A growing number of brands are on a mission to make trainers more sustainable. Why? Well, the majority of our sneakers are made from leather and plastic, which are both considered problematic materials due to their sizeable carbon footprint. In the case of leather, harsh chemicals are often used in the tanning process, while plastic – as we know – doesn’t biodegrade and can stay around for hundreds of years.
That’s why eco-minded brands often use recycled plastic or bio-based plastic to produce their trainers, alongside responsibly-sourced leather. There’s also been a rise in vegan sneaker brands of late, as both environmental and ethical concerns around the use of leather continue to grow. While the perfect solution doesn’t exist – many of these alternatives aren’t biodegradable either – it’s a step in the right direction, with new innovations cropping up all the time.
Below, we round up eight of the best sustainable trainer brands.
One of the best-known eco-trainer brands, Veja has soared in popularity in recent years – with both the Duchess of Sussex and Duchess of Cambridge among its fans. The French brand makes the majority of its designs using its preferred materials list, which includes recycled PET, organic cotton, chrome-free leather and bio-based plastic, and is looking to reduce the amount of leather it uses in its collection.
Adidas x Stella McCartney
With Stella McCartney known for her long-standing commitment to sustainability, her partnership with Adidas has sought to push the mainstream market forward on the eco-front. From vegan Stan Smiths (complete with rainbow laces, for that extra dopamine hit) to runners made from recycled jersey, they’ve got all bases covered.
Founded in 2018, Barcelona-based brand Saye has created a range of vegan trainers, made using a combination of bio-based and recycled materials at its factories in Portugal. In 2021, it launched its first sneakers made from two innovative leather alternatives: the first made from organic cactus leaves and the second from mango waste.
Løci uses recycled ocean plastic to make its sneakers, with the London-based brand claiming that each pair of its trainers saves 20 plastic bottles from ending up in our oceans and landfill. As well as using recycled materials, the company also donates 10 per cent of its profits on every pair purchased towards building ocean conservation sites and protecting endangered species.
Vegan sneaker brand Yatay was launched in a bid to create high-quality sneakers that are also kind to the planet. The company uses bio-plastics made from corn, alongside recycled plastic and rubber, to produce its trainers, which are manufactured in Italy by hand. Each pair comes with a unique code on the heel, which allows you to plant a tree to help offset the carbon footprint of your trainers.
Originally founded in 2014 with the mission to introduce merino wool to the world of footwear, Allbirds has fast become known for its eco-credentials. The brand announced a partnership with Adidas in 2020, with the mission to create a trainer with the “lowest ever carbon footprint”. As well as using wool, the brand uses Tencel, which comes from FSC-certified forests, alongside bio-plastics and natural rubber. Each sneaker also comes with a label telling you its carbon footprint, which is offset by the company.
Promising to create footwear that brings us closer to nature, Vivobarefoot’s USP is its ultra-thin soles – allowing you to feel as close to being barefoot as possible. The British brand uses bio-based materials, such as algae foam, alongside recycled plastic, while ensuring its trainers get a second life via its resale and repair platform, Revivo.
Brazilian brand Cariuma focuses on using natural materials for its trainers, ranging from organic cotton and bamboo to leather and suede that’s been responsibly-sourced from Argentina, Thailand, Brazil and China. Happily, the brand will also plant two trees for each pair of trainers purchased, as part of its reforestation programme.