If you’re trying to live a more eco-friendly life, there are plenty of things you can do. From composting food scraps to cutting out paper towels and plastic bags, every little sustainable switch you make helps the planet. If you’re searching for another way to be green, look no further than your closet.
We’ve shown you how to shop for clothes sustainably, but you might be shocked that one of the most wasteful things in your closet is actually your shoes. “Most shoes are a sandwich of environmentally harmful materials held together with toxic glues that last forever, and never go away,” says Elizabeth Cline, author of “The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good.” “Some shoe components take hundreds if not more than 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.”
Synthetic rubber, EVA foam, plastic, leather and a bevy of harsh chemicals are commonplace in the shoe industry, which is why finding new kicks made from sustainable materials is incredibly important. “Some eco-friendly footwear materials include [recyclable] or recycled content (which cuts down on virgin resource usage), as well as biodegradable or renewable content, whether it’s cotton canvas or natural rubber soles,” Cline says.
However, she emphasizes that materials aren’t the only thing you need to look at when shopping for shoes. “The shoes need to be made within a sustainable system too, namely in factories that conserve energy and water, don’t use or discharge any hazardous chemicals, and pay living wages and [are] sold by companies that have a commitment to the environment that goes beyond green marketing.”
That may sound like a daunting checklist to meet, but there are tons of brands out there that put sustainability first, and there are tools that make finding them easier than you think. “The truth is that the fashion industry is very complex and not transparent enough, making it difficult to get the nitty-gritty information you would need to feel comfortable about a purchase,” says Katrina Caspelich, the director of marketing for Remake, a nonprofit fighting to end fast fashion. Thankfully, Remake has a Sustainable Brand Directory, which lets you search your favorite brands to see how sustainable they are. Good On You is a similar site and breaks down a brand’s sustainability into three cateogires: planet, people and animals.
After verifying a shoe’s sustainability, you still have to ask yourself one more simple question: Do you actually like them? As Saskia van Gendt, head of sustainability at Rothy’s, explains, “Aside from low-impact materials like recycled plastics, the biggest thing consumers can consider is purchasing shoes that last in both style and quality that won’t be thrown away for next season’s trend.”
Caspelich echoes this: “By taking a moment to thoughtfully consider all purchases, we not only end up with shoes that reflect our taste and values, but we end up with less stuff, which also means less waste,” she says. “While shopping for eco-friendly shoes or not, it’s important to prioritize comfort. What good are shoes if you never wear them?”
There are tons of brands out there making a lot of eco-friendly claims, so to help narrow it down we asked our experts for their favorites and scoured the internet to find shoe brands that are trying to save the planet. Check out our list below for some of the comfiest, most stylish and, of course, most sustainable shoes out there.
Salt + Umber 2-Strap Sandals ($149; anthropologie.com)
These bold, buckled sandals features a rubber sole and a calf hair leather upper.
Salt + Umber Woven Leather Slides ($98; anthropologie.com)
Perfect for the sunny days ahead, these light and fashionable slides will be your go-tos all summer long.
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