(image courtesy of Classy Jorge Photography)
By Nandita Batheja
The title of this post pretty much reflects my process when I decide it’s time for new shoes:
Acceptance: these sneakers are so lopsided from my under pronation that I can no longer deny I’ve earned a new pair.
Questioning: Hm…where can I go to get new shoes? What style will I get? Are there any sustainable shoe stores around here?
Bubbling Optimism: There are so many shoes, so many designs, so many materials! Surely I will find a pair for me! Surely I will be able to express my personal sense of style, find arch support and support an ethical brand!
Despair: There are so many shoes. So many designs. So many materials. And yet, non are working. They all involve elemental sacrifice. Arch support without ethics. Style without arch support. Ethics without style OR arch support. What am I and my feet to do!
- Exhaustion: (after hours upon hours of research, store hopping, and shoe trying) . . . Maybe I should just go barefoot.
Is it too much to ask for? Ethically made shoes that look cute and have some semblance of support?
I insist that it is not. And I insist on insisting that it is not because we need to create a market demand for ethically manufactured footwear.
That said, woah it’s not easy to find! That’s why I am sharing the resources I’ve discovered in my search for new shoes. They gave me light in the shoe stockroom darkness. It sounds dramatic, but yo—after spending a cumulative 25 hours on a desperate search for new shoes, footwear IS dramatic.
I hope these sites will make your sustainable footwear shopping easier, pleasant, even! Or at least save you a few hours of research.
Top Brand Pick
Po-Zu: shoes with a good sole. These shoes fit all my categories: ethical, stylish, comfortable. All their materials come from renewable sources, and they have made an explicit commitment to ethical production. Po-Zu offers the option to design your own version of classic Brisk sneaker, AND they even have a “Lucky Size Club” where they sell unused sample shoes for markedly lower prices. Ah I am in love!
Po-Zu peep-toe sandal. Cute and earth-happy!
Top Brand Lists
Of course, one brand doesn’t cover it all. These are my go-to lists when I’m looking for other options and styles. Each one has its own ethical focus as well. Some focus on using renewable resources, some focus on animal-free materials, others are about making in-house (which means in-country, non-outsourced) shoes that employ native citizens and pay fair wages.
This was my first guiding list, and it hasn’t led me astray yet! The brands on here focus on eco-friendly, sustainable footwear.
These brands go beyond simply using sustainable materials: they are whole business models that reinvest money back into their countries (as opposed to the outsourcing many name-brand American companies use). The list includes brands that hand-make shoes, use traditional African techniques, employ marginalized women and utilize recycled materials. On top of all that, these companies are re-painting the picture of Africa as a continent “in need of first world help”, instead claiming and celebrating it as a continent full of creative, thriving, and business-brilliant countries and people.
This blog lists 19 shoe brands that hold ethics close to heart (just scroll down a bit to see where it starts). If you’ve dutifully gone through the prior two lists, you’ll start seeing a few repeats at this point. But most of the list is actually new! There is a description next to each brand, explaining what it stands for and how it gives back to the planet.
Vegetarian Shoes is a website and store based in the UK that sources vegan friendly, renewable resource based shoes from a variety of countries.
The Best of Corporate?
From my research into major corporate brands in the U.S., I regret to say that I feel only increasingly skeptical of the “do-good” claims that have now become the trend (but that’s a story for another post).
That said, I know that sometimes it isn’t always possible to get the “ideal” ethical shoe. So if you do go the corporate route, you can head forth with this information.
The Good Shopping Guide has rated about 20 different companies based off the materials they use and their working conditions for employees, giving each an ultimate Ethical Company Index for you to consider.
Finally, Choice published an article about running shoes that elaborates on study by a German consumer organization that uncovers what goes into producing the trainers we all love so much. The article rates nine of the most popular brands and includes their willingness to be transparent in interviews.
Thus, now that you have the many resources of the web, be free, dear feet, and may you find the shoes that make you (and the earth) run happy!