Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Where to buy (sustainable) summer sandals

Recently I’ve been finding it really hard to find a pair of fashionable summer sandals that have not only been produced in a fair and ethical way, but also with the environment in mind. Because of the range of manufacturing techniques and different materials that go into producing a pair of shoes (such as leather, PVC, canvas, cotton, polyester, rubber, plastic and often-toxic glues to name a few!), they are much more difficult than clothing to reuse and recycle, and therefore much more likely to end up in landfill at the end of their lifecycle.

Over 330 million pairs of shoes are sold each year in the UK alone [1], and whilst many retailers including H&M have now introduced recycling schemes to help ‘close the loop’ on garment production, thereby helping reduce the demand for virgin fibres and the energy this requires [2], it’s difficult to find a well-known brand that is taking the same approach to footwear, let alone one with a range wide enough to appeal to all customer types.

My search so far has involved:

- Lots of vegan shoe brands and retailers, including Beyond Skin and Melissa
Although I really admire their commitment to animal welfare, which also helps reduce the demand for leather and the toxic tanning processes this can involve, I’m not totally sold on whether they address the problem of plastics and landfill (but happy to be convinced otherwise!)

- Sustainable trainer brand Po-Zu
Worth mentioning for their fantastic focus on reusing materials, but unfortunately no summer sandals…

- TOMS shoes, with their One-for-One policy
Again, fantastic focus on helping children in developing countries, but don’t do many sandals…

- And potentially the biggest obstacle in my search, which has been ethical brands that just don’t deliver on fashion, such as Green Shoes, Oliveira, and SoleRebels. Call me shallow, but it’s fair to say that I’ll only buy a pair of shoes I really love, and I don’t see why I should have to compromise on style just because I care about who’s made my shoes and what’s gone into them.

The best of the rest:

Fashion Conscience
A great website that merges ethical and environmental awareness with a fashion focus, which so many other ethical shopping platforms and brands seem to lack. I also appreciate the fact that they call out the fact that "many people have different interpretations of what is 100 per cent ethical fashion. We believe if you are making a honest genuine move in the right direction to less harmful, exploitative practices, that is better than no move at all." These are £25 and made from PU vegan 'leather', but pose the same problem as mentioned above. I'd also prefer them in a tan colour.

Arguable industry-leading in terms of high street retailers' policies on sustainable sourcing and environmental impact (see Business of Fashion article here, and my other post about Rana Plaza here). These sliders are really on-trend but, sadly, would definitely fall off my weirdly thin feet (£18)
I also like these (£25), but again a tan version would be better:

And finally, Boden

- What is your opinion on Boden? I thought their honest response to Wear From Where's questions on their ethical trade policy was quite impressive, and they seem to promote a ‘slow fashion’ ethos in terms of a focus on quality. Recently they’ve made a lot of progress towards improving working conditions in their factories (see ETI report here), but I’m still not sure about what they’re doing to mitigate their environmental impact. These (£49) are cute but I worry they'd slip off too:
These are fun (£79) but I'm still not sold on the flatform thing.

What do you think? I still haven’t settled on a pair, so for now my search continues…any other suggestions much appreciated!

[1] See Business Green article here.
[2] Although it should be noted that only 0.2% of H&M’s textiles are recycled. See here for quite a damning article on their sustainability policies.

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