Sustainable trainers buying guide

The Sole Supplier CEO, George Sullivan, talks sustainable sneakers

We all love that feeling of putting on a pair of fresh new shoes for the first time, but have you ever considered the environmental impact of your favourite trainers? From materials to manufacturing, many have hidden costs.

But is it possible to find shoes that don’t (literally) cost the Earth?

In celebration of World Vegan Day, take a look at The Sole Supplier’s  sustainable sneakers buying guide and get inspired.

What makes trainers unsustainable?

Trainers have a high carbon footprint as they typically have many parts which involve injection moulding, foaming, heating, cutting and sewing.

Although there isn’t a lot of research out there on the environmental impact of fashion, one study found manufacturing a single pair of running shoes emits 13kg of carbon dioxide.

Most of the world’s sneakers come from China’s factories too, which still rely mainly on fossil fuels that are bad for the planet. In 2016 China represented nearly 80 percent of the global footwear manufacturing market alone.

Which brands out there are trying to change things and shake up the system?

Sustainable and vegan footwear has had a bit of rep for being a bit, well, rubbish (pun intended) in the past. But the movement has come a long way since then.

Still not sure? Here are our top sustainable trainer brands to make you think on your feet:

Adidas got on board in 2017, collaborating with environmental initiative Parley for the Oceans. It re-released its EQT sneaker using up-cycled plastic waste collected from Maldives’ beaches.

Italian brand Rombaut’s core mission is to protect the Earth’s biodiversity. All materials and fabrics are sustainably engineered from plant-based materials, using stone, tree bark, natural rubber, cotton cellulose and coconut fibre.

The Nike Plant Color Collection has just been announced. It’s “inspired by alternative ways to make colour,” using plant-based dyes. The Air Max 95 and Blazer Low will be the first recipients to undergo this eco-makeover.

Veja is the ‘eco-it’ shoe brand of the moment after the Duchess of Sussex was spotted copping a pair. By combining a winning formula of simple, yet stylish designs, millennial marketing and a sustainable focus, the brand has tapped into today’s modern consumer. The plain white V-10 Low Top with coloured Vs are the next modern classics on every savvy sneakerhead’s wishlist.

Veja’s retro-influenced white vegan-leather Campo trainers blend the sleek silhouettes of its original models to form a smart-yet-sporty shoe. The side logo appliqué is made from wild-sourced Amazonian rainforest rubber.

Stella McCartney has been at the forefront of ethical and sustainable fashion way before it hit the masses. Her Loop Sneakers are stitched together without glue for an innovative shoe that can be completely dismantled and recycled.

The Cotton + Corn is an initiative Reebok has been working on with partners like Dupont Tate & Lyle for several years. These sneakers are made from a 100 percent cotton upper and a bio-based corn sole.

OK, asides from only buying sustainable trainers, how else can I make a difference?

1. Hang onto your trainers for as long as you can
Try investing in more ‘classic’ looks or styles, rather than just the latest ‘fads’, as these are the pairs that will really stand the test of time.

2. Take care
Take better care of your shoes in the first place, by gently washing them and polishing them until they are no longer wearable.

3. Got some good-quality trainers that you’re not wearing?
Take them to your charity shop.

4. Have some really worn trainers?
RunnersNeed will be offering 20% off a brand new pair of shoes if you take your old shoes to your local branch to be recycled.

5. Check the source
Sustainable brands are not just about environmentally friendly materials. They should also be transparent about the people who contribute to its supply chain. The most sustainable brands are B Corp certified. This is a certification awarded to companies that meet certain standards of social and environmental purpose. Check brand websites for more details.

6. Look for alternative materials
Good leather alternatives include chrome-free leather, vegetable tanned leather or alternatives like Piñatex (made from pineapple leaves), recycled PET or textiles including hemp, organic cotton or wool. For rubber alternatives, try natural or wild rubber. This is cultivated to prevent deforestation.


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