Person sitting on a stone ledge with green plants filling the background wearing white sustainable sandals and green pants while holding bamboo tote.
June 27, 2024
 in 
Slow Fashion

Step into Summer with These 14 Sustainable Sandal Brands (Including Fairtrade Options!)

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T

he warmth this time of year is both a gift and a curse. It means long, carefree days in the sun, but summer is also the season of sweaty, swollen feet and stepping over beach trash. What if we told you that choosing sustainable sandals this year can help with both problems? You get to keep your feet cool and, at the same time, limit how much waste is created by sticking with brands that are more mindful of their impact.

To help you on your summer sustainability journey, we’ve put together an extensive guide on all things related to ethical and eco-conscious sandals, including materials to look out for and why it’s worth going the sustainable route in the first place. We’ll also share 14 of our favorite brands making everything from sustainable slides to vegan flatforms. Consider your summer sandals sorted.

Table of  Contents

Why Go Sustainable with Your Sandal Choices? 

Each year, about 300 million pairs of shoes are discarded in the US. Considering the staggering 11 thousand tons of textile waste that was landfilled in 2018 alone, this kind of figure is disturbing. We have a serious fashion waste crisis with more being made and discarded than could ever be conceivably recycled.

It doesn’t help that the vast majority of what’s being sold is made with virgin materials and production approaches that do all kinds of damage on their own.  One of the most common materials used to make sandals is plastic. Whether it comes in the form of a foam sole or mesh strap, it is still made from petroleum and as such, is a part of an industry associated with extremely high carbon emissions and environmental damage.

Even worse, the material will take decades to break down and as they do, will leach microplastics into our soil and water. It’s a grim image but one we shouldn’t look away from, especially when there are better options available.

So why go sustainable with your sandal choices? Because we can’t afford not to. If we want to live in a world with clean beaches, and untouched mountains to explore in the summer with our friends, we have to be more mindful of our purchases. 

What Are Sustainable Sandals?

an example of brightly colored sustainable sandals made out of vegan leather.

The word “sustainable” is used widely and, in many cases, unjustifiably. Here are some of the main factors we feel determine whether a pair of sandals is truly sustainable:

  • Eco-conscious materials: This can look like many different things with the main factors being sticking to materials that help limit pollution and waste issues. For example, we have a brand later in this article that only uses natural rubber for its flip-flops, making them entirely biodegradable and plastic-free. Synthetics, however, are often a necessary part of making shoes and in that area, we believe sustainable sandals should stick to recycled versions of these fibers as much as possible.
  • Ethical production measures: When we’re looking at ethically made sandals, we’re usually talking about the human side of things which is just as important for overall sustainability as environmental impact is. This means providing safe working environments, fair hours and wages, making sure child labor hasn’t been used, and generally paying close attention to the well-being of the people behind the products.
  • Transparency about where and how things are made: Most sustainable sandal brands are sourcing their materials from all over the world and using various factories to create their products. Transparency about this is key, especially with regard to how sustainability measures are being checked across production. Some sandal brands have even managed to include carbon emission “receipts” with their products so that customers can see exactly what the energy cost of their purchase is.
  • Recycling and repairing programs: Even the most well-made, durable shoes will eventually break. We think it highly important that more sustainable brands offer a plan of what to do at the end of your sandal’s lifespan. If they’re biodegradable, that certainly helps, but we love seeing brands that help repair or recycle your old purchases.
  • Company-wide sustainability initiatives: A pair of eco-friendly sandals isn’t just defined by what those sandals are made of but by all the processes that have gone into them. That’s why it’s so important that brands claiming to be sustainable have these values woven into all sides of their business. Some examples include carbon offset programs, using only renewable energy in their offices, planting trees for every order sold, and donating to organizations trying to protect both human and environmental health.

It's worth noting that while implementing everything just discussed is possible, it is rarely feasible for even the most sustainable brands to do it all. It’s especially challenging for smaller businesses.

