I’ve always been intrigued by ALOHAS. They call themselves the ‘#1 destination for sustainable on-demand fashion’. Their shoes are *gorgeous*. And their price points reflect quality craftsmanship. And now, I’m excited to say, I am the proud owner of a pair of ALOHAS! But are they worth it? Are ALOHAS sustainable?
ALOHAS recently reached out to offer me a pair of their shoes to review, and I jumped at the chance. I chose these limited edition, bright red patent pumps. What do you think? Even looking at these photos, I think they’re chic. But are they worth it? Let me tell you everything…
How To Tell If A Fashion Brand Is Sustainable
It’s been a while since I did a brand deep-dive! Welcome back if you’ve read my previous posts on fashion brands that are saying the right things, but also leave me questioning if they’re doing the right things… In this series, I’ve previously covered Arket, Everlane, Matt & Nat, Monsoon, Sézane, and Nobody’s Child. Today, it’s ALOHAS.
I like to always start by defining what makes a fashion brand sustainable. I’ve evolved this definition over time, and it now stands at a series of seven questions:
- Do they share who makes their clothes?
- Do they employ adult workers?
- Do they clearly explain their sustainability aims?
- Do they specify each garment’s textile composition?
- Will their designs stand the test of time?
- Are they following circular practices?
- Should the fashion brand even exist?
In answering all of these questions, we can build a picture of an ethical, sustainable, transparent, long-lasting, regenerative, brand – or not. The final question is a new addition, because it’s important to also question whether the brand would even exist in a truly sustainable world. For example, Crocs could make their shoes transparently, and they have an arguable timeless style. But should millions of pairs of plastic shoes really be made in a truly sustainable world? The short answer is no.
And a final note – in my guide to sustainable shoes, I note that the process of making a shoe is really quite complex. There’s a lot of different parts, materials, and styles to consider. Making a truly wearable shoe is a lot harder than a pair of pants or a cotton t-shirt. And for that reason, there are a lot less shoe brands making shoes they call ‘sustainable’. For this reason, I will give some leeway to ALOHAS across this review.
Who Is ALOHAS?
ALOHAS was founded in 2015 in Hawaii. (You might have guessed from the name). They started as a footwear brand, with a small collection of espadrilles, reflecting the Hawaiian sunshine (although espadrilles are originally from Spain, specifically Catalonia and the Basque region(1)). From then, they slowly grew into more styles of sandals, then shoes for all seasons, and now clothing as well. Their main unique selling point is that their items are made ‘on-demand’:
“Fashion overproduction is one of the world’s biggest environmental threats – we simply refuse to stand and watch. Our pre-order business model allows us to forecast demand levels prior to production, so we only make what you actually want to buy. Good things come to those who wait and don’t waste!”
I am so here for this business model. With fast fashion championing economies of scale (and exploitation) to make too much product, too quickly, an on-demand system is a fresh antidote. It lines up customer demand and materials, providing a low-waste alternative to accessing fashion. And overproduction is a massive issue in the footwear industry – every single day, more 60 million pairs of shoes are manufactured across the world (2).
How Does ALOHAS’ On-Demand Model Work?
ALOHAS is up-front about how its on-demand business model works. In fact, it even calls it a ‘responsible production method’. Bold words! After my order was processed, I received this newsletter that highlighted how their business model works:
Here’s how it works:
1. We launch our upcoming designs, available for pre-order at 30% off.
2. You have two weeks to place your pre-order, after which the discount drops to 15%.
3. We calculate the exact number of units to produce & begin manufacturing.
We make more of what you like and less of what you don’t.
We don’t do conventional sales – our discounts are your reward for shopping on-demand.
The sooner you buy, the better the offer.
Now, you might have spotted it, but there’s already a red flag hidden in there. The push to buy – the sooner you buy, the better the offer – speaks to the same ‘dark patterns’ that fast fashion brands use. Dark patterns are a type of digital tool that fast fashion brands often use – for example, countdown clocks, discount codes, and limited time sales. This push to buy sooner than later has a similar energy. (I’ve since seen ALOHAS use a countdown clock on their site which is such an ick).
Now factor in the number of newsletters ALOHAS sends – I received 15 newsletters in September. That’s one newsletter every other day. That also echoes fast fashion. And I understand, there is a need to promote styles heavily in order to gauge demand, but how much of that demand is manufactured by aggressive marketing…?
Who Makes ALOHAS Shoes?
Despite being founded in Hawaii, ALOHAS is located in Spain, and produces its shoes in Spain too. (We love local production!) They say they choose to work with “trusted artisans in nearby workshop facilities who believe in sustainability and ethical manufacturing” and that they’re “committed to keep our production local to ensure that labor conditions and quality standards are in line with our values.”
However, there isn’t much more information provided than that, and that’s not good enough. When I searched “ALOHAS Factories”, I found an FAQ page that repeated the same information, along with an Instagram Live showing inside a factory. As someone who works in social media… I don’t take Instagram videos to be a reflection of real life.
I’d like to see a Supplier Map and ALOHAS’ Code of Conduct, at the very least. Assuming workers are fine because they are governed by Spanish law is not enough. Just look at the UK’s fast fashion factories, where staff were paid less than minimum wage. This is a pink flag.
What Are ALOHAS Sustainability Aims?
Finally, before I get onto reviewing my pumps… Let’s look at ALOHAS sustainability credentials. ALOHAS doesn’t have a Sustainability page or section on its website, instead providing a simple FAQ page called ‘How is ALOHAS sustainable?’ if you Google around a bit. This is another pink flag – if you’re going to call yourself sustainable within your Instagram bio and the like, you should be upfront about what that means.
