The best sustainable sneakers that will minimise your carbon footprint

Sneaker freaks are likely to remember 2019 as the year that sustainable footwear hit the mainstream.

In the past month alone, Converse has begun up-cycling old jeans to make footwear, avant-garde titan Rick Owens has debuted a range of sustainable sneakers in collaboration with Veja, and eco-conscious womenswear brand Reformation has launched a collab with sneaker giant New Balance.

Meanwhile, pioneering sustainable brands such as FEIT and Allbirds continue to grow their businesses and launch new services, such as the MY FEIT program.

This march towards sustainability is good news for those of us who are interested in shrinking our carbon footprints – and it's a great excuse to treat yourself to a new pair of kicks. But where to begin?

French connection

The brand of the moment is Veja, which has been growing briskly since it was founded in France in 2004 and now sells more than 500,000 pairs of shoes each year.

The sneakers it has designed with Rick Owens are chic, aerodynamic and available in three classic Owens colourways: 'butter' (beige), 'dust' (grey) and black.

They're constructed using a proprietary material called V-Knit (made from recycled plastic bottles) for the uppers and a bio-based blend for the soles that contains rubber and sugar cane as well as standard E.V.A. plastic.

At $400, they cost about twice as much as other Veja shoes, but considerably less than the shoes that Owens produces himself. Judging by the success of Owens's ongoing collaboration with Adidas, it's safe to assume they will sell briskly.

Animal attraction

As well as the Rick Owens collab, Veja recently launched the Condor, its first-ever sneaker designed specifically for running. The shoes are 53 per cent natural-based and contain materials such as wild rubber from Amazonia and rice waste.


They're designed to be as lightweight as possible and contain natural latex for cushioning. Six colourways are available, including hi-vis fluoro yellow. Like the Owens shoes, Condors feature uppers made from recycled plastic.?

Other companies have decided not to use any plastic – recycled or otherwise – in their uppers. Chief amongst them is upstart Kiwi brand Allbirds, which uses New Zealand Merino wool that it mills in Italy.

The company has also developed SweetFoam, a material made from sugarcane, for its soles. In fact, the only plastic in Allbirds shoes is in the laces, which are made from recycled bottles.?

At $140, Allbirds shoes are rather good value, even if they're not quite as hard-wearing as Vejas. They're also water resistant, lightweight and very comfortable.

A lighter footprint

At the other end of the price spectrum, sneakers by luxury brand FEIT ($650) are made the old-fashioned way: from leather.?

FEIT (pronounced 'fight') believes using leather from meat production is the most sustainable way to make shoes because of the material's longevity – although some vegans may not approve.?

FEIT, which has stores in the United States and Sydney, has also launched a post-purchase care service called MY FEIT that offers complimentary cleaning, conditioning and restoration services, as well as a suite of repairs.?

The idea, FEIT says, is to further extend the lifespan of its customers' shoes, reducing their carbon footprints in the process.

Guilt-free shopping

If your carbon footprint is your top concern, footwear by the Brazilian brand Cariuma is also worth investigating.?

Its shoes are made from fair-trade leather, cotton and latex in ethical factories that are certified carbon neutral. The brand even purchases carbon offsets to neutralise the impact of shipping.?

When it comes to online shopping, it doesn't get much more sustainable than that.

Dan's writing on style, travel and more has appeared in The New York Times, the Australian Financial Review, Condé Nast Traveller and others. He is based in Sydney.

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Check out the gallery above to see the some of the most stylish planet-friendly footwear.