These Are the Coolest Sustainable Shoes We've Ever Seen

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© SAOLA -- Women's Atakama shoes in camel (used with permission). SAOLA -- Women's Atakama shoes in camel (used with permission)

SAOLA is a new French brand making slick sneakers from recycled material and algae foam.

One thing I've learned over the years of writing about sustainable fashion for TreeHugger is that eco-friendly shoe manufacturers are few and far between. It's easy to find companies making yoga gear out of plastic water bottles and shirts out of organic cotton at reasonable price points, but it's very difficult to find shoes that are attractive, affordable, and eco-friendly in every stage of production.

That's why it has been more than two years since I compiled a list of 9 ethical casual shoes and sneakers. I just haven't come across many others since then. But recently I discovered SAOLA, and am so impressed by what this new French company is doing that I wanted to share with TreeHugger readers.

SAOLA men's shoes

© SAOLA -- Men's Cannon in camel (used with permission)

SAOLA is just entering its second season of retail sales, so it's still pretty new to the game, but when it comes to ticking all the eco-friendly criteria, you can tell right away that this company isn't messing around. From top to bottom, its shoes make my tree-hugging heart sing. Consider this:

  • The uppers are made from 100 percent recycled PET, despite looking like suede. Each pair contains 3-4 recycled plastic bottles.
  • The insoles and outsoles are a plant-based foam made from algae. Not only does this clean up the environment and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but it also makes a super-light shoe that weighs 40 percent less than its conventional lookalikes. Rubber panels add grip at high-contact points on the bottom, and there's a layer of comfy cork on the inside (removable if you want another kind of insole).
  • The laces are 100 percent organic cotton.
  • Three percent of profits will be donated to environmental conservation projects. Currently, the ones being supported are the Surfrider Foundation, One Tree Planted, and Save the Turtles. You can choose which group you'd like to support when you make an online purchase.

SAOLA's new fall line (which, I should add, is entirely vegan) consists of two styles for women -- high-rise and low-rise sneakers -- and a single low-rise style for men. They come in olive green, grey, blue, camel and chocolate. The shoes ship for free in the continental U.S. and have a 6-month warranty.

SAOLA shoes

© SAOLA -- Women's Cannon in olive (used with permission)

To be honest, I haven't felt this hopeful about an eco-friendly fashion startup in a long time. What SAOLA is doing is cutting-edge and ingenious; I'd even call it revolutionary, something that has true potential to reshape an industry that's notoriously damaging to the environment and workers.

If SAOLA can consistently turn out fashionable, functional shoes with great sustainability specs at such a reasonable price point ($99-$109), then there's no excuse for other companies not to follow suit and clean up their own production methods. Shoes made from recycled and biodegradable materials can, and should, become the new norm.

SAOLA atakamas

© SAOLA -- Women's Atakama shoes (used with permission)