These Sustainable Footwear Companies Are Trying to Tread Lightly

From better materials to improved recycling, each brand is trying to make a difference.

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Raum shoes closeup
A closeup of Raum's "earthing" shoes.

Raum Goods (used with permission)

Are you in search of new footwear this fall? Here are four companies making a broad range of shoe styles, while staying committed to reducing their impact on the planet. Whether they do it through the materials they choose or by committing to comprehensive recycling programs, each has taken a different approach that adds up to an overall positive benefit.

1. Native Shoes

Native hiking boot
Fitzsimmon hiking boot by Native Shoes. Native Shoes (used with permission)

This Canadian company makes a range of shoes for men, women, and children. They are all plastic, which may sound shocking on a website that spends much of its time urging people to quit plastic, but hear me out: Most shoes are made from plastic, just in the form of nylon, polyurethane, and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). These components are difficult to break down and separate at the end of a shoe's life and typically are thrown in landfill, in hopes that they'll biodegrade someday. Native's shoes are just more visibly plastic than others and, as a result, are easier to recycle. 

"The unique composition of Native Shoes can be reground into versatile material that is useful in the creation of seating, playground flooring, insulation and more. Leveraging a proprietary regrind process, we are able to break down the materials found in every style of Native Shoes including sandals, slip-ons, knit sneakers and boots."

Through its Remix Project, it has pledged to recycle 100% of its footwear by 2023. Customers can return old shoes by mail or in-store – that is, when they actually wear out because these shoes are remarkably long-lasting. Native Shoes are PETA-approved and vegan-certified. They come in many different styles, from hiking boots and dressy flats, to sandals, runners, and insulated boots.

2. Third Mind

Third Mind dress shoes
The Fred Wingtip shoe by Third Mind. Third Mind (used with permission) 

Looking for something a bit dressier? Third Mind is on a mission to make the most comfortable dress shoe on the market, using 100% recycled materials. Its shoes are lightweight and odor-resistant, with outsoles made from 30% recycled tire rubber. From a press release sent to Treehugger,

"Third Mind responsibly reimagines classic footwear styles by combining performance and design to create the most comfortable shoe with almost no carbon footprint. With a sleek molded rubber sole and breathable, lightweight knit uppers, each style offers a thoroughly modern take on a traditional dress shoe." 

The emphasis on using recycled materials hits a soft spot for Treehugger, because unless there's a market for recycled plastic, there's not much point in trying to recycle so much of it. We need more brands choosing to use it over virgin materials. Shoes are $125, with three styles currently available and two more launching soon.

3. Raum Shoes

Raum shoes
Raum shoes in various colors. Raum Goods (used with permission)

For those who love comfy, casual slip-ons and loafers, Raum Shoes are a great choice. These all-natural shoes are made from vegetable-tanned buffalo leather (a byproduct of the meat industry) with sheepskin lining and waxed cotton laces. They're handmade in southern Turkey by a labor force partially comprised of Syrian refugees in need of employment. 

Raum shoes embrace the philosophy of "earthing," which believes in the importance of connecting one's physical body to the Earth: 

"The concept carries the theory that negatively-charged electrons from the Earth’s surface transfer into the body. Also referred to as grounding, studies have shown the practice has healing benefits. Many believe it’s a cure for specific ailments such as inflammation, arthritis, insomnia, and depression."

The shoes contain no synthetic materials and have a copper rivet hammered through the sole "that touches your KD1 pressure point under your foot to directly contact the earth, making you fully conductive." Whether or not you share this viewpoint, the shoes are light and minimalist, great-looking, and supremely comfortable. Men's and women's shoes are $155 and come in many different colors..

4. Greats Royale High Patchwork

Greats Royale High Patchwork shoe
Greats Royale High Patchwork shoe. Greats (used with permission)

Greats is a Brooklyn-based shoe brand that has launched one style that's of particular interest to Treehugger. The new Royale High Patchwork is footwear's equivalent to a patchwork quilt, made from bits and pieces of fabric and materials used in other Greats shoes. 

A mix of everything, you can find "leather from the classic Royale, suede from the Court, and canvas from the newest Royale Eco Canvas." These upcycled pieces are incorporated into every aspect of the shoe, from the sole to the lining to the upper. No virgin plastic is used, the footbed is made from Bloom algae-based foam, and the breathable inner mesh is made entirely from recycled plastic. Shoes are $199.