Judging the sustainability of a pair of sandals isn’t about marking them against a finite checklist but looking at all the ways in which a brand is trying to hold itself accountable, and push for products that do less harm. Even just enacting two or three of the points mentioned helps shift things in a greener direction.

What is The Difference Between Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Sandals?

The concept of sustainability tends to encompass a much wider scope than an “eco-friendly” label but we do see these terms used interchangeably. We’d argue that “eco-friendly” sandals are more focused on reducing environmental damage while sustainable sandals include things like ethical production measures.

That said, read the fine print on a brand’s website and see how they’re defining these terms in their mission statement. Unfortunately, as long as terms like these remain unprotected in a legal sense, brands can use them freely and with little consequence.

What Materials are Used in Sustainable Sandals?

close-up of artisan sewing together pieces of sustainable materials.

There was a time when all sandals were made from locally sourced leather or handwoven grasses, but nowadays, you’ll find all sorts of things used to make shoes. There is no single proven, “most sustainable” sandal material, but here are the ones  that are doing things better:

  • Recycled materials: As we’ve mentioned, using synthetics like nylon or polyester isn’t great because not only are they energy-intensive to produce, but they’re not biodegradable and so are likely to add to our waste and pollution crisis. A more sustainable route is using recycled versions of these materials. That way waste is diverted from landfill, and we use the plastic we’ve already created rather than producing even more virgin fibers. Even with plant-based materials like cotton, using recycled versions is far more sustainable too. Regular cotton is surprisingly water and chemical-intensive to grow. Using recycled cotton for shoes then helps reduce the negative impact of the final product.
  • Vegan leathers: While we’re not big fans of plastic parading as “vegan leather”, it is really exciting to see brands switching to plant-based materials like Apple and pineapple leather. Most of these use leftover pulp from the fruit and juicing industry to create quite durable materials that can at least reduce how much plastic is used to make your summer sandals. 
  • Organic fabrics: As mentioned, growing cotton isn’t always the most sustainable or eco-friendly process. Organic farming, however, is doing a lot to change that. More sustainable sandal brands will try to stick to materials like GOTs-certified organic cotton that is grown with fewer agrochemicals and far less water.
  • Natural fibers: Because of how much our footwear choices have impacted landfill waste, many argue that simply choosing sandals made from natural fibers is the way to go. It means that at the very least, your shoes are biodegradable. That said, it’s also worth noting natural fibers that are sustainably sourced. For example, LWG-verified leather ensures that the material is more responsibly sourced and treated with fewer harmful chemicals in the tanning process. Other natural fibers to look out for include cork, wood (for heels), and grasses such as jute and raffia.

How To Shop for Sustainable Sandals?

Ready to up your sustainable sandal game? Here’s how to do it:

  • Do an inventory of your wardrobe first. Consider the styles you already have, what you get the most wear out of, if there’s anything that can be re-soled or repaired, and what key features make sandals more comfortable for you. This will help ensure a more informed purchase and ultimately limit unnecessary waste.
  • Consider shoe swaps or buying second-hand. Before shopping with a brand, it’s worth checking with friends if any of you have the same shoe size and could do a swap, or simply browse some thrift stores together. Going second-hand is one of the best ways to help reduce fashion waste and save a little money too.
  • Pay attention to what the sandals are made from, and how they’re made. Ok, you’ve exhausted the second-hand options and you’re ready for a fresh pair. Now is the part where it’s worth reading labels and checking the composition of your sandals. Are there recycled or biodegradable elements used? Is the item itself recyclable? Those are the kinds of questions to ask.
  • Look up the brand first. This will allow you to see what larger sustainability initiatives the brand might be a part of as well as the reputation their sandals have in terms of longevity and comfort.

What Is the Difference Between Fair Trade and Fairtrade?

