11 Tips for Buying Shoes Sustainably

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There are thousands of stylish, high-performance athletic sneakers being sold every day, but at what cost to the environment? Unfortunately, for the most part, it’s high. The fashion industry, which includes clothing, accessories, and footwear is responsible for 8-10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Most sneakers are made of artificial foam and plastic that won’t decompose when they inevitably end up in a landfill. 

 

This is where you can make a difference. The next time you go shoe shopping, we ask you to consider the following factors. Making the decision to shop sustainably will reduce your carbon footprint, so that you can tread lightly on the planet.

Choose Timeless Styles

 

It’s tempting to follow the trends and buy shoes that are clearly a fashion statement, but it’s also very likely that you won’t get much wear out of them before the trend changes to something else. The best way to buy shoes or clothing is to pick timeless styles that you can wear again and again with lots of items in your wardrobe. This will ensure that you get the most use out of them.

Read the Tag

 

When you’re at the store considering your shoe options, naturally the first thing you will check is the tag. Take a look at the branding and the messaging. Many eco-friendly brands will tell you that they are ethical and sustainable right on the label. However, you can’t always trust the marketing, as some companies “greenwash,” or say that they are eco-friendly when they actually aren’t. This is why you should also look for certifications, listed in the next step.

 

Look for Certifications

 

Somewhere on the tag or the label of the garment, there should be symbols for certifications that indicate that the company has been verified in its sustainable practices. If the company makes organic cotton sneakers or other organic textiles, then they should be certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard. Or, if they produce leather, look for a certification from the Leather Working Group, which will indicate that the leather has been sourced sustainably. Some other certifying bodies include the Global Recycled Standard, Forest Stewardship Council, OEKO-TEX, and the Organic Crop Improvement Association. 

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Don’t Be Discouraged by Price

 

We know budgeting is difficult and shoes are probably not at the top of your list of expenses. Buying sustainable clothing and shoes can often be more expensive than purchasing a garment from a fast fashion retailer, which is why so many people choose to shop at the latter. Each year, nearly 500 billion dollars of fashion items are wasted, either through underutilization or a lack of recycling. 

 

However, you will undoubtedly get more use out of a high-quality item made of organic materials than a fast fashion item. Instead of having your shoes fall apart after two wears, a long-lasting pair of sustainable sneakers can get you through several seasons and not leave behind nasty plastic.

 

Do Research On the Brand

 

If you have any doubts about the practices of a company, give them a quick search online to see if there is more information about their policies and practices around sustainability. If you are buying locally, which is preferable as you will save on packaging materials for the product, you can use an app while you are in a store to check the sustainability ratings of a brand. Good on You is a popular app that will provide you with quick facts about a brand as well as their certifications and overall rating.

 

Avoid Synthetic Materials

 

While you are checking the label of a garment, take note of what the materials used are. If you have never heard of any of the materials, it is likely that they are synthetic. Avoid EVA, or Ethylene-vinyl acetate, which isn’t biodegradable. Instead of buying synthetics and supporting the use of plastic in the fashion industry, look for raw, naturally occuring materials, like the ones listed in the next step.

 

Choose Organic Materials

 

So, what types of organic materials are used in the making of shoes? There are obvious ones, like organic cotton and silk, and then there are not-so-obvious materials like Tencel, which is made from bamboo. Sugarcane, cork, corn, and organic rubber are other natural materials that are commonly found in sustainable sneakers and clothing. Of course, the raw materials have to be processed to get to the final product stage and the way that they are processed is extremely important when judging whether a garment has been ethically produced. While you won’t be able to witness their production yourself, you can trust that certifying bodies like GOTS have done their research into the company’s practices.

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Shop Locally

 

Where possible, shop locally in your own hometown. Not having to ship the goods back and forth saves on the energy and pollution associated with delivery trucks. You will have a better chance of being happy with your shoes the first time as you will have the opportunity to try them on, so it is less likely you would need to return them. Finally, shopping locally helps small businesses stay afloat and supports people you know as well as your local economy, rather than a giant corporation like Amazon.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag

 

No matter what you are shopping for, you should always carry reusable bags to avoid wasting single-use plastic or even paper ones. Try to shop for items that don’t come in a box, which is a challenge with shoes as they usually do. 

 

Wear Your Shoes More Than 50 Times 

 

A great way to be more sustainable with your fashion choices is to shop less and shop for higher quality items. This will not only produce less waste, but will encourage you to think harder about what you are purchasing. You should be able to wear your clothing or shoes at least 50 times. If you don’t think you can get that much wear out of them, then keep looking!

 

Support Companies Working to Offset Their Carbon Impact

 

Many of the companies working with eco-friendly materials and sustainable practices also hold the goal of achieving carbon neutrality. Companies like Cariumas, a Brazilian sneaker brand, not only use recyclable and organic materials, but also offset their carbon impact with reforestation programs that plant two trees for every pair of shoes purchased. These trees take the carbon dioxide out of the environment that may have been put there through the production of their shoes. 

 

Popular Sustainable Companies That Make Shoes

 

  • Cariumas
  • Everlane
  • Patagonia
  • AllBirds
  • Rothys
  • Veja
  • TOMS
  • Nisolo