We all know that no outfit is ever complete without the right shoes. Your choice of a shoe can either make or break your look.
While many shoes are available in the market, finding the best shoe for a particular outfit can be daunting. This is especially difficult when you are looking beyond style and comfort and looking for sustainability.
Fortunately, it’s possible to maintain your personal style without harming the environment. Whether you are looking for shoes to rock your workwear, activewear, or leisurewear, there are sustainable options for you.
In this article, we dive into eco-friendly men’s shoes and outline 9 of the best sustainable shoe brands for men.
Can shoes be eco-friendly?
The fashion industry (footwear included) has become unsustainable, thanks to fast fashion. The industry mass produces clothes and shoes to keep up with the popular trends, only for most of them to end in landfills.
The fashion industry is responsible for about 8- 10% of the world’s carbon footprint, more than the emissions caused by the aviation and shipping sectors combined.
Although companies are working towards sustainable fashion, the footwear industry is still lagging behind.
Unethical manufacturing practices in the shoe industry release harmful greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals, resulting in climate change and water pollution.
Also, low-quality and less sustainable materials are used to manufacture the shoes. Since these materials are less durable, millions of pairs of shoes end up in landfills.
Due to mass production, factories exploit their workers to meet the demand. 93% of fashion brands pay workers below living wages and provide unsafe working conditions and long working hours. Some brands have been reportedly accused of child and forced labor, racial discrimination, and gender inequality.
Unfortunately, brands have become very good at greenwashing their products for marketing purposes. As a consumer, be diligent in finding truly sustainable brands; you don’t want your dollars to be funding a broken industry.
The good news is that some brands are making fair-trade shoes. But how can one tell if a brand is eco-friendly? Read on!
What Makes a Shoe Eco-friendly
Simply stated, eco-friendly shoes are shoes made of sustainable materials, and their design, manufacturing process, and maintenance do not negatively impact people and the environment.
Eco-friendly shoes are also durable and comfortable to wear. A shoe that requires replacement after a few months is not sustainable.
Here is what to look for in a brand that makes sustainable shoes;
An eco-friendly shoe is made of sustainable materials. Eco-friendly materials are renewable, sustainably sourced, and not derived from fossil fuels. Such materials include recycled materials and natural fibers.
The materials should also be durable and easily repairable.
Sustainable manufacturing involves the emission of fewer greenhouse gases and consumption of less energy and water.
Also, a brand that offsets the c02 emissions released during its manufacturing is in the right direction.
- Fairtrade practices
Ethical shoes mean that the factories in which they are produced observe the welfare of their workers. The factories should provide the workers with healthy and safe working conditions, fair wages, and benefits. Any brand that doesn’t disclose any of these is probably hiding its unethical practices.
Eco-friendly brands will use plastic-free packaging. Such packaging includes the use of recycled and recyclable cardboard or biodegradable packaging.
Also, the brand should offset the CO2 emissions from their shipping.
What shoe Materials are best for the environment
Leather is one of the most common materials in the shoe industry. It is a durable, high-quality material that is easily repairable and less care intensive. However, when irresponsibly used, it can be harmful to the environment.
Leather becomes eco-friendly when used as a by-product of the meat industry, as it diverts hides from going to landfills.
Consider brands that source and manufacture leather responsibly and are gold certified by the Leather Working Group.
An alternative to animal leather is vegan leather, such as pineapple, mushroom, and lab-grown leather.
You need to be careful, though; some brands talk of ‘vegan,’ which unfortunately may be a form of greenwashing since they are most often made from virgin plastic.
2. Recycled materials
Recycled materials are also suitable materials for shoemaking.
Recycled materials such as recycled plastic bottles require less energy and water than virgin materials. They minimize the need for new materials and help divert the amount of plastic waste that may end up in landfills and oceans.
3. Natural materials
Natural and organic materials are a good choice for shoe materials because they are biodegradable. They will break down at the end of the shoe’s life cycle.
Such materials include organic cotton wool, hemp, wood, natural rubber, and natural latex. Some brands are innovatively using sugarcane and algae to make soles.
