The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Sneakers - Good On You
ultimate guide to sustainable sneakers
29 May
ultimate guide to sustainable sneakers

The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Sneakers

Sneakers have always maintained their status as a staple piece. Rain, snow, or shine, a versatile pair of sneakers is a seasonless closet favorite, giving a simple, everyday look a little more mainstream clout. Unlike our functional running or gym shoes, which stay on our shelves for a few years, ‘trend’ sneakers are replaced more often. Looking back, we’ve ogled over so many different sneaker trends from Adidas, chunky Filas, retro-style Stan Smiths, to fresh-fitting Nike Airs. But we know a lot of these brands are far from ethical, so what about sustainable sneakers?

A product of the fast fashion industry, consumers are trained to run out to buy a new pair of sneakers as soon as the previous trend has lost its momentum. But investing in a pair of ethical, good quality shoes and learning how to take care of them is ultimately more sustainable, both for the planet and for your bank account. But we understand that even sneakers made to last have a lifespan⁠—so when your shoes cannot handle another mile, consider donating them to Soles4Souls or Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe Program, which eliminates waste and gives new life to an “old” product. 

Over the years, shoe companies have become notorious for bad environmental and labour practices, injecting toxic dyes into the Earth and paying unlivable wages to workers in their supply chains. This is why it’s so important that we’ve found brands that are setting new standards and helping consumers align their values with their consumption patterns.

Here’s the lowdown on the trail-blazers that are prioritizing people, the planet, and animals.

Ecoalf

Rated: Good
grey sustainable ecoalf sneakers

‘Bora Basic’ Sneaker – Ships internationally from Spain

Love the look and feel of Nike Free Runs but hate the brand’s unethical practices? Look no further! Spanish fashion label Ecoalf makes lightweight trainers from recycled PET bottles and renewable Sonora fibres. Their shoes have all the good qualities of Nikes and none of the bad. Ecoalf creates high-quality, long-lasting products by repurposing waste such as fishing nets, old tires, and even coffee grounds, into high-quality materials. While most of their shoes are animal-free, they do use recycled wool and down in some products.

See the rating.

Shop Ecoalf.

Veja

Rated: Good
white veja v10 sneakers

‘Black V Sneakers’ – Ships internationally from France

Made in Brazil from recycled cotton and wild rubber, these practical sneakers from French Brand Veja are perfect for pairing with your favorite pair of jeans. Veja pays their co-operative cotton growers and rubber tappers between 30% and 100% above the world market price. By not advertising, they are able to invest more money into strengthening their ethical practices. While it has vegan options, the brand also uses leather from Brazil but it has a policy to avoid leather from cattle farms in the Amazon.

See the rating.

Shop Veja.

Etiko

Rated: Great
white low cut etiko sneakers

Low Cut Sneakers White – Ships internationally from Australia

Etiko is a small family owned business that has won several sustainability awards and all products are vegan and Fairtrade certified. The Australian brand produces ethical hi-top and low-cut sneakers in a range of colors to suit any style or outfit.

See the rating.

Shop Etiko.

Po Zu

Rated: Good
black po-zu sustainable sneakers

Sneak Black Apple Skin – Ships internationally from the UK

Po Zu makes sure their shoes are healthy for your feet by carefully selecting ethically sourced and natural materials. The brand also uses GOTS certified cotton and reduces its carbon footprint by manufacturing its products locally. Bonus point for the Star Wars collection, channelling the sustainable and ethical fashion Jedi in us. Despite an extensive vegan collection, the brand does also use leather without specifying its sources.

See the rating.

Shop Po Zu.

NAE

Rated: Good
man wearing nae sneakers

Edda Maxi Sole Sneaker – Ships internationally from Portugal

NAE is a Portuguese footwear brand using innovative materials to create shoes with “No Animal Exploitation.” Its sustainable shoe materials include recycled PET from bottles, OEKO-TEX® certified microfibres, recycled car tires, natural cork, recycled thermoplastic, and even pineapple leaf fibre! NAE also lines its stylish sneakers with materials made via a carbon-neutral manufacturing system. Bonus, it’s a 100% vegan brand!

See the rating.

Shop NAE.

Flamingo’s Life

Rated: Good
white flamingo's life sneakers

Roland V.3 Snow Ivory – Ships to Europe from Spain

Flamingo’s Life creates sneakers for men and women 100% animal-free. The brand uses eco-friendly and PETA vegan approved materials, including upcycled materials.

See the rating.

Shop Flamingo’s Life.

Allbirds

Rated: Good
light green allbirds sneakers

Women’s Tree Runners in Succulent – Ships internationally from the US

Allbirds is a San Francisco-based startup that looks to Mother Nature as their muse. They use a variety of eco-friendly, innovative materials including TENCEL™ Lyocell which uses 95% less water than traditional cotton and cuts their carbon footprint in half. The brand also transforms sustainably sourced sugarcane to create their SweetFoam™ shoe sole and eucalyptus tree fibers and a handful of ZQ Merino wool to create their Trino™ yarn, so keep in mind the shoes aren’t vegan-friendly. Allbirds is Forest Stewardship Council® certified meaning they responsibly source these materials, meeting strict standards to protect forests, animals, and the people who depend on them.

See the rating.

Shop Allbirds.

