Finding sustainable shoes is tricky. It’s one of the most popular questions I get asked, and on top of that, in my guide to ethical shoes, some of you even asked to see my own collection!
So, here we are! My collection has grown from eight pairs of shoes to now 12 pairs (a jump of 50%!) but they come from a range of places, and are all different styles for different outfits, so I think they provide the perfect opportunity to share exactly where I get my shoes from, and my favourite brands…
Where to get sustainable shoes?
There are a number of sustainable shoe brands in the UK, as well as second-hand platforms where you can find shoes. If you’re looking for shoes to purchase yourself, check out my full list of ethical shoe brands.
In the same guide to shoes, I explained why sustainable shoes are a lot harder to find than t-shirts or most forms of clothing. Most shoes are made from a large number of very different, complex parts – there’s the sole, the heel, the insole, the upper, the glue – and that’s just a standard slip-on shoe. Sneakers and lace-up shoes add another layer of complexity, and then of course there’s the aesthetic and the comfort to think of.
This complexity means I think certain shoes are better to buy new (notably, those that you have to wear in), whereas others are totally fine second-hand.
What’s in my shoe collection?
To demonstrate that same mix of shoe designs, as well as different places to get shoes, why not take a look through my own collection? I have 12 pairs, some of which I wear constantly (ahem, those Wills boots) and some that get worn for certain special occasions only. Either way, they all have a sustainable story to tell…
Second-Hand Lace-Up Flats
Brand: Oxfam Online*
Review: I bought these pretty lace-up flats from Oxfam’s Online store in the summer of 2018, to go with a sweet cotton dress I’d scored in People Tree’s sale. While the dress doesn’t really fit my style anymore, the shoes live on, and they go with everything – skirts, trousers, dresses, whatever. My trick to buying second-hand shoes is to go for good quality brands and materials: these are Clarks shoes, and are made from suede.
Sustainability credentials: Second-hand shoes which benefit charity, as well as high quality materials and construction to ensure I wear them over and over again.
Veja White Sneakers
Review: One of my most-worn pairs of shoes has to be these vegan leather sneakers from Veja. I purchased these this time last year, when Veja was testing out their cornstarch-based vegan leather. Unfortunately the range is no longer available, and they’ve also expressed that the material didn’t work on a larger scale, so they’re working on finding a better vegan material. Personally, these shoes have lasted me incredibly well, and are only now starting to show signs of wear. I’ll be wearing them until they fall apart!
Sustainability credentials: French designed sneakers made in Spain, with canvas options and a new form of vegan leather on the way.
Cariuma Canvas Sneakers
Price: £60 (Gifted)
Review: To complement my white sneakers, I’ve also recently added Cariuma Oca Low Sneakers to my collection. The washed black canvas and white stitching make for a nice contrast, and the shoes themselves are incredibly comfortable. There was no wearing-in stage at all, which may be down to their specially designed in-soles. Plus, most of Cariuma’s designs are unisex, so my boyfriend is also thinking about getting a pair…
Sustainability credentials: Brazilian brand creating sneakers made from bamboo, recycled plastics, canvas and more, delivered in recycled and recyclable packaging.
Vegan Leather Mules
Brand: Marks & Spencer*
Review: Ok, here’s a good example of when I can’t be 100% proud of my purchase, but that’s what this space is for right? We can’t always be perfect in our efforts to be eco.
I purchased these mules while I was with my sister, and we were planning on what to wear on holiday. Sure, I didn’t need these shoes, but they were also the first time I’d seen M&S do vegan leather (which includes the glue in their shoes) and I was feeling fancy.
Would I recommend them now? Probably not. But I enjoyed wearing them a lot last summer, and I’ll carry on doing so this year.
Sustainability credentials: Minimalist designed mules made with vegan leather and vegan glue.
Second-Hand Leopard-Print Flats
Brand: Trinity Hospice Charity Shop
Review: Now here’s a pair of shoes that have been with me for years! I picked these up over two years ago at a charity shop near where I was living in South London. While I’m not one for bold prints and colours, adding a splash to my shoes seemed like a nice change!
Just like my second-hand lace-up flats above, I bought these based on a few things – they’re made by Office, a good brand for shoes, and are made from leather. I don’t buy leather first-hand ever, but second-hand feels ok to me. They’ve still got plenty more wears in them too!
Sustainability credentials: Second-hand shoes that benefit charity, made well and well-worn.
