The fashion industry has a detrimental environmental impact, with footwear production causing one-fifth of the imprint, according to a 2018 study by Quantis.
As the destructive tendencies of the industry have come to light in recent years, sustainable shoe brands have also entered the industry with the intention of spawning environmentally sound practices and changing the traditionally harmful processes of the apparel industry. Two of the most established shoe brands in the sustainability sector are Allbirds and Rothy’s—both leading the way in material innovation. Both brands create shoes made from recycled plastic bottles, while Allbirds also uses materials like recycled cardboard and tree fibers. Both companies work in the casual shoe division where it’s easier to create sustainable everyday-wear shoes, but its dress shoes that are causing a huge carbon emissions problem. Dress shoes are typically made from leather—which has few eco-friendly substitutes—and often contain multiple complex parts that hinder innovation.
Clothing brand Reformation is a notably sustainable apparel company with an emphasis on garment recycling. According to a Gartner report, Reformation is able to reiterate the importance of sustainability by including environmental savings on purchase receipt emails and publicly releasing results of its sustainability initiatives. To continue its sustainability inventiveness, the brand has recently expanded into shoes—releasing heeled boots and strappy sandals. The shoe line is Reformation’s response to only seeing flats and sneakers in the sustainable footwear sector. The brand changed its supply chain process and materials to create the shoes and hopes the intensive efforts will create a ripple effect throughout the footwear industry.
It is mass brands like Nike and Adidas who create the largest impact on footwear production, but while these brands are slowly adopting sustainable efforts, disruptor companies are making strides in delivering eco-conscious products consumers are wanting. In the $250 billion industry, start-ups can only do so much, but big name brands could follow their practices to create a more green and healthy industry.