We’re all looking to take steps towards living a more sustainable life, particularly one that benefits the health of both us and that of the planet. But just how sustainable are our literal steps? When it comes to fast fashion, the topic of ethical footwear is often ignored. However, our shoes can do just as much damage as our favorite pair of jeans.

Why Do We Need Sustainable Shoes?

The same reason we need sustainable anything because it’s better for the longevity of the planet. While the manufacturing of clothes often gets the most attention, it’s also important to adopt a more sustainable approach when it comes to footwear.

For one, the factory conditions where shoes are manufactured aren’t always positive or safe for workers. What’s more, a lot of these workers have been found to participate in forced labor (1).

Carbon footprint of shoes

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

A report from Qantis International looked at the impacts of synthetic, leather, and textile-based shoes produced globally and found that footwear accounts for between 16 and 32 percent of the fashion industry’s total pollution though in different ways;

  • Leather requires more raw materials and processing
  • Textile-based shoes use a lot of water
  • Synthetics use a lot of plastic

What’s more, the need to always have the latest kicks has also contributed to quite a waste problem and this only spells trouble for the environment. As many sneakers are made from plastic or plastic-like materials, their waste will only serve to add to the plastic waste problem, which we know is one of the biggest environmental pandemics that we’re facing.

What makes a shoe sustainable?

There are a few factors that can make a shoe sustainable. Mainly;

The use of natural fibers

Natural fibers that can help the environment include hemp fibers, organic cotton, wool, flax, and eucalyptus. These fibers are both biodegradable and recyclable.

The use of repurposed materials

Many brands have adopted eco-conscious policies and as such, they’ve turned to using recycled textiles in the manufacturing of their shoes.

What are brands doing?

Footwear brands are doing their part to encourage and promote sustainability.

Marine footwear

Since 2015, in conjunction with their partnership with Parley, Adidas has made over 5 million pairs of shoes out of marine pollution.

Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash

According to Adidas, this partnership has prevented 2810 tons of plastic from reaching the oceans.

Renew your kicks

Converse is another brand that’s looking to do its part in regard to sustainability. Launching Converse Renew Labs, the brand invites customers to collaborate and contribute to Converse’s mission to create in more sustainable and innovative ways while extending their product life.

Consumers have become increasingly eco-conscience, and are demanding that brands follow suit. Environmental issues are one of the biggest challenges being faced by this generation.” explains the brand, “As consumers are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, they are looking to make smarter, more environmentally-friendly choices for their products, such as ensuring that old sneakers are renewed, rather than purchasing a brand-new pair.

“Consumers can renew and extend the life of their sneakers and help divert waste from landfill by refreshing, rather than disposing, to help decrease their carbon footprint.

Less carbon, more happy footprint

Reducing their carbon footprint is extremely important to the brand, now more than ever.

Through Renew, Converse is re-imagining the production methods and materials to minimize the environmental impact of our products. We have the unique opportunity to create meaningful positive environmental impact at scale through innovating our classics while also exploring new forms through progressive design. Renew products represent our most innovative and sustainable creations to date, which serve to drive Converse forward and shape the future of our business.”

Converse Renew Chuck Taylors

What can I do?

The first thing we would recommend is purchasing a pair of sustainable shoes or sneakers. Converse’s Renew’s Sneakers are the brand’s most sustainable sneakers to date, as they’re made from 100 percent recycled polyester that comes from used plastic bottles,

Nike also has a range of sustainable sneakers, with the shoes made from scrap materials and packaged in recycled materials.

If these shoes aren’t your style, here’s a great guide to getting your next pair of eco-friendly kicks.

Want to know more?

Did you know that 75% of fashion supply chain material ends up in landfills? To counter the effects of this alarming trend, there has been a noticeable rise of a better trend. A trend that is great for your wardrobe and even kinder to the planet – slow fashion.

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.