These Cute Summer Shoes Are Made From Recycled Materials

SUNS and Sanuk have both designed a perfect summer-casual shoe, with minimal environmental impact.

SUNS shoes
A row of SUNS shoes.

SUNS Shoes (used with permission)

There was a time, not long ago, when finding sustainably-made shoes was nearly impossible. But in recent years that has changed dramatically. There are now numerous options available for people wanting shoes made from recycled materials; they come in a range of styles, with brands pledging progressive environmental actions to accompany them. 

SUNS

One of the most fun shoe brands I've seen this season is called SUNS. The shoes have a 100 percent recycled PET upper that's UV-activated, which means it changes color depending on how much sunlight it's exposed to. For example, you could have pale green shoes indoors that turn brilliant blue with a yellow pattern as soon as you step outside. The inks used to print the fabrics are soy-based and biodegradable; all packaging is made from recycled cardboard and minimized to reduce waste.

Color-changing SUNS shoe
A diagram reveals how SUNS shoes are UV-activated. SUNS Shoes (used with permission) 

Adding to the brand's environmental credibility is its commitment to plant 10 trees for every pair of shoes purchased. SUNS has partnered with Trees.org, which has planted 115 million trees since its creation in 1989. From the SUNS website, "19 billion shoes are sold per year worldwide. 15.3 billion trees are cut down per year worldwide. Planting 1 tree for every shoe will stop deforestation." While it's not quite so straightforward as that, it's a well-meaning sentiment that will resonate with ethically-minded shoppers. 

I've been wearing a pair of SUNS since May and have received more compliments than I can count. The shoes have a trendy casual look that resembles Allbirds and Keds, are supremely comfortable, and pair well with jeans, shorts, and dresses. Initially I worried that the color-changing feature would be annoying, making it difficult to choose a coordinated outfit, but once you figure out the hue your particular pair of shoes takes on in the sunshine – and where you'll be hanging out – it's not a big deal; in fact, it frequently becomes the talk of the party.

SustainaSole by Sanuk

Another innovative shoe is the new SustainaSole line by Sanuk. These casual slip-on shoes are vegan and come in two styles – the women's Donna in natural and the men's Chiba in grey. They have an upper made from 65% recycled cotton and 35% recycled PET, a sockliner that's 100% recycled polyester, and a sole made with BLUMAKA technology that incorporates recycled foam for a spongy, comfortable base. 

Sanuk SustainaSole shoes
Sanuk's SustainaSole shoes. Sanuk (used with permission) 

As explained in a press release, creating an eco-friendly sole is often the biggest hurdle for shoe companies, as a chemical-heavy foam base tends to be the norm. With BLUMAKA, however, any old foam can be reused:

"The foam in a BLUMAKA part can be made from recycled material, EVA, PU, biofoam, Bloom, Poron, TPE-E, TPU, Styrofoam, Silicone, Neoprene, or any foam that can be chopped up. In fact, a mix of different materials can be used in any one component. If you have a favorite foam, we can use it. We are foam agnostic."

Seth Pulford, Sanuk's marketing director, said that SustainaSole is introducing a new concept in footwear: "[Its] mission is to provide a sustainable footwear solution, divert waste and give new life to materials which would otherwise be discarded."

men's Chiba shoe
Men's Chiba shoe by Sanuk. Sanuk (used with permission)

It's great to see recycled materials showing up in footwear. After all, unless we make a point of buying products made with recycled materials, where do we expect all of our own household recycling to end up? There has to be market demand in order for the recycling business to make sense. 

The more people who prioritize sustainable materials in footwear, the more companies will start offering it. See if you can make that a requirement for all of your future footwear purchases.