Picking through the FAQ-style page, I found myself mulling over the following claims:
- On-demand model (previously discussed above)
- Zero landfill waste (but no further information)
- Timeless designs (arguable)
- Sustainable working conditions (no proof)
- LWG leather (a headline, without any further information)
- Fair labour conditions (but no real evidence, and no mention of living wages)
- Sustainable materials (admittedly, well detailed, but are they really sustainable…?)
Personally, I think there’s big holes in this entire page, which may also indicate holes in ALOHAS sustainability claims. There’s no real meat on the bones of any of the claims made, and many claims are left open-ended, for example:
“The vast majority of our leather products are chrome-free and recycled leather”
Which leads me to ask, why not all of them? And what about the LWG leather you mentioned before?
There’s also no carbon emissions reduction targets, which is a 🚩huge🚩red🚩flag🚩. Carbon offsetting is only mentioned as an add-on at the checkout for you, the customer, to decide whether you want to pay an additional “€2 or more” towards carbon-reducing initiatives. That’s not good enough.
(And don’t just take my word for it – Good On You echoes this in their review of ALOHAS).
ALOHAS Reggie Patent Pumps, Reviewed
Ok, setting all of that aside… Let’s talk about the shoes themselves. I love a good pair of pumps, and I like to choose shoes in classic styles that I’ll wear over and over. The ALOHAS Reggie Pumps were an instant ‘yes’. The design of these shoes sits somewhere between Carel, Jonak, and Nodaleto, and I know they’ll fit with the majority of my wardrobe (think of them like a good red lipstick!)
I’m going to be honest though – the moment I received the parcel I was disappointed. My shoebox came in a grubby plastic bag, one which I’ll reuse, but will likely end up in landfill. Again – this is from a brand that calls itself the ‘#1 destination for sustainable on-demand fashion‘. Would it really be too much to switch to paper packaging?!
In the box, my shoes were carefully packaged in tissue paper with cute cards and a purchase note. The design of the shoes undid some of the previous disappointment – I might have made a little squeal in excitement. I immediately went to try them on, only to find myself struggling to unbuckle them. And then I realised, the buckle didn’t fit. The buckle quite literally was too small to pull the leather strap through – instead, it sat at an awkward angle. Then, I realised the holes punched into the leather were also wonky. They had been punched in at an angle, with one hole very close to the edge of the strap, making it practically unusable.
If I had purchased these shoes outright, I would have sent them back. For £124.00 plus shipping, I expected them to be the same quality as my Jonak Paris Mary Janes, which had a similar price point, albeit without the sustainable claims. This little detail might seem minor, but I feel like it completely undermines ALOHAS’ claims of ‘quality craftsmanship’.
Pushing past my real disappointment now, I buckled the shoes and walked around. They felt comfortable to wear, a nice fit and weight. They fit my feet well, and I’ve since worn them twice, although I do get a little sad every time I have to fumble around buckling and unbuckling them. Upon wearing, I’ve found the shoes do rub slightly around the toes and straps, but not any more than to be expected with a new pair of heels.
For Balance: A Mini Review Of My Jonak Paris Mary Janes
For balance, I wanted to add in a quick review of my Jonak Paris Mary Janes. Jonak is a small French shoe maker designing shoes and heels in classic French styles. My pair retailed for around £150 plus shipping, and are made from 100% leather, made in Spain. Upon looking up the brand today, I found Jonak joined the LWG in April 2023, and has quite an extensive Commitments page despite not claiming to be a sustainable brand.
The shoes themselves are flawless. They buckle comfortably, and have been comfortable to wear since day one (although after long nights out, I have to say they do start to pinch on the heel, and the soles of my feet get tired). The leather is thin yet sturdy, and the patent has crinkled in places, but hasn’t cracked or needed repair. I’ve worn these out around 15 times so far, and I’m excited for more chances to wear them.
My Overall Rating of ALOHAS Shoes: 5/10
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably sharing my sense of disappointment. ALOHAS is making big sustainability claims and not living up to them. In fact, they’re making quality claims that they don’t live up to either. I don’t think they should call themselves sustainable, and I think the brand is experiencing symptoms of growing too fast – which again, shouldn’t really be a sustainable business’ aim.
ALOHAS calls themselves ‘#1 destination for sustainable on-demand fashion‘ yet I can name many, many more shoe brands operating more sustainably than them, many of which do not claim to be sustainable. They market themselves using fast fashion tactics, and they sell upwards of 300 styles of shoe at any given time. They operate a business model that offers early bird discounts and pressures you to buy sooner rather than later, but they don’t share any further ways in which this makes them sustainable. How is it possible to buy a shoe on their site that’s already in production? What happens to the leather offcuts? Why is there no take-back scheme? How can you call yourselves zero-waste, really?
If you’re in the market for a good pair of shoes, I recommend checking out the brands listed on my guide to ethical womens shoes, or my sustainable sneakers guide. I also recommend shopping second-hand for high quality shoes, and invest in the right tools to take care of them.
And now the big question – should ALOHAS even exist? Not in this state (and I haven’t even looked at their clothing range yet 👀).
1. The History of the Espadrille, Costume Society, 31/08/2020. https://costumesociety.org.uk/blog/post/the-history-of-the-espadrille
2. Foot Work* by Tansy Hoskins. “Every single day in 2018, 66.3 million pairs of shoes were manufactured across the world. That adds up to a total of 24.4 billion pairs.”