Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Walking on sunshine: a guide to sustainable trainers

I often find it difficult to manage my love of trainers with environmental awareness. I love keeping up with the current trends in shoe fashion and making sure I know which brand is making what and when. However, there is often a great ethical and environmental challenge that comes with the fast cycle of fashion and shoes are a big contributor to this. There are more than twenty billion pairs of shoes manufactured each year. More often than not, these trainers have a short life cycle. From the first stage of the shoes’ production, right up until they are thrown away, a significant amount of chemicals are released and fossil fuels burnt.

There is an urgent need to cut down on consumption of fast fashion, but more than that, there is a need to be ethically aware. By challenging brands on how they produce and discard their shoes, we can provoke change. Should we all boycott trainers? As great as that might sound, I don’t think I can quite yet. So I went searching for alternatives. Some companies have already started to make a difference. A growing number of shoe brands are becoming more environmentally aware, meaning that fellow shoe lovers have a range of styles to choose from. Unfortunately, sustainable shoes tend to be more expensive, but if you do invest in good quality trainers, they’re much more likely to last a long time, helping to break the cycle of fast fashion. The following are a small selection of my favourite eco-friendly shoe brands:



Since 2005, French footwear brand Veja has used organic cotton harvested by farmer associations in Brazil and Peru. They buy this cotton for twice the market price and they use natural, rather than synthetic rubber, which helps to preserve 120,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest. This is economically sustainable and fights against deforestation.

Not only are they stylish, with their distinct look, but Veja is growing fast in popularity, moving away from their cult status. I see Veja on feet around campus on a daily basis, and the brand has become popular in the UK after they were seen on Meghan Markle late last year. They set a new standard in trainer production, with one in every four styles being 100% vegan, demonstrating to other companies that ethics do not have to compromised in favour of style.

Prices range from £75-125



Made in European ethical factories, Wado’s first collection (Modelo ’89) are a retro 80s inspired style. With an off-white base, and blocks of colours, each inspired by the natural world, they are a stylish trainer collection. Wado plant two trees for every pair of trainers bought and have already planted 28,000 trees, restoring over thirty-three hectares of forest.

They use a leather tanning technique which helps the leather biodegrade in an eco-friendly manner (tackling the disposable problem). Alongside this work, they partner only with suppliers who support and respect worker conditions in free employment to tackle the issue of workers’ rights in footwear manufacture.

Price including free socks £100



Adidas and Parley for the Oceans teamed up last year to create new versions of the UltraBoost trainers. These shoes are made out of plastic found in the ocean, with each pair reusing eleven plastic bottles. They incorporate recycled plastic into the laces, heel webbing, heel lining and sock liner covers. This is an exciting move from a big brand and shows that, really, everyone can move towards being eco-friendly.

These trainers do not differ much from the style of the original UltraBoosts but carry the added benefit of helping address major threats to the world’s oceans.

Prices range from £90-150


Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney has always challenged the industry with her vegetarian brand. Her products are more high-end but, on average, create twenty-four times less environmental damage than normal shoe production (using alternatives to leather). To make her dedication to sustainability clear, her website has a timeline charting their pioneering industry action, beginning in 2001 with the establishment of House of Stella McCartney with Kering, the first luxury vegetarian brand.

If you’re looking for beautiful trainers made with a cruelty-free ethos and are willing to pay top dollar, check out Stella McCartney’s trainers (my favourite are the Eclypse sneakers).

She also has a sports range with Adidas for those looking for more practical trainers.

Prices range from £150-590


So, if you’re looking for some inspiration, these are my favourite brands. There are many more I could have listed, and a selection of brands have specific, eco-friendly editions. Today, it is easy to shop sustainably and with style, so why not give it a try?


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