Woman sitting on closet floor surrounded by many shoe choices.
August 1, 2023
 in 
Slow Fashion

Fashion for the Future: 8 Sustainable Shoe Brands with Timeless Elegance

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here’s no doubt about it – shopping for footwear can be an addictive hobby. Presented with rows of gorgeous heels and stylish sneakers, many of us enjoy stocking up on the latest fashions. However, regularly purchasing new shoes comes at an environmental cost. As well as guzzling significant amounts of energy and raw materials such as rubber, leather, and synthetic fibers, the shoe industry produces heaps of waste. Many manufacturers produce low-cost shoes that aren’t built to last, adding to landfills and polluting the environment.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. Even the most committed eco-warriors can indulge in guilt-free, elegant footwear thanks to the rise of sustainable fashion. An increasing number of shoe brands are designing and manufacturing durable footwear using eco-friendly materials and sustainable production processes. These shoes aren’t disposable items designed for a couple of wears. Rather, they’re reliable and elegant pieces that will never go out of fashion – perfect for impressing people during job interviews, birthday parties, and other special occasions.

By investing in sustainable shoes, you can lower your ecological footprint while ensuring your feet look fabulous all year round. In this article, we offer a few hints and tips for those wondering where to start with sustainable fashion. Whether you’re on the hunt for a pair of sustainable sandals or eco-friendly sports shoes, there are plenty of responsible brands that can help you achieve timeless elegance when it comes to your footwear.

Table of  Contents

The environmental impact of footwear

woman fishing a  boot instead of fish out of a lake surrounded by hills on a sunny day

As the world’s second most polluting industry, fast fashion is bad news for people and the planet. As well as relying on exploitative labor practices, fast fashion brands chew through the world’s resources at a staggering rate. According to one enlightening study, the footwear industry alone is responsible for a shocking 1.4% of greenhouse gas emissions!

At the same time, fast fashion manufacturers attempt to produce shoes at as low a cost as possible, meaning their products use flimsy materials with a very short life span. According to recent estimates, people in the US dispose of over 300 million pairs of shoes annually, 95% of which go to landfills. When an old shoe sits in a landfill, it releases harmful chemicals into the air, soil, and groundwater. These chemicals harm plants, animals, and even humans, with some synthetic shoe materials linked to illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

Fortunately, these problems are relatively simple to fix if enough of us adopt a more sustainable mindset and switch to eco-friendly footwear brands. These companies use a range of strategies to reduce waste and pollution, including:

  • Recycling and upcycling materials in a way that encourages consumers to return old shoes so they can be transformed into new products.
  • Investing in innovative designs so their shoes are as durable as possible, reducing the number of shoes that end up in landfills.
  • Using renewable materials, including natural rubber, hemp, and recycled plastics, while minimizing the use of toxic and non-biodegradable chemicals.
  • Prioritizing responsible manufacturing processes that minimize greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring fair and safe conditions for workers.
  • Maintaining ethical supply chains that are transparent, prioritize local sourcing, and reduce the need for excessive packaging and shipping.

If you’re worried about the potential costs of switching to sustainable footwear brands, don’t fret. We’ve included lists of both affordable and higher-end sustainable footwear brands to suit all budgets below.

5 Affordable sustainable shoe brands

Tight budget? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to compromise on quality or make less ethical decisions. Here are some of our favorite affordable brands:

1. Rothy’s – for elegant work wear

Rothy's sustainable shoes named the point in leopard print held by stylish woman in blue dress

If you’re a fan of a dainty, professional shoe, look no further than Rothy’s. Manufactured using cutting-edge techniques that knit together plastics retrieved from the ocean, Rothy’s shoes represent gorgeous feats of ingenuity. What’s more, the brand offers a recycling program to ensure their shoes stay out of landfill.

2. Allbirds – for sporty types

Allbirds sustainable white sneakers against navy background surrounded by various travel accessories

Allbirds offers a wide range of everyday sneakers and high-quality sports shoes for those looking to combine cool street style with reliable comfort. The brand prides itself on using natural and recycled materials, as well as WRAP- and SMETA-certified production processes. Even better, prices start from a very reasonable $40!

3. Nisolo – for leather lovers

A couple dressed wearing Nisolo sustainable shoes dressed in white and beige clothing

A brand committed to tackling climate change, Nisolo offers consumers sustainable shoes in a wide range of styles, from thick-soled sandals to woven leather flats. Some sustainable fashion brands avoid using leather due to the environmental costs of rearing cattle. However, Nisolo gets around this problem by sourcing 100% of its leather from meat products that would otherwise end up in landfills. The brand is Climate Neutral Certified, committed to safe labor standards, and only uses recyclable packaging.

4. Fortress – for statement pieces

Elegant woman wearing Fortress sustainable shoes in white cotton skirt

Keen to stand out from the crowd? Fortress offers unique styles made from 100% natural materials that won’t compromise your ecological commitments. If that weren’t enough, this Peru-based brand is dedicated to gender equity and ethical labor practices, paying fair wages to talented local artisans.

5. Thousand Fell – for sneaker addicts

Woman in sporty outfit wearing Thousand Fell sustainable sneakers

New York-based brand Thousand Fell sells timeless sneakers made using recycled rubber and plastic. As well as maintaining eco-friendly production processes, Thousand Fell offers customers credit for returning their worn-out sneakers – a win-win for budget-conscious shoppers!

3 Higher-end sustainable shoe brands

Feel like splashing out? Check out these premium sustainable footwear brands:

1. Pedro Garcia – for fancy vacations

Woman wearing red sustainable sandals made by Pedro Garcia

Known for their comfy wedges and woven sandals, Pedro Garcia is a family-owned brand that has existed for almost a century. If you’re on the hunt for stunning shoes for your next beach vacation, rest assured this brand uses sustainable manufacturing processes and sources local materials to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

2. Sézane – for a pop of color

Sezane gold elegant woven leather sustainable sandals worn with cream silk skirt

Combining timeless French style with sustainable materials, Sézane is the go-to brand for eco-conscious shoppers who want to stand out. As you’ll see, it sells highly detailed shoes that are full of color. What’s more, it only sends shoes in recycled packaging and donates 10% of sales to education programs for children. What’s not to love?

3. Chloé x Teva – for versatile sandals

cool young woman in blue jean jacket and pat set wearing pink Chloe x Teva sustainable sandals leaning against garage door.

Renowned luxury brand Chloé has teamed up with sportswear brand Teva to create a striking sustainable sandal collection. If you’re looking for an iconic shoe to see you through several summers, these sandals are the perfect solution. Plus, they’re made using materials that contribute to the circular economy, meaning you can indulge your inner fashionista without any guilt!

Start curating your eco-conscious wardrobe

A well curated sustainable closet filled with few slow fashion shoes and garments.

As you can see, it’s never been more important to curb your fast fashion habits, invest in timeless pieces that were built to last, and make sure you are maintaining the items in your closet by developing sustainable clothing care habits.

Fortunately, there are tons of brands helping consumers make more informed and sustainable choices that suit their tastes and lifestyles. Remember – sustainable shoes represent a long-term investment. Purchasing robust shoes you’re going to love for many years to come is one of the best things you can do to combat climate change and contribute to a more ethical world.