There’s quite a bit of contention on this subject but here are the main points: 

  • “Fair trade” (two words) and “fairly traded” are terms that can be used as loosely as “sustainable” or “eco-friendly”. They don’t refer to a certification or something legally binding but instead encompass a general approach that each brand can define for themselves. 
  • “Fairtrade” (one word) on the other hand refers to products or businesses that have been certified as such by organizations like Fairtrade America or the World Fair Trade Organization (WTFO). These groups perform third-party audits for brands and require them to meet rigorous environmental, social, and economic standards to qualify for the official “Fairtrade” mark.

What makes things confusing, however, is even businesses that are WTFO-certified will still sometimes be listed as fair trade. The most important distinguisher, we’d argue, is whether a third party has checked the claims. That’s the best way to determine whether a brand is living up to the fair trade approach, or simply using it as a marketing term.

How We Picked Our Favorite Sustainable Sandals

Transparency is one of the most important things when it comes to sustainable shopping. With that in mind, here are the main criteria we used when picking out our favorite sustainable sandals:

  • The sandals involve at least the partial use of a sustainable material, be it recycled fibers, plant-based, or organic.
  • The brand has an excellent reputation for comfort and longevity
  • The designs are stylish and wearable.
  • The brand has added eco and ethical initiatives to ensure better practices across production.

14  Sustainable Sandal Brands With Fair Trade Options

Get ready to step into summer with 14 of the best sustainable sandal options. We’ve got everything from ethical flip-flops to beautiful, handmade heels …

1. Noah 

Noah’s specialty is making vegan shoes with the very best Italian handicrafts. They use a range of innovative vegan leathers for shoes that are both high-quality and aesthetically beautiful. Whether you’re shopping for eco-friendly slides for a beach holiday or something more formal, they have plenty of options.

  • Product Range: Women’s, men’s, and kid’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats and heels.
  • Materials: Apple leather, grape skin, microfiber, microsuede, natural latex, natural leather, etc.
  • Sizes: 5 -11
  • Pricing: $60-160
  • Ships To: Worldwide
  • Sustainability Stats: Peta-approved Vegan. Uses plant-based leathers.

2. Project Cece

No one is making it easier to shop fair trade sandals than Project Cece. This online store brings together multiple shoe brands and styles and allows you to search them based on those tagged as fair trade. We also appreciate that Project Cece checks fair trade claims and is open about how they do it so that you can have added peace of mind. 

  • Product Range: Women’s and men’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats and heels.
  • Materials: LWG-certified leather, recycled materials, plant-based leathers, etc.
  • Sizes: 5 -11
  • Pricing: $37-$280
  • Ships To: Worldwide
  • Sustainability Stats: Fair trade options. Clear sustainability criteria. Eco-friendly and ethical production requirements for all brands stocked on the site.

3. Nisolo

Flatforms, mules, clogs – Nisolo doesn’t have a huge sandal collection and yet they still manage to include all the stylish favorites. Their designs all have decent cushioning for comfort and come in a range of easy neutral tones. To quote their site, this is the kind of place where you can find something “comfortable enough to wear to the office and chic enough to wear to a wedding” – what’s not to love?

  • Product Range: Women’s and men’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flat and heeled options.
  • Materials: LWG-certified leather.
  • Sizes: 5 -11
  • Pricing: $130-$180
  • Ships To: Worldwide
  • Sustainability Stats: LWG-certified leather. Vegetable-tanned leather outsole. 100% living wages. 0% Net Carbon.

4. Able

Looking for a pair of easy, slip-on, ethically-made sandals? Able makes some of the best. We love how detailed their designs are, often featuring braided leather straps and interesting uses of raffia. It’s also a women-founded business on a mission to ensure that everyone, from their offices in Nashville to their overseas factories, is treated fairly.

  • Product Range: Flat and heeled options.
  • Styles: Women’s shoes.
  • Materials: Leather and green foam.
  • Sizes: 5 -11
  • Pricing: $100-$150
  • Ships To: U.S and Canada.
  • Sustainability Stats: Slow fashion approach. Ethical production.

5. Feel Goodz

As you head out for beach holidays this year, one thing that will be difficult not to notice is just how much plastic waste ends up in these beautiful areas. Be a part of the change with Feel Goodz plastic-free sandals made from recycled materials.

