Sustainable and stylish sneakers: it is possible!

read | June 29, 2021

Sneakers are more than just a cushion for our feet – they are a fashion statement. However, most of the stylish sneaker brands we know are not sustainable. Thankfully we have found a range of circular sneaker brands that minimize their environmental impact, while creating high-quality, durable and well designed shoes.

What is the environmental impact of non-sustainable sneakers?

Sneakers leave a large carbon footprint. Research found that the manufacturing of a new pair of shoes creates about 13.6 kg of carbon dioxide emissions. This is equivalent to burning a 100-watt light bulb for one whole week. This large amount of emission is associated with extracting of raw materials, assembling the product, and detergent to clean it. 

Sneakers are also manufactured with harmful chemicals, which pollute the planet. For instance, the chemical titanium oxide gives colours to the shoes, while polyurethane is a harmful substance that makes the soft spongy sole. When workers are creating the sole using polyurethane powder, they have to wear masks to avoid inhaling the powder, as it can lead to respiratory problems. The midsole contains the chemical isocyanates, which can affect the eyes, lungs, and mucous membranes. On top of that, laces in sneakers are usually made from non-recycled polyester.

When used sneakers sit in landfills, a lot of these chemicals are released into the environment, causing health issues. And most of the material does not decompose (especially since there’s a lot of synthetic rubber and plastic in shoes), staying on the planet for years to come. This is why there needs to be a solution to disposing of sneakers at the end of their life cycle, such as recycling the materials, using less chemicals, and creating sustainable sneakers that are better for the environment. 

What to look for in sustainable sneakers?

Many global brands such as adidas, Nike, and Asics are trying to reduce their environmental footprint in various ways. However, it is hard to accurately measure their green efforts when different parts of the shoe are manufactured across the world, to be assembled somewhere else.  

There are specific things you can look for in a pair of sustainable shoes:

  • Use of recycled materials
  • Eco-friendly materials that can easily be recycled, or decompose
  • Energy consumption during production
  • Social fairness (e.g. safe working conditions, fair labour wages, local production)
  • Quality and durability
  • Cruelty-free

Where can I find stylish sustainable sneakers?

These are four circular, eco-friendly sneaker brands that we love. 

Mark and Greet created Komrads after realising the alarming impact of the shoe and fashion industry on the planet. After a lot of market research and 1.5 years in development, they came up with innovative sneakers made from recycled materials (cotton, PET bottles, rubber) and apple leather. The latter is made from waste (core and peel) from the apple juice industry. Komrads is also creating a new range of sneakers made from recycled cotton. The end product is a durable, high-quality circular sneakers with a very low environmental impact.

Skizo makes circular shoes out of plastic from the ocean. The company works with fishermen to collect plastic waste, and recycles about 18 plastic bottles (half a kilo) to make 1 pair of shoes. Skizo also offers an “end of life” and social responsibility program, where you can return your old shoes, and Skizo will repair them and offer them to people in need. Skizo shoes are handmade in Portugal and are breathable, water-resistant, and you can customise them to fit your own style. 

WAYZ refers to Wave at Your best in Life and following your passion and dreams. The WAYZ founders love sneakers but were fed up with low quality, mass produced shoes. Hence, they decided to create a brand of shoes, produced in Portugal, based around three pillars. Their environmental responsibility pillar means that they source and produce locally using eco-friendly (vegetable tanned leather) and recycled (rubber, polyester) materials; they are fully transparent about their production and prices; and they put an emphasis on social responsibility (1% of their sales go to homeless people in Porto). WAYZ shoes are versatile, timeless, and gender-neutral. 

WAO, the “eco effect shoes”, are completely ecological. They are made with natural, sustainable materials, with a zero waste concept. The dyes are natural and are extracted from plants, while the laces are made of organic cotton. Almost every part of the shoe (even the sole) is biodegradable and can be turned into compost. In fact, WAO collects your shoes at the end of life and does the process themselves. They also donate 4% of their sales to NGOs that support environmental and animal welfare. Made locally in Italy, WAO shoes are circular, high-quality, and comfortable.

CONCLUSION

Despite the worrying statistics about the impact that shoes and shoe production can have on the environment, these circular sneaker brands prove that your sneakers can be both sustainable and stylish.

By buying sneakers made from plastic waste, compostable materials, recycled parts, and purchasing from brands that don’t produce in mass quantities, you can reduce your own footprint.

In a stylish guilt free way ! 

Find them here.

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