4 shoe brands that try to offer vegan shoes in a “sustainable” and elegant way

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As we look back on a year in which sustainability has finally made its mark, many of us are starting 2020 by taking a closer look at our consumption habits. At this point, we all understand that the most sustainable choice is to stop using completely, but for those hungry for something new, there are more options than ever before when it comes to brands that make their mark. part to contribute as little damage as possible while bringing new things to the world. In the footwear business, a few notable (non-sneaker) brands aim to provide cute shoes that are both vegan and responsibly made.

One important thing to clarify is that vegan is far from being synonymous with sustainable. While the leather goods industry has a historically well documented negative impact on the environment, many shoe brands strive to use leather in a more sustainable way. Additionally, polyurethane, which is often used to mimic the durability and comfort of leather, isn’t exactly the most environmentally friendly material out there.

As we learned from the great faux fur vs. real fur debate, man-made materials can be even more of a problem than those of animal origin. Thus, for the founders of vegan and “sustainable” brands, finding and developing the right materials and production methods has been a continuous and difficult battle, each of them landing on their own solutions, from water-based polyurethane to plastic. recycled to carbon. offsets.

Many of these founders would be the first to admit that the world doesn’t really need more shoes, but they want to show consumers and the industry that a shiny new pair of leather boots isn’t their only one. option – without charging the level of Stella McCartney. prices.

Read on to learn about four brands that market themselves as vegan and sustainable and how they got where they are without sacrificing aesthetics or durability.

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Taylor & Thomas

taylor thomas sustainable vegan shoes

Los Angeles-based Jessica Taylor Mead and Elizabeth Thomas James launched direct-selling brand Taylor & Thomas in 2018 with the goal of creating luxury shoes that truly look and feel like leather without harming animals or to the environment. Currently, they use a water-based polyurethane for the uppers, a plant by-product for the linings, a mixture of castor and recycled rubber for the insoles, recycled plastic water bottles for an ultra-suede material, beech wood for the heels and recycled rubber for the outsoles. The brand also uses recycled and upcycled materials for packaging and is partnering with Native Energy to offset its carbon footprint.

While the founders believe the brand is too new to implement an end-of-life recycling plan – “The goal is not to create a disposable, fast fashion product that people want to throw away,” notes Mead – they say they will when the time comes. .

The hardest part of the process was finding these alternative materials and then finding factories willing to work with them.

“Some factories have said, ‘No, we’re not going to work with synthetic materials,’ and those that have found that it takes a lot more work – just because the material behaves differently from leather,” says James. It was all worth it, however. “We are proud of the fact that a lot of people who see our shoes do not realize that they are not made of leather and it is a bonus when we share this information that it is much better for the environment”, adds she does. .

While most of the brand’s customer base so far has been vegans, James and Mead hope to appeal to a wider audience and “get people across,” Oh, these are nice shoes, oh, they’re vegans. , great, I just want to wear them because they are beautiful, high quality, luxurious and fashion forward, ”says James.

Rafa

rafa vegan shoes

Taghrid Zorob launched his Rafa brand, best known for its ultra-suede heeled sandals (made from recycled water bottles), in 2014.

“I wanted to create something that was durable, beautiful, and animal-free, while making them stay comfortable and good for people and good for the environment at the same time,” she says.

She works with a small factory in Los Angeles to produce her shoes, which also needed convincing to work with animal-free materials.

“The man who runs this place has been making shoes since he was 13; [it’s] quite the old way of doing things, ”she explains. “It gave me a lot of perspective, but we finally got there. “

Although Rafa uses plastic, Zorob strives to ensure that its production methods and supply chain are as responsible as possible.

“It was important for me to keep [production] local. We pay very fair wages; everything is done the right way without sacrificing the human aspects of manufacturing, ”she says.

It also allows Rafa to make products to order – only a few of the more popular styles are kept in stock – which reduces waste. Zorob also purchases all packaging materials locally and completely forgo shoeboxes even when shipping to wholesalers. And she tries to ship everything overland when possible. All of these measures can result in higher prices and slower deliveries than less responsible competitors.

“It has been a bit of a challenge to educate the consumer about it, but once they get it, they get it and they really like it,” Zorob says.

Area

sustainable vegan shoes zone 2

New York-based Aera, which launched last year, positions itself as a luxury shoe brand for men and women that uses vegan materials, and also as ‘110% sustainable’, which means that it works with a third party to offset all of its carbon emissions. shows, and then some. The line was founded by entrepreneur Alvertos Revach, fashion director Tina Bhojwani and shoe designer Jean-Michel Cazabat, who saw the luxury space as an opportunity to respond to the growing community of consumer-conscious consumers. ethics.

“Thanks to innovations in materials and technology, it’s exciting,” says Bhojwani. “People who come [see the shoes] say they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what we use and any other luxury material. “

As with our other founders, achieving this was not easy, although they were able to find a solar energy supplier in Italy specializing in alternatives to vegan leather with recent investments in recycled materials, low-cost materials. plastic content, renewable materials and water-based polyurethane. Aera rods are made from synthetic materials including polyester, polyurethane, poly-viscose, polystyrene and nylon; the company is working with Plastic Bank to precisely compensate for this component.

The soles are composed of 50% synthetic rubber, 40% inorganic mineral composts (silicones and mixed clays) and 10% additives (bindings, pigments and plasticizers); the linings are in vegetable materials and the heels are in recycled plastic, wood and / or thermoplastic polyurethane.

The brand has an ongoing take-back program to recycle shoes once customers are done with them, but the founders note that they are intentionally focusing on timeless designs that won’t go out of style season after season. other.

Sydney Brown

sustainable vegan shoes sydney brown

“I think there are probably enough shoes in the world that we don’t need to produce before the end of time, but the challenge is people want new styles and new things, so try to balancing that is extremely difficult, ”says Sydney Brown, who launched her namesake vegan shoe line in 2011.

With much less innovation in sustainable vegan materials around this time, she had her work cut out for her.

“I just took a shoe apart and usually in each shoe there are about 15 different components, so if I couldn’t find a sustainable supplier to work with, I had to figure out how to do it myself. key people in the industry and work to collaborate with them, ”she explains.

In particular, it took her four years of working with chemists to develop the vegan glue that she now uses. It has been a continuous process of developing new and better materials; she has worked with everything from fennel to pineapple to cacti.

“It’s a constant process of refinement, and what we considered sustainable five years ago is no longer sustainable today, so we need to keep improving,” she says. “It’s kind of a question of the lesser evil because nothing is perfect.” At present, she is passionate about the future and the potential of biofabricated materials like “growing mycelium mushroom leather and cultivating real collagen protein in a science lab; you can grow leather, by fat”.

Next month, she’s launching a recycle and take-back program, and she just hired a CEO and COO who are helping the brand take stock of its carbon emissions. She adds that her goal for 2020 is to create a community with like-minded brands to share information instead of seeing each other as competitors and being secretive.

“The only thing we can do for this climate crisis is to work together,” she said.

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