  • Product Range: Women’s and men’s shoes.
  • Styles: Casual flip-flops.
  • Materials: Recycled rubber.
  • Sizes: 6 -10
  • Pricing: $30
  • Ships To: Worldwide.
  • Sustainability Stats: Plant-based, recycled materials. Vegan. Runs a program to support artisans in Southeast Asia.

6. Chaco

Ok, we get it, the classic Chaco is generally associated with hippies and hikers but there’s good reason for that. Not only are they durable and very practical in summer, but these vegan sandals have made a bit of a fashion comeback recently. Their funky color combinations feel fresh and we love that they’re comfortable enough to be worn all day.

  • Product Range: Women’s and men’s shoes.
  • Styles: Active-friendly, casual flats.
  • Materials: Polyester, rubber, Repreve® 100% recycled performance fiber webbing, etc.
  • Sizes: 5 -10
  • Pricing: $40-$160
  • Ships To: US
  • Sustainability Stats:  Runs a repair program to keep shoes out of landfills. Uses recycled materials.

7. Vivaia

This is one of those sustainable sandal brands where even the flats are kind of fancy. They have classic, timeless styles, as well as more fashion-forward options with fun, contrasting colors. Certainly, if you’re looking for a bright pair of ethical sandals to make you feel like you’re stepping in sunshine, this is the place for you.

  • Product Range: Women’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats and heels.
  • Materials: Recycled plastic and rubber.
  • Sizes: 5-11
  • Pricing: $100-$150
  • Ships To: Worldwide
  • Sustainability Stats: Sustainable materials e.g. recycled plastic. Recycled packaging.

8. 1 People

Run your eye down what’s used to make a pair of 1 People sandals and you’ll see a list of some of the most innovative, sustainable footwear materials available. They use pineapple leather, recycled brass, and even wood for some of their heels to limit plastic as much as possible. The designs are simple and easy to style for both casual and more formal settings.

  • Product Range: Women’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats and heels
  • Materials: Pinatex, eco suede, teak wood, recycled brass, etc.
  • Sizes: 6 -10
  • Pricing: $200
  • Ships To: Worldwide.
  • Sustainability Stats: Certified B Corp. Carbon offset program. Partnered with “Business for Planet”.

9. Will’s Vegan

Will’s Vegan is a classic example of a brand that is always pushing the conversation of vegan and ethical sandals forward. They haven’t managed to abandon plastic entirely, but they have made major strides to at least reduce the use of materials like polyurethane by relying more on plant-based leathers and recycled fibers. Their shoe designs are also simple, timeless, and stylish.

  • Product Range: Women’s and men’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats and heels.
  • Materials: Bio-based leathers made from cereal crops, polyurethane, recycled polyester, etc.
  • Sizes: 4-11
  • Pricing: $70-$110
  • Ships To: Worldwide.
  • Sustainability Stats: Made under EU labor laws. Sustainable materials. Vegan. Certified carbon-neutral.

10. Nomadic State of Mind

You’ve almost certainly got a pair of this brand’s rope sandals saved to your Pinterest or Instagram – they’re iconic. Their vegan summer shoes are also ethically made, durable, and have sustainability built into every step.

  • Product Range: Women’s, men’s, and kid’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats.
  • Materials: Vibram soles and rope made in North Carolina from partially reclaimed polypropylene cord.
  • Sizes: 4-11
  • Pricing: $50-$80
  • Ships To: Worldwide.
  • Sustainability Stats: Vegan and cruelty-free. Uses sustainable materials such as organic cotton. Waste-reduction program.

11. Volair

With features in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, this is one of the best brands for stylish, high-end sandals made from sustainable materials. They only sell heels but thankfully, have many low-heel options that are extremely comfortable to wear. 

