The Truth About Shoes
When we think about fashion and buying responsibly, we often think about the major concerns—buying ethically sourced jewelry, eco-friendly cotton (a nod to our last post), or refusing fur. Items like these and this outlook are easier to support where we live with multiple brands and stores who support and offer these commodities. When setting out to choose our next blog topic, I started thinking “what product do we not as often consider when we talk about eco fashion?”. I found myself thinking about shoes. We wear them everyday, have different pairs for different needs, and it’s something that we’re constantly shopping for. Unlike other products in fashion they're an absolute necessity. From boots and sneakers to sandals and heels our closets are full of them. So what is the story behind shoe production and ethical fashion and how many companies out there create options for the eco-consumer?
More than 15 billion pairs of shoes are manufactured each year. What makes the production of shoes so interesting is that there are so many components to review when considering the life span of this cycle. A variety of materials are used for making shoes—leather, fabrics, plastic, rubber, wood, metal, etc. From the sourcing of these materials, to the dyeing and construction of the physical product, more than 200 operations are required for making a single pair of shoes. With the development of modern machines, a pair of shoes can be made in a brief amount of time as each step in its manufacturing is generally performed by a separate footwear making machine. Powering these machines means the use of fossil fuels which produce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that end up in our atmosphere. On average, the production of one shoe produces 30 pounds of carbon dioxide. When you consider the billions of shoes produced each year it’s quite alarming.
Another aspect of carbon dioxide emissions in the shoe industry often overlooked is transportation. Transportation is fundamental to the marketing aspect of this industry as most manufacturing companies choose to build factories internationally for cheaper labor. With the distance of these factories often being great, transportation such as ships, airplanes and trucks are needed in order to deliver goods to retailers. With the growing awareness of the environmental harm this does, many companies are searching for better transportation options and are committing themselves to reduce their carbon footprint.
While the weight of environmental responsibility appears to lie mostly on manufacturers, we’re not exempt. What we do with shoes at the end of their life span has big environmental consequences. Of the roughly 15 billion shoes produced each year, a UK study estimates that 85% wind up in landfills. Not only is this a problem due to limited landfill space, but landfills often seep toxins into groundwater and rivers. From the harmful chemicals used in the tanning process of leather, to the glues, rubber, foam and textiles of sneakers—these toxins find their way into our soil and water sources causing many health dangers. Take the time to donate your used shoes or support companies with recycling programs who break down your shoes and reuse them to create other goods.
So what are your options for stylish yet responsible shoes that you can feel guilt free about? I’ve rounded up 5 companies who not only make great footwear, but they do so while remaining committed to protecting the environment and supporting their workers in the process:
With a vision of pushing the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction, Nisolo, has worked since 2011 to create a beautiful collection honoring the long held tradition of shoemaking in their home base of Trujillo, Peru. The company’s commitment to betterment began with the construction of their own factory, which allows them to oversee 89% of the company’s production and regulate their process standards and resulting environmental offset. With leather being the number one material for their designs, and one of the most environmentally destructive elements of conventional shoes, Nisolo made it an obligation to responsible source leather from tanneries committed to the ethical treatment of animals and the implementation of eco-friendly waste disposal systems. They approach leather tanning, which is often done with noxious, environment destroying chemicals, in a more pure form by using vegetable tanned leather which is treated with natural tannins found in vegetable matter such as tree bark, leaves, and roots. The result? Leather that when cared for properly can last for generations.
Sarita Wooden Wedge Sandal (left) Isla Slide Sandal (right)
Based in San Francisco, Rothy’s mission was to create an alternative, versatile shoe to the flip-flops and sneakers being seen around the streets of SF. Born from their vision was a feminine flat made of low-waste, low-impact materials, hand assembled for high quality and durability. Made from recycled plastic water bottles which were transformed into a durable yet comfortable knit, these shoes are soft, practical and amazingly machine washable. With their incredible recycling program, when you’re ready to get rid of your pair simply ship them back for free and they’re turned into yoga mats, outsoles, and other environmentally-friendly products.
The Point: Black (Left) Red Camo (Right)
Veja is a French brand of ecological and fair-trade footwear and accessories. Their sneakers are available in both leather and vegan options and the company's commitment to ethical fashion is thoroughly considerate. Sourcing majority of their materials from Brazil, Veja works with an association of cotton growers that produce plants under argo-ecology principals which ban chemicals and pesticides. Buying from 320 families of organic farmers, the cotton is spun and weaved into canvas for Veja sneakers.
With the Amazon being the only place on Earth where rubber trees grow in the wild, Veja works with local rubber tappers to transform latex into rubber sheets without any industrial intermediary processes. The sheets are then shaped and used for the soles of Veja shoes. Going the extra mile in their dedication, Veja has a zero zero waste project forgoing the use of advertising materials and limiting overall production of their shoes so there’s no extra stock to be wasted.
Esplar 3 Locks (Left) Esplar Black (Right)
Exceptional quality, ethical factories, and radical transparency are the 3 principles grounding Everlane in their success. Launched in 2011 with its simply designed t-shirts, the company has since introduced shoes under the same ideologies. To produce their high-quality leather shoes the company sought out a luxury, family-owned footwear factory in Brescia, Italy. Using vegetable tanning methods allowing shoes to age well with wear, and production methods producing shoes with minimum waste, the result is a shoe with a truly artisan look and feel. To educate consumers about how their products are made and costs are determined, Everlane does so through their approach of radical transparency. See the cost breakdown of your shoes based on the materials, labor and transport to learn exactly what it is you’re paying for.
The Form Crossover Sandal: Pale Rose (Left) Navy (Right)
Now that you're armed with brands, shop responsibly and remember to donate or recycle your shoes when you no longer need them.
Written by: Tiffany Walker