I’m a full-blown, insatiable shoe addict. As someone who thinks about comfort as much as I think about style, finding those holy grail shoes that make your ego and tender tootsies feel equally good is indescribably satisfying. Even better? Ethical shoe companies that make your conscience feel good, too.
I try to keep a handle on my consumptive tendencies, and over the last few years I’ve started seeking out shoe companies that have missions I believe in; if you’re going to have a shoe addiction, you might as well support the dealers who aren’t cutting their product with exploitive labour practices or environmental degradation (this metaphor got away from me). These days, there are lots of really amazing footwear companies out there, and since most of us will probably never dive into shoe-making (unless you are the whirling making dervish like Jasika or Carolyn) finding those that operate ethically is a great way to get your fix and feel good doing it.
Often, sustainable or ethical shoes are more expensive, but in my experience, these companies care a lot more about quality, so a thoughtfully purchased pair will last much longer than the poorly made options available in most stores these days. With regular care and the occasionally re-soling at your local cobbler, there is no reason your shoes can’t last for many years. This list is not exhaustive (although I did spend a full day compiling it) but it should give you a good idea of the breadth and depth of companies out there.
FYI, I am defining “ethical” as those companies who are transparent about their manufacturing process, whether they use certified fair trade labour, or work closely with factories to ensure wages and work conditions are kept to a high standard. I am also including companies with a focus on sustainable or renewable materials, vegan shoe brands, and smaller mom and pop type operations. Vegan shoes are often made of PVC and polyurethane, which are toxic to make and basically never biodegrade, but a lot of interesting things are happening with vegan leather. In the past I have avoided non-leather shoes because in my experience they didn’t last as long and didn’t breathe (making for much stinkier shoes!) but in my research I discovered some huge advancements in textile technology (vegan leathers made from sustainable materials, that can biodegrade and breathe like real leather), so I’m curious to give some of these companies a shot. I have noted in italics which companies are vegan or have vegan options. If you wear leather shoes and care about environmental issues, you’ll want to seek out companies that use sustainably sourced and veg tanned leather. All of these companies talk about their policies on their websites, and I encourage you to take a look and ensure their values align with yours.
ETHICAL SHOE COMPANIES
- Nisolo – My personal favourite! Comfortable, modern leather sandals, mules, flats and boots, ethically made in Peru. Sizes 6-10.
- Everlane – Gorgeous, modern shoes made in ethical factories (mostly in Italy). Sizes 5-11. Sidenote, this is pretty much the only place I buy RTW clothing anymore; I love their transparent manufacturing polices and the quality of their clothing is excellent.
- ABLE – I love this company’s mission! Beautiful, modern styles, all made by women in ethical factories in an effort to end generational poverty. Sizes 6-10.
- Poppy Barley – Canadian based company, designing modern, fashionable leather shoes all manufactured in ethical Mexican factories. Large size range, with variety of widths. Size 5-12, narrow, regular and wide.
- Coclico – Luxury minimalist footwear, handmade in Spain with locally sourced materials. Sizes eur 35-41.
- Savilla Smith – Handmade by the designer. Simple, modern shapes, made to order. Size 5-11.
- Oliberte – Boots, sandals and loafers made in an Ethiopian fair trade factory. This company has a very cool mission to support workers rights and create jobs in Africa. Sizes 6-11 (eur 36-41).
- Avarcas USA – Traditional leather Spanish sandals, made by the same family-owned factory since the 1940’s. Sizes 4-11 (eur 34-41)
- The Root Collective – Simple flats and boots, ethically made in an effort to create jobs in Guatemala. Sizes 5-10.
- Fortress of Inca – Fairtrade boots and shoes, made in Peru by small family-owned workshops. Size 5-10.5 (eur 35-40).
- Teysha – Artisanally made in Guatemala using regional textiles and techniques. Gorgeous boots and sandals, all made to order. Sizes 6-11, but you can also do custom sizing for a fee.
- El Naturalista – Casual, earthy shoes in a variety of styles, from sandals to sneakers. Materials are sustainably sourced and made in ethically regulated factories.Women’s sizes range from 6-11 (eur 36-42). *vegan options
- Duckfeet – Earthy sandals, shoes and boots designed in Denmark, manufactured in Europe with leather treated in environmentally sustainable ways. Size 36-43.