  • Product Range: Women’s shoes.
  • Styles: Heels only.
  • Materials: Apple leather, recycled components for heels.
  • Sizes: 5-11
  • Pricing: $70-$100s
  • Ships To: Worldwide.
  • Sustainability Stats: Slow fashion production approach. Carbon-free shipping. Uses USDA-certified bio-based apple leather and recycled materials.

12. Made Trade

Like Project Cece, this site brings together many independent, ethical sandal brands, including those with Fair Trade certification from the Fair Trade Federation. The styles lean more casual, and most options are handmade, feature sustainable materials, and are from women and BIPOC-owned businesses.

  • Product Range: Women’s shoes
  • Styles: Heels and flats.
  • Materials: Rubber, leather, and recycled materials.
  • Sizes: 5-11
  • Pricing: $100-$190
  • Ships To: Worldwide.
  • Sustainability Stats: Fair Trade options. Sustainable materials. Clear sustainability guidelines that brands on the site have to comply with.

13. Nae

One quick Google of the question “Is Birkenstock ethical” will quickly pull up the reality that the brand is not known for its ethical production. Nae, however, is and they make an excellent Birkenstock dupe as well as all kinds of other casual, sustainable slides.

  • Product Range: Women’s and men’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats and heels.
  • Materials: Piñatex ®, organic cotton, cork, apple leather, recycled PET, OEKO-TEX certified microfiber, etc.
  • Sizes: 5-13
  • Pricing: $80-$100
  • Ships To: Worldwide.
  • Sustainability Stats: Runs a pre-loved program that customers can donate used shoes to for recycling, repurposing, etc.

14. Matisse

Beach parties, European weddings, or just winding down at home in the summer heat? Matisse has comfortable vegan sandals for all the above. We especially love their signature chunky heels and flatforms that make raffia flip-flops look cooler than ever.

  • Product Range: Women’s shoes.
  • Styles: Flats and heels.
  • Materials: Cork, raffia repurposed leather, synthetic vegan leather, etc.
  • Sizes: 6-11
  • Pricing: $40-$130
  • Ships To: US
  • Sustainability Stats: Recyclable packaging. Sustainable and repurposed materials. Only uses non-animal glues and vegetable-based dyes. Socially audited factories.

Walking on Sunshine

Summer is the season to get outdoors and enjoy nature’s best so why not pay back the good vibes and make sure you’re wearing sandals that work harder for our planet? Shopping more sustainably helps limit waste and pollution from the footwear industry, involves more ethical production, and allows you to enjoy some of the most innovative fabrics and designs out there. This summer let’s embrace the fact that style and sustainability should hang out more.

FAQs About Sustainable Sandals

Are Teva sandals eco-friendly?

Some Teva sandals are eco-friendly. Newer ranges have started to include more recycled materials and the company has good policies overall to cut down its greenhouse gas emissions. They also use LWG-certified leather and support the Better Cotton Initiative. We hope to see more big sandal brands like this improving how they source their materials.

What is the most eco-friendly shoe material?

There is no one, perfect, most eco-friendly shoe material. Instead, there are many fibers that, in their own ways, are doing better for our planet. Some of those include recycled plastic which is great because it diverts plastic bottles from landfills. Rubber is another eco-friendly shoe material because it’s completely natural and biodegradable. There are also many plant-based leathers, such as Piñatex ®, which are made from agricultural waste.

Can Tevas be recycled?

Tevas can be recycled but not with curbside recycling. The brand recently partnered with TerraCycle to allow customers to mail in old sandals and have them recycled with the company where they’ll be broken down and used as part of all kinds of new products.

Are Birkenstocks sustainable?

Birkenstocks are not considered sustainable. They use many natural and sustainable materials such as cork, rubber, and jute, but overall offer little transparency on their production and have no major eco-initiatives.

Are rainbow sandals ethical?

No, Rainbow sandals can’t be considered ethical. Their shoes are mostly made in China with limited clarity on what their production or labor standards are. We’d need a lot more transparency on this side of things to be able to consider them “ethical”.

Last Update:
Jun 27, 2024