constantly set sthe bar for upholding and campaigning the human rights of people working in traditionally exploitative industry supply chains. Find the clothes in AU sizes 8-20, and the shoes in UK sizes 3-13.

See the rating.

Shop Etiko.

NAE

Rated: Good

NAE is a Portuguese footwear, bags, and accessories brand using innovative materials to create goods with “No Animal Exploitation”. Its sustainable materials include recycled PET from bottles, OEKO-TEX® certified microfibres, recycled car tyres, natural cork, recycled thermoplastic, and even pineapple leaf fibre! Find most of the shoes in sizes 36 to 46.

See the rating.

Shop NAE.

Shop NAE @ Staiy.

Womsh @ COMOVITA

Rated: Good
womsh sustainable sneaker brand

Fashion and sustainability can go together and Womsh is the footwear brand that proves it. Their sneakers are entirely designed and manufactured in Italy.

See the rating.

Shop Womsh @ COMOVITA.

Bourgeois Boheme

Rated: Good
A woman with green patent brogues sits on a white box.

London-based vegan footwear brand for men women featuring classics with a contemporary twist.

See the rating.

Shop Bourgeois Boheme.

We love these sustainable brands listed above, but they may not meet your specific needs right now. Maybe they’re out of your price range, or don’t stock your size. If you really need something and a product from Vans is the best option, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying it! ‘It’s A Start’ means just that—the brand is making a start. Vans is already ahead of comparable brands, and if your options are Vans or a brand that is making little to no effort for people, the planet, and animals, Vans is a clear winner. Progress over perfection!

You can also reach out to brands who you think need a little nudge in the right direction. If enough customers demand change, brands that truly care about their impact will have no choice but to respond in kind. Check out the ‘Your Voice’ function on the app or slide into their DMs on social media to let them know what you think.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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