Vegan Shoes: A Complete Guide to Cruelty-Free Brands

Vegan Shoes to Walk a More Ethical Path: This guide discusses the environmental and animal rights disaster that is the mainstream footwear industry, presents some of the disturbing key facts and trend of which all discerning shoppers should be aware, and highlights some of those shoe brands that are working towards a positive change, for makers, the environment, and animals everywhere.

This article contains affiliate links. Should you happen to make a purchase after visiting some of the brands mentioned below, then, at no extra cost to you a small, a percentage of that sale will go towards the efforts of this publication to present global stories around the key issues of sustainability, ethics, climate, ecology, and equality.


By Christie Johnson

‘Why go vegan?’ A question many of us are undoubtedly asking ourselves as we bear witness to a small grassroots movement transform into a mainstream phenomenon. Whether your motive is to protect animals, improve your health, or save the planet, the reasons to switch to veganism have never been so compelling. But what about our footwear choices? In this modern age of ruthless consumerism, someone or something is invariably exploited along the way; our wardrobe being no exception.

Table of Contents

The Ethical Dilemma that Demands Vegan Shoes

Fashion’s Victims

Fashion’s dirty underside leaves many victims in its wake with countless animals paying the price for the latest couture. Every year the global leather industry slaughters over a billion animals for their hides; a demand which tenaciously feeds into a burgeoning footwear industry where leather shoes account for around half of all global leather production.

According to investigations by animal rights organisation PETA, animals endure hellish conditions at the hands of the leather industry with many suffering ‘extreme crowding and confinement, deprivation, and anaesthetized castration, branding, and tail docking’.

A Burning Planet

Our unshakeable appetite for leather is ravaging our natural world. Agriculture for the meat and leather industries is responsible for 80% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, with over 1 million hectares slashed and burned in 2019 under Brazilian President Bolsonaro’s ruthless agenda. Christened the ‘lungs of the Earth’ the Amazon not only harbours 10% of all known wildlife, it stores 80 – 120 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere; making it one of the most vital carbon sinks in the fight against climate change. Due to incessant deforestation, one fifth of the Amazon is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it captures which has ineffable consequences both for people and planet.

Dystopian Nightmare

Communities are breaking under unethical working conditions perpetuated by the global leather industry. Hazaribagh, a district of Dhaka in Bangladesh, is home to 200 tanneries that shoulder a $1 billion a year industry. Resembling a dystopian nightmare, crippling labour practices expose workers (adults and children) to a lethal combination of hazardous chemicals which invariably leads to a multitude of health conditions from asthma to lung cancer.

Vegan Shoes: A guide to cruelty free brands

Vegan Shoe Brands to the Rescue

So, choosing vegan footwear isn’t such a small step after all! With approximately 78 million vegans worldwide, and the vegan leather market set to surpass animal leather by 2025 (generating a revenue of almost $90 billion!), many fantastic brands are making great strides in designing vegan shoes to help people live a sustainable and cruelty-free lifestyle.

Thousand Fell

Man jumping in air with white vegan shoes

Our products are made to last – and built to recycle.’

Based: New York City, New York, USA

Shoe range: Sneakers

Price range: $120

Ethos: Vegan, sustainable materials, zero-waste, recycling programme, circular supply chain (Soles4Souls)

With 90% of shoes ending up in landfill, Thousand Fell produce zero – waste sneakers that go ‘full circle’; using a sustainable blend of recycled, repurposed and biodegradable materials. From bio- leather made from plastic bottles to foam infused with castor bean oil, Thousand Fell is determined that no more sneakers should end up in landfill.

Bhava

black shoe on wooden block

Thoughtful by Design.’

Based: New York City, New York, USA

Shoe range: Boots, heels, wedges, sandals

Price range: $99 – $345

Ethos: Vegan, cruelty – free design, sustainable materials, ethical fashion

Bhava prove you don’t need to use animal leather to achieve premium footwear, infusing ‘compassionate design’ into every product. Handcrafted by artisans in Spain and Mumbai, Bhava create ‘timeless elegance with a dose of ingénue charm’ with every pair of vegan shoes containing natural, recyclable and cruelty – free materials.