- Mason Dixon Made – Handmade in Philadelphia! Select options, including classic duckboots. Size 35-41, men’s sizes available as well
- Soft Star – Made in the US with responsibly sourced leather. I’ve heard raves about the ballerina flat. Size 6-12.
- Cobra Rock – Made to order in the USA, luxury prices. Beautiful, classic boots. Sizes 5-12.5.
- Miisti – London based brand, shoes are manufactured by Spanish artisans. Modern, fashion-forward styles. Sizes 35-41.
- M. Gemi – Handcrafted in Italy. Classic and modern styles, sizes 35-42.
- Nicora – Stylish vegan shoes released in collections. Innovative, sustainable, vegan leather, manufactured in Italy and the US. Sizes 5-11. *vegan
- Mohop – Dramatic wedges and sandals made in the USA using sustainable materials. Very wide size range, 5-13, in narrow, normal and wide. *vegan
- Po-Zu – Variety of styles including sneakers, boots, sandals and heels. Made with sustainable materials, non-toxic ingredients and ethical manufacturers. Sizes 5-11 (eur 36-42). *vegan options
- Nae – All vegan shoes in modern styles at an affordable price. Made in certified factories in Portugal using non-toxic, recycled materials. Sizes 4-10 (eur 35-42). *vegan
- Ahimsa – All vegan shoe company who own and run their own factory. Variety of styles, great boots. Sizes 4-11 (eur 35-42). *vegan
- Mat and Nat – Super stylish Montreal based vegan shoe company. Some recycled fabrics, ethically sourced factories. *vegan
- Wills Vegan Shoes – Very impressive & affordable vegan shoe company. Innovative non-petroleum vegan leather, manufactured ethically in the EU. TONS of styles from sneakers to heels. *vegan
- Bhava – Luxury vegan shoes, ethically and sustainably made. Wide size range. Sizes 5-12. *vegan
ETHICAL SNEAKER COMPANIES
- Etiko – Fair trade sneaker company (vegan + organic cotton) that make a dead ringer for Chuck Taylor All Stars. Sizes 4-14 (eur 34-48). *vegan
- Veja – Super hip French sneaker company with great styles. They use fair trade, environmentally materials and everything is ethically made in Brazil. Sizes eur 36-46. *vegan options
- All birds – Simple, modern sneakers and slip-ons made from New Zealand wool and recycled materials, at ethical factories. Sizes 5-14 (eur 35-48).
- For Your Earth – Australian company making sneakers made from recycled materials using non-toxic dyes. *vegan options
- Ecoalf – Stylish sneakers made from recycled and sustainable materials (including fishing nets from the ocean). Certified B corp. Sizes 4-10 (eur 35-43) *vegan options
- Ethletic – Fair trade, vegan, sustainably made sneakers. Cool designs with a Converse dupe (I hear they are more comfortable than the original). Sizes 36-47. *vegan
ETHICAL CLOG COMPANIES
I think it’s worth calling out clog companies specifically. Most clogs are made to order, from renewable wood and environmentally friendly veg tanned leather. I buy a pair every year or so and love having a happy rainbow to greet me – they look so cute worn with socks and are quite comfortable to wear – I prefer mid and higher heels since the low ones tend to feel too flat and awkward for my feet.
- Zuzzi – this is a new-to-me company but I am in love! They make gorgeous clogs AND sneakers, oxfords and sandals, all in downtown LA at their own factory. The designs are minimal and pure, with lovely earth toned leather and suede. Sizes 35-40.
- Swedish Hasbeens – this company is largely responsible for the clog comeback. Known for their super bright and saturated colours, they have a constantly changing collection. All are made with environmentally friendly leather in sustainable, small factories. Sizes 35-41.
- Sven Clogs – made in the USA, Sven clogs are available in tons of bases, wood stains, and styles. Their website isn’t as “pretty” as some of these other guys, but the quality is wonderful and you can order leather swatches before making a final decision! Sizes 36-43.
- No. 6 – fashion forward clogs with trendier colours and finishes. Rumour has it they are manufactured by Sven. Sizes 36-43.
- Bryr – my favourites! Their clogs are all made to order in San Francisco. They have gorgeous colours that change every season, and have lots of changing, interesting styles I haven’t seen anywhere else. Sizes 34-41.
PHEW! Just looking at this list has mysteriously drained my bank account. Hopefully you find this helpful going forward – nothing feels better than buying something you know was made in a conscientious way. Any other companies I missed? Let us know in the comments!