18 May

How Ethical Is Vibram?

Vibram’s toe shoes skyrocketed in popularity amongst outdoor enthusiasts, but “We Avoid” the brand for its lack of robust ethics and sustainability across the board. And maybe also for the questionable aesthetics.

Vibram isn’t quite toeing the line

If you’re in the running scene, you’ve likely heard of (or even tried) the infamous “toe shoes”, designed to mimic barefoot running. Perhaps the most well-known brand offering “FiveFingers Shoes” is US-based Vibram. Toe shoes are likely poor for your health when running, not to mention aesthetically questionable—but how does Vibram specifically treat people, the planet, and animals in production? How sustainable and ethical is Vibram? Let’s jump in—in better-looking footwear, please.

Environmental impact

For a brand that has an entire section of its website dedicated to “the sustainable way to a careful footprint”, Vibram isn’t taking enough steps to tackle its environmental impact. Rated “Not Good Enough” for the planet, the only positive we can see is that Vibram uses some renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact. But when you’re producing hundreds of styles made from unsustainable, plastic-based materials, there’s only so much renewable energy can do.

Vibram does not use eco-friendly materials, and there is no evidence it minimises textile waste. It also doesn’t appear to have a policy to protect biodiversity in its supply chain. There’s a long way to go before Vibram could be called sustainable, but we’re curious to see where its “Sustainable Way” project leads.

Labour conditions

Unfortunately, things are only looking worse when it comes to labour conditions, for which the brand gets our lowest score of “Very Poor”.

While Vibram states it has a Code of Conduct, it doesn’t publicly share it, which is a misstep in the era of transparency. There is no evidence it has worker empowerment initiatives such as collective bargaining or rights to make a complaint, nor does it appear to audit its supply chain. Worst of all, we found no sign the brand ensures payment of a living wage to its workers.

Step up for people, Vibram.

Animal welfare

Vibram is also “Not Good Enough” for animals. While the brand doesn’t use fur, down, angora, or exotic animal skin, it does use leather and wool without stating sources. We found no evidence of a policy to minimise animal suffering, nor that the brand traces animal products even to the first production stage.

Overall rating: We Avoid

So, how sustainable and ethical is Vibram? Overall, we have rated Vibram our lowest possible score of “We Avoid” to reflect its lack of concrete action across the three key areas of people, the planet, and animals. Vibram could start by being more transparent about its policies and progress, work towards paying a living wage across its supply chain, and consider animal welfare for the animal-based materials in its footwear.

See the rating.

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.

Okay, we may not have a direct sustainable swap for toe shoes, but these brands create sneakers and running shoes with values and practices worth a spot on your shoe rack.

Good swaps

“Good”, “Great”, and second hand alternatives to Vibram

ID.EIGHT

Rated: Good

ID.EIGHT is an Italian brand that was born from the meeting between Dong Seon Lee and Giuliana Borzillo, both come from the world of footwear, where they worked and met. Together they have created a more ethical and sustainable collection of sneakers with a refined design. The shoes are made in Italy with low environmental impact materials from food industry waste such as apple peels, grape stalks and seeds, and pineapple leaves, as well as recycled cotton and polyester. Find the shoes in EU sizes 36-46.

See the rating.

Shop ID.EIGHT.

COG

Rated: Good
White sneakers with navy blue branding by COG.

Based in France, COG is a footwear label that creates sustainable, vegan sneakers from 100% recycled materials, including natural corks, used cotton scraps, end-of-life rubber, and plastic bottles fished out of the sea. Find sizes in EU 35-46.

See the rating.

Shop COG.

Veja

Rated: Good

Veja is a French brand designing ecological and fair trade footwear, and is also a sustainable fashion pioneer. The brand uses eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton and vegetable-tanned leather! Veja pays its co-operative cotton growers and rubber tappers between 30% and 100% above the world market price. By not advertising, Veja is able to invest more money into strengthening its ethical practices. You can find Veja shoes in women's EU sizes 35-46, and men's 35-47.

See the rating.

Shop Veja.

Shop Veja @ LVR Sustainable.

Shop Veja @ thegreenlabels.

Shop Veja @ Outerknown.

Shop Veja @ Threads 4 Thought.

Shop Veja Kids second hand @ Retykle.

Ecoalf

Rated: Good

Thanks to recycled materials like rescued ocean plastic, Ecoalf creates sustainable fashion with the same quality, design, and technical properties as the best non-recycled ones. Find the range in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Ecoalf @ Farfetch.

Shop Ecoalf.

Wildling

Rated: Good

Wildling is a German footwear brand that encourages novice and experienced walkers alike to rediscover pleasant, natural walking. Find the shoes in EU sizes 36 to 48.

See the rating.

Shop Wildling.

LUNGE

Rated: Good

LUNGE is a German sports brand that has been bringing expert running retailers and ambitious athletes together for more than 40 years, creating excellent and healthy shoes.

See the rating.

Shop LUNGE.

Nike (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start

Nike is an American sportswear and activewear manufacturer. The brand has good policies to audit suppliers in its supply chain, but it is not taking adequate steps to ensure payment of a living wage for its workers. By buying Nike second hand you're helping keep clothes out of landfills and helping protect workers by slowing down the fast fashion cycle and the relentless demands on low-paid workers in the supply chain.

See the rating.

Shop Nike Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Adidas (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start

Adidas is one of the largest sportswear makers in the world. The company has set some good environmental and labour standards, including an absolute target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations.

See the rating.

Shop Adidas Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

 

Editor's note

Feature image via Vibram, 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 thousands of rated brands. We may earn a commission on sales with top-rated partners made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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