Nothing New

lineup of vegan shoes

Nothing New. Nothing Ordinary.’

Based: New York City, New York, USA

Shoe range: Sneakers

Price range: $95 – $108

Ethos: Vegan, sustainable materials, upcycling, zero – waste, carbon neutrality, circular supply chain

In a world that is drowning in plastic, Nothing New is determined to stay afloat by transforming the planet’s waste into sustainable sneakers. Advocating ‘one person’s trash is another person’s treasure’, Nothing New use 100% recycled post–consumer plastic with every pair of vegan shoes created from the equivalent of 5.6 plastic bottles.

Beyond Skin

woman in tan leather boots walking on beach

We wanted to create a brand for the discerning, for those who care about where their fashion comes from and what it stands for.’

Based: Hove, East Sussex, UK

Shoe range: Sandals, loafers, flats, boots, heels, pumps, trainers, bridal, mules

Price range: £145 – £395

Ethos: Vegan, ethical production, sustainable materials, slow fashion, vintage design

Beyond Skin design timeless faux leather styles from cotton – backed polyurethane (PU) offering ‘all the glamour of PVC’ but with less environmental impact. While PU contains some petrochemicals, it’s ‘the lesser of two evils’ when compared with animal leather production that adopts a far more exploitive, cruel and polluting process. Every pair of shoes is lined with 100% recycled vegan leather with a bio – based coating and insoles made from 70% post – consumer cardboard.

Will’s Vegan Store

Will's Vegan Shoes & Accessories Co.

Always and forever Vegan.’

Based: London, UK

Shoe range: Sneakers, sandals, boots, flats

Price range: £45 – £140

Ethos: Vegan, ethical production, fair working conditions, carbon neutral, sustainable materials, slow fashion

Will’s Vegan Store believe all things need protecting; from animals, people to the natural world. PETA approved and registered with the Vegan Society, Will’s Vegan Store is carbon neutral and only use plant – based leather and recycled packaging. Not conforming to fast fashion standards, Will’s Vegan Store never go on sale; encouraging people to buy sustainable products less often.

MATT & NAT

brown flat shoes

Being inspired by MAT(T)erial and NATure means exploring the synergy between the two, the reflection of one on the other.’

Based: Montreal, Canada

Shoe range: Boots, flats, heels, sneakers

Price range: $45 – $175

Ethos: Vegan, upcycling, sustainable materials, fair working conditions, ethical and eco – friendly fashion

MATT & NAT want to ‘live beautifully’ with the world; finding inspiration from nature’s ‘textures and hues’ to create ethical and eco – friendly products. Following transparent and ethical labour practices, MATT & NAT use cruelty – free materials made from synthetic leathers, recycled plastic bottles, nylons, cardboard, rubber and cork.

Nae Vegan Shoes

Vegan shoes walking across sand

Nae (No Animal Exploitation)’

Based: Amadora, Portugal

Shoe range: Sneakers, boots, heels, sandals

Price range: €58 – €169

Ethos: Vegan, ethical production, eco – friendly, sustainable materials, slow fashion, transparency

Ethically made in Portugal, Nae create animal-friendly footwear with respect to people and the environment. You can find a myriad of sustainable materials in Nae footwear: recycled pineapple leaves (Piñatex), organic cotton free from pesticides and soil degradation, vegan leather, recycled PET and 100% sustainable cork which implements carbon negative farming practices.

Ahimsa

lineup of brown and grey vegan shoes

Ahimsa is a vegan brand that prioritises love.’

Based: Franca, Brazil

Shoe range: Boots, heels, flats, sandals, slip-ons

Price range: $89 – $199

Ethos: Vegan, handmade, sustainable manufacturing, fair working conditions, transparency

Handmade in Brazil, Ahimsa is PETA approved and dedicated to living a cruelty – free lifestyle; developing premium vegan products made from alternative materials that respect all life. Establishing the first 100% vegan shoe factory in 2014, Ahimsa vegan leather is made from Polyurethane (PU), proving you can still create quality footwear without the needless exploitation of animals.