The catch here is sourcing. Natural materials should be sustainably sourced to ensure they do not harm the environment.
Eco-friendly brands for men’s shoes
Here are our top 9 brands making the most sustainable men’s shoes.
Allbirds has to be on the top of the list. Whether you are looking for sustainable running shoes, boat shoes, sandals, or everyday sneakers, they’ve got you.
They have a wide collection of men’s footwear made of sustainable materials, including ZQ merino-certified wool and FSC-certified eucalyptus fiber. These breathable materials make their shoes super comfortable, odor free, and perfect for everyday wear.
Their Mizzle collection shoes are even water-repellent.
The company observes sustainable practices and only works with suppliers and factories that treat workers with dignity, pay fair wages, and provide safe working conditions.
Allbirds is 100% carbon neutral. As they work towards zero emissions, they purchase carbon offsets to neutralize their carbon footprint.
Based in: California, US
Best for: Running and workout shoes, everyday sneakers, summer shoes
Ethics: Certified B corporation, carbon neutral, gives back.
Materials: ZQ merino wool, eucalyptus fibers, natural rubber, castor bean oil, recycled plastic
Size range: 8- 14
Price range: $90- $160
2. Saola Shoes
Saola makes sustainable shoes perfect for daily wear with an aim of doing more with less. They ensure that they use as many recycled materials as possible, eliminating the need for virgin materials, especially anything synthetic.
The uppers of their shoes are made from recycled plastic water bottles, the outsoles and insoles are made with algae foam, and the shoe laces are made with organic cotton. They also use natural cork for the insoles.
All their materials are sustainably sourced and only work with suppliers and factories that use fair trade practices and observe environmental rules.
Their shoes are ultra-comfy, lightweight, breathable, and durable. You will love everything about Saola shoes.
Indosole makes flip-flops and sandals from recycled waste tires and natural rubber locally sourced in Indonesia. Seeing the vast amounts of waste tires in landfills and stockyards, which are difficult to decompose, Indosole was born to minimize the problem.
Their shoes guarantee you ultimate comfort as they are made in such a way that they hug your foot, providing stability and better cushioning. Also, the tire soles live forever; you can wear your sandals for a thousand seasons.
Based in: California, US
Best for: flip flops and sandals
Ethic 1% for the planet, Certified B corp, cruelty-free footwear,
Materials: recycled tires, natural rubber, recycled EVA
Size range: 7- 14
Price range: $45- $60
4. Veja Shoes
Veja makes awesome sneakers that go beyond the “look.” Their aim is to create stylish and high-quality shoes while minimizing the negative impact on people and the environment.
Their sustainable sneakers are made with ethically sourced natural materials, leather, and recycled plastic. The brand also observes sustainable manufacturing practices to minimize its carbon footprint.
In their bid to lower their carbon emissions, they only ship their products by boat rather than by plane.
They also ensure to create and maintain sustainable and fair-trade practices throughout their supply chain. Their factory workers are paid above the living wage and provided with good working conditions.
The packaging is also eco-friendly as the shoes come in recycled and recyclable cardboard boxes.
Based in: Paris, France
Best for: casual sneakers
Ethics: Certified B corp, gives back, Cruelty-free options
Materials: recycled PET, organic cotton, chrome-free leather, natural rubber
Size range: EUR 35- 40
Price range: $105- $230
Rothy’s believes in doing business that puts the people and planet first. As a result, they find the most eco-friendly materials and turn them into great-looking shoes that you will love. Also, beyond the beauty, their shoes are durable and machine washable.
The brand features a wide variety of classic shoes, including sneakers, boots, sandals, and loafers. Their shoes are made through a process that combines 3D knitting technology and handcrafting.
They utilize materials such as recycled plastic bottles, algae foam, and plant-based materials. And, they don’t just stop at sustainable materials; they believe in fostering positive work environments for all employees. They are proud to offer industry-leading working conditions and benefits.