Stella McCartney

Rated: Good
neon yellow stella mccartney sneakers

Loop-Lace Up Sneakers – Ships internationally from the UK

Although many luxury brands have been criticised for their wasteful and harmful practices, British designer Stella McCartney has been committed to operating a modern and responsible business for almost two decades. Since 2012, the brand has been creating sneakers out of recycled polyester, repurposing plastic waste, and using 50% less energy than virgin polyester. The brand has an overall emphasis on reducing waste across its entire supply chain and is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). While a lot of the brand’s products are vegan, keep an eye out for wool and cashmere in some cases.

See the rating.

Shop Stella McCartney.

Womsh

Rated: Good
white choose the change womsh sneakers

Vegan Snik White Silver – Ships internationally from Italy

“Womsh” is an acronym for Word of Mouth Shoes, referring to shoes that communicate and convey a message of sustainability and respect for the environment. In 2014, the Italian brand began producing sustainable footwear, combining traditional craftsmanship with ethical production. Their effortless and fresh design fuse Stan Smith and Golden Goose making a statement without ever saying a word. The brand created Bianca— a metal-free tanned leather that guarantees safety for people’s health and the environment. By using non-toxic raw materials Womsh limits the production of hazardous waste and harmful emissions. While not entirely vegan, the brand does boast an extensive animal-free line.

See the rating.

Shop Womsh.

Shop Womsh @ Comovita.

Alice + Whittles

Rated: Great
black and white Alice + Whittles sneakers

Minimalist Black + White Luxa Sneaker – Ships internationally from Canada

Although typically known for their wonderfully conventional and minimalist rain boot, Alice + Whittles has done it again and created another timeless essential made with just as much sustainable love. Their Luxa sneaker is handmade in a family run factory in Portugal from the scraps of post-industrial car seat leather. The brand traces every step of its supply chain and ensures payment of a living wage so you can always walk with ease. There are options for the vegans out there, too, who would rather avoid leather completely!

See the rating.

Shop Alice + Whittles.

Elk

Rated: Good
light pink sneakers by elk

Light Pink Vikran Sneakers – Ships internationally from Australia

A pioneer of independent Australian design, Elk was founded in Melbourne in 2004. Elk creates bi-annual collections that are informed by a design ethos where simplicity and sustainability meets innovation. Although their sneakers are not vegan and made from cow leather, their tanneries are audited by the Leather Working Group. The brand uses some eco-friendly materials including organic cotton to line their soles. Elk uses renewable energy in its supply chain and reuses most of its offcuts to minimize textile waste. Like its tanneries, Elk’s facilities are audited and follows a Code of Conduct that covers all the ILO’S Four Fundamental Freedoms principles.

See the rating.

Shop Elk.

soleRebels

Rated: Good
dark green ethical sneakers by solerebels

Urban Runner – Ships internationally from Ethiopia

soleRebels showcases Ethiopian artisan talents with the traditional ‘barabasso’ (Ethiopian recycled tire) shoe. By ethically employing dozens of talented artists, the brand is able to provide medical benefits and education funds for employees and their families, offering wages 3 times the industry average. In addition to recycled car tires, the brand’s styles incorporate sustainable materials such as hand-loomed organic cotton fabrics, Abyssinian hemp, and pure Abyssinian koba. All of their shoes are hand-crafted and infused with Ethopian culture and heritage. Note the brand does use leather in some designs.

See the rating.

Shop soleRebels.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good
woman wearing white whimsy + row sustainable sneakers

Vagabond Zoe Sneaker in White – Ships internationally from the US

Whimsy + Row is an eco-conscious lifestyle brand founded in 2014 and based in West LA. Birthed out of a love for quality made goods and sustainable practices, their mission is to provide ease and elegance for the modern, creative woman. Made in limited run batches in LA, their products are handcrafted under ethical conditions using locally sourced deadstock textiles and materials such as linen, viscose, tencel and rayon which biodegrade faster and use substantially less water to create. Their first go at a sneaker is nothing short of their contemporary lines, seemingly classic and timeless in its lace-up style. Although their animal rating is ‘good’ the brand does use silk and leather.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Rothy’s

Rated: Good
woman wearing beige sneakers by ethical brand rothy's

Sand Sneakers – Ships internationally from the US

Rothy’s is a San Francisco based vegan brand that crafts effortless and sustainable styles that are inspired by and made for remarkable modern women. The brand uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials including repurposed plastic water bottles and bio-based algae. They also use low impact dyes and water-based glue in their shoe products. The brand fully owns and operates its production workshop in Dongguan, China, tracing every step of its supply chain and continually striving for zero waste.

See the rating.

Shop Rothy’s.

LANIUS

Rated: Good
chrome free colourful leather sneakers from sustainable brand LANIUS

Sneaker in Night Blue – Ships within Europe from Germany

“Love Fashion, Think Organic, Be Responsible” are the maxims of LANIUS. It uses eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton. All LANIUS facilities are SA8000 certified and it is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation. These sneakers are made from chrome-free vegetal tanned leather, so not one for the vegans!

See the rating.

Shop LANIUS.

So there you have it! A whole host of sustainable sneakers that will match your values⁠—and your outfit⁠—for many years to come.

Concerned about your carbon footprint when buying from overseas? Your questions are answered in our guide to international shipping.

Editor's note

Feature image via Whimsy + Row, 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 2,500 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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