Sneakers are big business. In 2018, the global trainers market was valued at approximately US$58bn with a forecast of US$88bn by 2024. But this hype driven market is also incredibly wasteful.
Did you know that more than 23 billion pairs of sneakers are produced every year? Think of all the materials that go into making these sneakers, which on average will last us less than a year before they get tossed out and end up in landfill.
Sneakers have a high carbon footprint due to the materials used and the numerous manufacturing processes they go through to produce all the different components. They are shaped by energy-intensive processes such as injection moulding, foaming, and heating, and then bound together with environmentally damaging chemical solvents. Most new trainers are made from plastic, synthetic rubber, and other petroleum derived materials, not to mention leather.
More than 1 billion animals are killed around the world for the leather trade every year. From raising the cattle (resource intensive with a huge land and water footprint), to leather tanning—which involves numerous toxic chemicals resulting in water and soil pollution— leather comes at a high cost to humans, planet and animals. Much too high for a pair of sneakers which you will only toss out in a year.
As ethics and sustainability become ever pressing issues in fashion, sneakers are under increasing scrutiny. Here are eight brands that go the extra mile in sustainability and deliver great design, from technical running shoes to casual kicks.
This B-Corp certified brand based in San Francisco is touted as making the world’s most comfortable shoe. Founded by a New Zealand soccer star and a clean-technology entrepreneur, Allbirds have made reducing carbon emissions part of their goal from the outset. They've replaced synthetic materials with recycled and renewable materials; sneakers use traceable certified non-muelsed merino wool or a cooling textile made from eucalyptus pulp; and they also employ the world's first sugarcane carbon-neutral EVA foam. In-soles are made from castor beans, shoes all sport a clean, minimal design, and they are machine washable. Plus, they're so comfy you don't even need socks. Choose from running sneakers or casual styles favoured by the Silicon Valley techies.
This Swedish brands uses sustainable and recycled materials like pineapple leaves and recycled plastic ocean trash as well as renewable materials like hemp for their men's and women's shoes. And they're certified 100% vegan. Humans Are Vain have pioneered new developments in sustainable materials and production methods with several projects currently running including biodegradable 3D-printed footwear and 3D printed sneakers made from textile waste. The brand also operate a circular economy so all their products can be fully recycled at end of life.
Made with organic cotton and wild rubber from the Amazonian forest, and handmade in Brazil, Veja creates stylish looks that are socially conscious as well as classic. For its vegan collection Veja upcycles materials such as recycled cotton and polyester, plastic bottles, and corn waste to create a vegan leather that is biodegradable. They've also teamed up with Rick Owens for a cool running trainer that's a blend of wool and recycled plastic bottles. All sneakers are made through Atelier Sans Frontières, an organization that hires people who would otherwise be excluded from the labour market and helps them develop a career path. Cool, ethical and environmentally friendly.
As the name suggests, this company uses no new materials in the manufacturing of their sneakers. Nothing New makes its sneaker uppers and laces out of recycled post-consumer plastic and its heel counters from 100 percent post-industrial recycled fishing nets, while recycled rubber and cork are used for its outsoles. Each pair of Nothing New shoes is made using the equivalent of 5.6 plastic water bottles, and the production of the sneakers also saves more than 160 gallons of water compared to regular canvas sneakers.
This Aussie footwear brand uses the skin of fruit —Piñatex made from pineapple, and Appleskin from apples—to make stylish unisex shoes, as well as recycled polyester, which is made from post-consumer plastic water bottles. Some of No Saints' designs use vegan microfiber leather which is indistinguishable from the 'real thing' but is 5 times more durable and 50 percent lighter. They have six casual sneaker styles named after celebrities committed to veganism: there’s Ruby (Rose); Miley (well, you know); a gold pair for Pamela (Andersen) and Joaquin (Phoenix).
Ecoalf creates sustainable sneakers using recycled materials such as fishing nets, plastic bottles, tires and even post-consumer waste. Sneaker fabric is made from used plastic bottles taken from the Mediterranean seabed and soles are manufactured using seaweed. 60% marine litter, 100% sustainable, maximum comfort! They have a range of lace-up and slip on trainers as well as casual sneakers.
Growing up as a vegan kid in the ‘90s there wasn’t much choice of vegan footwear, except for Converse Chuck Taylor canvas sneakers. These timeless sneakers were a staple, and remain so to this day. The brand has moved with the times adding a more sustainable collection to its line. Using 100% recycled plastic bottles and waste cotton to make up its canvas upper, the Renew Collection is the latest example of its commitment to produce more carefully. The shoes are also fully customisable, so, all black everything thanks.
Stella McCartney teamed up with Adidas for a vegan riff on the popular Stan Smith sneakers, but the brand has also created its own sustainable and recyclable sneaker. Loop sneakers have a detachable chunky sole that is stitched together using an eco-friendly thread to attach to the upper part of the trainer, and each part is recyclable at the end of its life. Available in a wide range of colours.