Based in: California, USA
Best for: Loafers and sneakers
Materials: recycled plastic bottles, algae-based foam, natural rubber, merino wool, hemp fiber, and castor beans.
Size range: 7- 16
Price range: $175- $275
Nisolo makes high-quality and unique leather shoes that effortlessly elevate your look. They use sustainably sourced leather and are now innovating to other materials such as upcycled post-consumer water bottles for their sneakers, sugar-based EVA foams for the outsoles and green EVA for the insoles.
They ensure that their leather suppliers observe the five freedoms of animal welfare. They do not use leather from exotic skins such as elephants, kangaroo, crocodiles, etc.
The shoes are made to last, ultra-cushioned for the ultimate comfort, and the rubber soles are shock absorbing and studded to provide better traction.
All their workers are paid a living wage and enjoy other benefits such as healthcare insurance costs. The brand also purchases carbon offsets to ensure they are 0% net carbon emitters.
They also partner with Soles4souls to donate new and used shoes to empower communities in need.
Based in: Tennessee, USA
Best for: boots, dress shoes, slip-ons, sneakers, sandals
Ethics: Certified B corporation, Climate neutral certified, Remake’s #1 rated brand for sustainability, Leather Working Group (LWG) certified.
Materials: sustainably sourced leather
Size range: 8- 13
Price range: $90- $260
7. 8000 Kicks
8000 Kicks makes eco-friendly sneakers using industrial hemp (not marijuana hemp, so don’t be scared, police dogs won’t come after you)
Not only are these hemp shoes sustainable, but they are also breathable, lightweight, and comfortable. The shoes are also dust and water-repellent and very durable. You will love the experience.
The company is carbon neutral and minimizes its carbon emissions by adopting renewable energy.
Based in: Braga, Portugal
Best for: casual shoes
Ethics: 100% vegan, carbon neutral,
Materials: cannabis hemp fibers, algae bloom and recycled rubber.
Size range: 7- 14
Price range: $135
Get 10% Off with code ZEROWASTEMAN
8. Vivo Barefoot
Vivo’s sustainable shoes are designed to take your foot shape rather than just a shoe shape. The shoes are wide, thin, and flexible. The goal is to ensure your feet feel as barefoot as possible, thus building strength and flexibility.
The shoes are made of recycled plastic, wild hide leather and bio-based materials.
The brand is a certified B corporation. They also have a sister company, Revivo, an online marketplace where you can buy preloved and unsold Vivo’s shoes at cheap prices. The goal is to create a sustainable and circular footwear industry.
Based in: London, United Kingdom
Best for: sneakers, hiking boots and workout shoes
Ethics: B corp certified,
Materials: wild hide leather, merino wool, recycled plastics, algae-based EVA.
Size range: 7- 15
Price range: $120- $280
9. Beckett Simonon
Looking for high-quality dress shoes or boots? Look no further. Beckett Simonon has a wide variety of fine-looking dress shoes, boots, and sneakers. Their shoes are intentionally designed so that you can comfortably enjoy wearing them now and in days to come.
By eliminating middlemen, their shoes are so affordable, literally half the price tag for such kind of quality. They believe that high quality doesn’t have to cost so much.
Beckett Simonon creates high-quality handcrafted pieces on a made-to-order basis to minimize waste and encourage thoughtful consumption.
Their shoes are made of high-quality leather from gold-rated tanneries and only use 100% natural waxes and water-based solvents and dyes.
Based in: Bogota, Colombia
Best for: Dress shoes, boots and sneakers
Ethics: make-to-order, ethical handcrafting and fair trade practices,
Materials: sustainably sourced leather
Size range: 7- 14
Price range: $159-$279
Hopefully, this guide will help you learn more about eco-friendly shoes for men and inspire you to become an eco-conscious consumer.
When buying shoes, consider investing in fewer but high-quality and comfortable shoes that can last a few more years. Avoid buying cheaply made shoes that will need replacement sooner. Though the cost upfront may be higher for the former, it will be cheaper and even good for the environment in the long run.
While at it, remember the most eco-friendly way is to use what you already have in your closet and only buy what you need.