Sneakerheads can trace their hobby-turned-closet staple to the 19th century. The first sneakers was designed for athletes, functional and essential. Two centuries later, the once niche shoe has birthed an industry worth billions, along with a wealth of aesthetics to choose from. In fact, by 2025, the athletic footwear market is projected to hit USD$95.14 billion worldwide. And the latest trend of the statement piece? The sustainable sneaker, set to make a splash in the market, while putting your best foot forward.
first sneakers was designed
The vegan sneaker has been gaining traction for some time now. Think Veja, a sneaker brand that, according to the founders, was founded on values of dignified conditions and economic justice. Launched in 2005, the French footwear brand used recycled plastic bottles to produce their highly versatile pieces. Likeminded high-street labels like Axel Arigato and Virón are founded on principles of organic design. Meanwhile, luxury is increasingly reeling in buyers with sustainable shoes, likely following in the footsteps of vegan frontrunner, Stella McCartney.
The environmentally-conscious sneaker marks a necessary step in the quest for sustainable shopping. There are an alleged 300 million pairs of shoes thrown out every year, according to sneaker startup Nothing New. Just as alarmingly, it takes an average of 30-40 years for shoes to decompose in a landfill. Ethical sneakers can combat this waste, with a blend of materials and production. Vegan leather, at its core, removes the need for using leather, skins, or other animal-derived materials.
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fast fashion, sneaker collections
Is this the future of footwear? While vegan sneakers are being recognised, there may still be a long path ahead for consumers to wholly embrace the sustainable alternative to footwear. As with fast fashion, sneaker collections are based on ‘drops’, which can occur several times a week. Sneaker collectors can be easily pulled into this battle of securing the latest shoe. Meanwhile, brands play into this game, launching frequent collections to keep up with demand. This cycle would have to be broken in order for the sustainable shoe to really cement itself into the market. Some argue that limited-release collections are an adequate solution, while other experts believe fewer drops are the key to ethical consumerism.
Moreover, a larger cultural shift would have to be embraced. In other words, for sustainable footwear to be the norm, sustainable materials that can also be recycled have to be exclusively used. Independent brands are paving the way to this conscious means of production, with a bundle of labels offering avant-garde design with the promise of ethical shopping. Here are some that should be on your radar.
India’s solution to sustainable footwear has arrived. Neeman’s, an innovative footwear brand, has created all-natural sneakers using 100% recycled PET bottles. The shoes are also crafted from castor bean oil, bamboo, and recycled rubber. Their unisex line is available in eight colours, and mirrors the minimalist sneaker sensibilities that have been welcomed by the fashion world.
Sylven New York
Plant-based from start to finish, these shoes incorporate materials derived from plants, such as apple leather, coconut, and wheat. Each plant composes a distinct portion of the shoe – for example, coconut husks are used to create chemical-free insoles. As one can imagine, the brand’s first ever sneaker took over two and a half years to source. Now each piece of footwear is made in a factory in Tuscany, where the materials are found in surrounding areas.
Aqua & Rock
This UK-based label features durable trainers and is sourced as a by-product of the food industry. Their collaboration with Netherlands-based Linkken resulted in a collection of trainers especially made for Earth Day. The pieces are informed by ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, a painting by Netherlandish painter Hieronymous Bosch, which can be traced to around the fifteenth century. Truly an ode to nature.
Employing repurposed ocean and land plastic, LØCI presents values of clean living and a staunch support of preserving sea life. From austere low-top and mid-top vegan sneakers to a line of geometric-printed trainers, the label plays into the ‘off-duty model’ aesthetic that dominates our Instagram feeds.
This Spanish brand offers a clusster of unisex sneakers in an range of peach, caramel, and earth tones. The organic and sustainable materials are sourced from Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian locales. Think corn waste, cotton, and plastic extracted from the sea. The label is verified by The Vegan Trademark, which identifies and labels items that are completely free of animal ingredients, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) approved.
We saw them on Rosie Huntington Whiteley and now they are on our style radar. With leather and vegan options, Saye is a Spanish sneaker brand that uses mango peel leather, plants two trees every time a pair of its casual plimsolls are sold, and has committed to going zero-waste and animal-free in its supply chain.