When I was a kid in the 70s, my mother showed me a sandal that she said was an “earth shoe.” I had no idea what this meant, but it was a leather sandal with a strange high arch, and a big change from the high-heeled Candi’s she usually wore. I don’t know what made that shoe an “earth shoe” but today I often think about my shoe purchases in regards to whether or not they are eco-friendly. Determining which shoes are the most eco-conscious is a complicated issue, and the answers aren’t often very clear. And let’s be honest… we all know fashion comes at a price.
How our products are made, where they are made, and what they are made of can all contribute damage to our environment. When it comes to shoes, the issue is complicated because of the needs involved, including durability, comfort, and style. For instance, there are many people concerned about the use of animal hides used in the making of a large majority of shoe wear, and yet the durable alternatives to leather are few, and quite costly. While natural, leather can also use toxic chemicals in the tanning and manufacturing process, such as chromium.
The cheaper alternatives often do not last and necessitate the use of harsh chemicals. Leather is a natural material, after all. While vinyl (PVC) seems to be the next easiest choice, as it doesn’t include animal products during manufacturing, it does require the use of petroleum and produces toxic chemicals like dioxin. Shoes are a necessity in our society. So what choices do we have as both nature lovers and fashion mavens?
There are shoes on the market that do not use animal products, nor use harmful chemicals in the production process. SIMPLE is a shoe company that puts the impact of their products on the environment above any other factor, and creates their footwear from all types of natural, non-animal or recycled materials. There are soles made from recycled carpet padding and tires, and uppers made from certified organic cotton as well as reclaimed wool. Most of the styles are casual, and are limited to sneakers, although there is a high, more stylish boot offered currently. Patagonia also offers shoes similarly constructed from reused or organic origins, as does Teva. Links to several companies making environmentally sound or fair trade shoes are:
Simple – www.simpleshoes.com
Patagonia – www.patagonia.com
Timberland – www.timberland.com
Merrell – www.Merrell.com
Teva – www.teva.com
Another great resource are online shoes stores that host many companies, like Planetshoe (check out their “Eco” category) and Zappos (filter by “Eco-Friendly” under “Features”), both of which offer eco-friendly and vegan shoes from many different retailers. The drawback to almost all types of eco-friendly shoe is that they look very casual. This is tough for those who either are working in a professional field where dressier attire is expected, or for someone to whom style is very important. For those people, there are a few other alternatives to consider.
One way to purchase shoes that is more earth-friendly than pulling the latest hot leather pump or wedge off the shelf at a department store is to choose a second-hand shoe. While the feel of strapping on the hottest new look is momentarily satisfying, almost all trends are a recycling of something done before with a tweak here or there. So, searching the best consignment shops or even a good thrift store can result in finding a great pair of sexy heels without introducing any new waste or chemicals into our environment.
One last important idea to consider when making both environmentally better choices and craving that latest pair of hot shoes: longevity. Grist.org, a green news source, cites how shoes generally have short life spans. This is largely due to not only how quickly fashion magazines fuel our desire for the next hottest look, but also how comforting it is for most women to shop for an item that almost always fits perfectly, unlike a pair of skinny jeans. Choosing a few really good pairs of shoes that are high-quality, durable, inherently stylish and that you will be happy wearing for many years, may be the greenest choice of all.