9 Brands That Make Ethical Casual Shoes and Sneakers

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Introduction

credit: Ethletic

Shoes are often forgotten in the discussion about ethical fashion. Even when they are included, most of the ethical brands that I've seen featured make fancy-looking sandals, wedges, heels, or dress shoes that are not suitable for daily use, at least not for the kinds of things I do (like chasing after little kids, shopping for groceries, and going to the gym). Rarely does everyday footwear -- functional shoes built for comfort, not style, like running shoes -- get any attention. They should, however, since a shoe is even longer-lasting and less biodegradable over the long term than a single article of clothing; and many are made of synthetic materials that are meant to be tough and long-lasting -- not exactly what one wants kicking around the planet for centuries. So I had to delve deeper than usual to find these companies and was thrilled to find they do exist! In fact, I've been pleasantly surprised by many of the initiatives shown by these companies and the high standards for ethical production that they uphold. Some focus on vegan and organic materials; for some, it's fair trade that matters most; for others, it's all about repurposing and upcycling waste products. There's something here for everyone. For me, I know that these discoveries will permanently change the way I shop for all my shoes.

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The People's Movement

credit: The People's Movement

“We are literally killing ourselves for convenience,” say the founders of The People’s Movement. Upon learning more about the grotesque amounts of plastic waste polluting our world, this innovative shoe company was born as a way of helping, ever so slightly, to redirect the stream of waste toward something useful. The People’s Movement describes itself as an ‘eco-hip’ shoe company that uses natural organic materials and upcycled plastic, reclaimed from Bali and California, to create its shoes. While all the shoes are casual, the one pictured above is specifically designed for running with the assistance of professional athlete Brendan Brazier. It is largely constructed out of waste material and is vegan. Brazier Ekocycle Runner, $99

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Veja

credit: Veja

Veja purchases its organic cotton from 320 farmers who live in the poverty-stricken northeast of Brazil. The cotton is certified fair-trade, which means the farmers are paid fairly for their product and receive a premium at the end of each year for community development purposes. The rubber is sustainably sourced from trees in the Amazon. Interestingly the company does zero advertising and creates no excess stock. You can order online. V-10 Bmesh Natural Marsala, €99

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El Naturalista

credit: El Naturalista

El Naturalista uses high quality raw materials and meticulous craftsmanship to create excellent, comfortable shoes. Factories are located in Spain and Morocco, two places that are united by a common love of leather, the material most widely used in El Naturalista’s shoes, although the company now has a vegan line as well. Another line (pictured above) is chrome-free to prevent allergic reactions to chromium. This production process reduces emissions and consumption of energy, water, gas, and electricity. Grosella Walky, €150

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Indosole

credit: Indosole

This company uses old tires and turns them into soles for new shoes. The tire is cut into the shape of a sole, while the upper is made from natural materials like organic canvas, banana leaves, and grass. The two are joined together, a comfy insole is added, and you’ve got a fabulous repurposed shoe! All materials are 100% vegan and handmade. Indosole offers worldwide shipping that’s free to the US. Prahu Boat Shoe, $60

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Keep Company

credit: Keep Company

These casual shoes are vegan and cruelty-free. All of Keep’s footwear is made in factories audited by international, third-party non-profits who monitor ethical working conditions. A Keep representative is on the line of every production. The company strives to recreate and maintain old handicraft traditions from different cultures, such as Japanese indigo prints, perfect herringbones, hand-pieced quilt patchwork, Mayan textiles, and handwoven ikat fabrics. The Homer Red Fisherman, reg. $55 (on sale now for $40)

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Native

credit: Native -- Apollo Chukka shoes in barracuda blue

This Canadian company sells vegan shoes for both adults and kids that are made with a unique low-emissions manufacturing process and a low-waste foam injection molding process. The shoes’ soles are made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) that is free from BPA, phthalates, and formaldehyde. Native describes EVA as a great material for shoes because “it molds to your feet and is incredibly lightweight, shock absorbent, washable, waterproof, and odor-resistant.” While the idea of generating yet more plastic for consumer products is unappealing, the idea behind EVA is for it to be a cleaner, greener alternative to the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that’s so often used in soft plastics and is notorious for its off-gassing. EVA is made without chlorine, which reduces off-gassing significantly, but as this article in Green Home explains:

“These formulas are not perfect. EVA and PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) are made from petrochemicals (petroleum and natural gas) which are still fossil fuel pollutants but they contain fewer VOCs than PVCs. PEVA/EVA choices are chlorine-free yet they are still full of untested chemicals that make them only semi-green.”
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Noah

credit: Noah - Tamara Suede shoes in taupe

While most of Noah’s vegan shoes are fairly fancy and formal, the company has a few casual styles, such as the sporty-chic loafer pictured above. Noah was founded in 2009 to produce handmade vegan footwear in Italy under fairtrade working conditions. “Our idea was to create exclusive Italian handcrafted footwear combining quality and style while respecting the environment, the animals and the human health.” Tamara Suede, €149

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Bourgeois Bohème

credit: Bourgeois Bohème

In addition to its many dress shoes, this high-end brand sells some classic sneaker-style shoes for men. All shoes are made with Italian-sourced vegan leather and produced by fairly-paid artisans in Portugal. All Bourgeois Bohème shoes are Vegan Society trademarked and PETA approved.

“We believe that a good vegan shoe should be about more than just excluding animal materials – a design that stands the test of time is essential – and therefore we work tirelessly to champion slow fashion through updated British shoe classics that challenge the perception of leather-free footwear.”
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Ethletic

credit: Ethletic

Ethletics are the fair-trade version of the popular Converse running shoe, made by fairly paid workers in Pakistan. They are the first shoes in the world to carry the Fairtrade certification for cotton and have soles with Forest Stewardship Council certification. In fact, “almost every part of the sneakers is either Fairtrade or ecologically certified," which is perhaps why the company won a Fairtrade Company Award for 2016. Ethletics come in classic low- or high-cut styles, “fair flips,” and “sleek” style. You can buy them online. Fair Trainer Hi Cut, €69.90