Black Minimal Heeled Sandals
Brand: Koi Footwear
Price: £25 (Gifted)
Review: Let’s talk about heels. Finding good, sustainable heels is hard. Unless you’re looking to go second-hand (which can be tricky if they’re worn in, or if you want to try before you buy), your options are incredibly limited.
I got these very minimal black heeled sandals from Koi Footwear, a brand creating ONLY vegan leather shoes, and in a wide range of designs. They’re manufactured in China, with little information available, so I’ve asked for more information on that side of things. Other than the materials, they’re not great, but I’ll be sure to wear these at any chance I get.
Sustainability credentials: Vegan leather high heels.
Vegan Leather Birkenstocks
Brand: Birkenstocks from SOLETRADER
Price: £60 (Gifted)
Review: Ok, time to add in something slightly different… SOLETRADER recently approached me to try out their range of vegan shoes, which I’ve happily accepted. You know me and vegan fashion – sometimes I love it, sometimes, eh, not so much.
Well, my Matt & Nat sandals were due to be replaced, so I’ve kindly been gifted these vegan Birkenstocks to try out. I love the look of Birkenstocks, jeans, and a white t-shirt, as well as the typical shorts or holiday clothes, so I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of wear out of them. For now though, I’ve given them a brief breaking in, and I really love how well they fit my feet. I’ll be sure to check back in with a review soon…
Sustainability credentials: Vegan leather, classic design.
Vegan Dr. Martens Boots
Brand: Dr. Martens*
Review: Ok so these boots are some of my oldest – I first reviewed these in 2015, and they’re still going strong!
Dr. Martens is a brand that’s close to my heart, as a grew up near their UK factory, and while most of their manufacturing happens abroad now, I’ll still hark back to their factory shop when I’m in the area.
These vegan 1460 boots are made in the exact same way as their regular boots, although the upper is made from a PU-type material. It’s not a sustainable material, but it’s incredibly hard-wearing, doesn’t require any maintenance, and once I’d worn these bad boys in, they’ve been incredibly comfy to wear. Read my full review here!
Sustainability credentials: Vegan leather boots in an iconic unisex design, made to last.
Vegan Dr. Martens Brogues
Brand: Dr. Martens at SOLETRADER
Price: £120 (Gifted)
Review: Now, for an interesting twist – I’ve added Dr. Martens vegan brogues into my collection now! These are totally new to me, and I’ve worn them once so far. Sure, they rubbed (what was I expecting?) and the material feels a lot tougher than the boots, but that’s sure to change with wear. I’m interested to see if these last as well as the boots, and I’ll hopefully one day do a comparison.
Sustainability credentials: Vegan leather shoes, made to last.
Waves Natural Rubber Flip-Flops
Price: £16 (Gifted)
Review: Do you ever find there’s an area of your life you just haven’t questioned the impact of yet? My swim bag was one such place, which I’m now happy to say I’ve changed!
Alongside my second-hand swimsuit from Rokit, I’ve added this pair of natural rubber flip-flops into the mix. Sure, they’re pretty boring in design, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I can leave these by the pool while swimming without issue, and they feel just as high quality as a pair of Havaianas flip-flops.
Sustainability credentials: Natural rubber flip-flops made with plastic-free packaging.
Navy Blue Pointed Pumps
Brand: A well-known high street brand…
Review: Similar to my vegan mules from M&S, these pointed pumps come from a well-known high street brand, which I visited when looking for shoes to match my rented blue floral suit. I relented to buying these shoes on the high street after three weeks of searching – I had run out of time, and these were the best bet.
I pair these with a lot of my other outfits and make sure they get some wear, but I also tend not to broadcast where they’re from so I don’t give the brand any airtime. It shows how there’s still some way to go when it comes to finding ethical high heels – someone, please start making them!
Sustainability credentials: Worn repeatedly… but that’s about it.
Will’s Vegan Leather Chelsea Boots
Brand: Will’s Vegan Shoes
Review: Finally, onto my most worn shoes of them all: my vegan leather chelsea boots! These were kindly gifted to me by Will’s, and I’ve worn them down to the point where they need re-heeling now!
Will’s is great – they only use vegan leather, and they have all their shoes made in Spain. Their designs are timeless, and I love love love clip-clopping along in these boots. I’ve lived in chelsea boots for most of my adult life, so I knew these would be a hit, and I recommend them to everyone!
Sustainability credentials: Classic boots design made with PETA-approved vegan leather, manufactured in Spain, and worn repeatedly.
Disclaimer: This post contains gifted items (denoted 'gifted') and affiliate links (denoted '*')