Brave Gentleman

Brave Gentleman: A vegan shoemaker
Joshua Katcher, the designer behind Brave Gentleman’s vegan shoes

The handsomeness of an object should be matched by the handsomeness of how it was made.’

Based: New York City, New York, USA

Shoe range: Sneakers, boots, sandals, smart shoes

Price range: $120 – $310

Ethos: Vegan, menswear, slow fashion, ethical labour, sustainable materials, eco – conscious

Launching the first ever vegan lifestyle menswear brand in 2010, Brave Gentleman view customers as ‘citizen-investors’ rather than passive consumers; empowering people to invest in ethical and sustainable fashion. Achieving ‘Most Influential Designer of 2015’ by PETA, Brave Gentleman adopt a slow fashion model and only use sustainable and cruelty – free materials such as ‘future leather’, a high-tech biodegradable PU- based microfibre that is EU – Ecolabel Certified.

Mink

red vegan shoes pointing up towards renaissance ceiling

We believe in vegan luxury.’

Based: California, USA/ Firenze, Italy

Shoe range: Heels, flats, sandals

Price range $140 – $390 (ready-made boutique prices only)

Ethos: Vegan, custom made, handmade, recycled and organic materials, high-quality manufacturing

Meticulously handmade in Italy, Mink produced the first vegan luxury shoe in Italy in 2000 and continues to be the only vegan shoe brand that offers ‘custom couture’. With designs frequently seen on the red carpet, Minx challenge the status quo set by high-end brands; weaving compassion design in to every product by only using cruelty – free and sustainable materials.

Stella McCartney

high platform vegan shoes

I think that’s really where it becomes sexy. Where you’re not just providing an alternative…you’re creating a great product.’ – Stella McCartney

Based: London, UK

Shoe range: Sneakers, boots, flats, sandals, wedges

Price range: £235 – £835

Ethos: Vegan, circular supply chain, protecting forests, sustainable materials, human rights, innovation, eco – friendly

Pushing the boundaries of sustainable fashion, Stella McCartney create luxury products without exploiting the planet. Striving for circularity, Stella McCartney ‘alter-nappa’ faux leather is made from polyester and polyurethane which has a low petroleum footprint and a bio-based coating made from over 50% vegetable oil. Recycled synthetics are prioritised, and viscose sustainably sourced to protect ancient and endangered forests.

SAYE

woman in green jumpsuit lying on grass

Not just vegan materials.’

Based: Barcelona, Spain

Shoe range: Sneakers

Price range: €139 – €165

Ethos: Vegan range, sustainable materials, reforestation projects, fair working conditions, zero – waste

Infused with organic and recyclable materials, SAYE create ethical sneakers that radically push the boundaries of cruelty – free design. Its innovative MANGO sneaker is made from recycled fruit; a PETA approved bio-based vegan leather. Designed and manufactured in Europe, SAYE reduce its carbon footprint by using locally sourced materials along with supporting reforestation projects in India and Zambia.

Alice and Whittles

person in street with orange pants, brown shoes, red laces

We believe we can all do better by the People & Planet.’

Based: Toronto, Canada

Shoe range: Boots, sneakers

Price range: $160 – $267

Ethos: Vegan range, sustainable materials, ethical production, diversity

Adopting a ‘less is more’ approach, Alice and Whittles believe sustainable outdoor footwear should embrace ‘design simplicity and versatility’. 90% of its materials are natural and renewable which include vegan-based glue, natural fair-trade rubber and reclaimed ocean plastics. Plus, ethical production is integrated across its entire supply chain.

Vivo Barefoot

man standing on one foot on a pier post

The closer people are to nature, the more they will protect it.’

Based: London, UK

Shoe range: Outdoor, active and everyday footwear

Price range: £45 – £160

Ethos: Vegan range, regenerative footwear, sustainable materials, zero -waste, refurbish and repair programmes, embracing nature

Replicating the ‘biomechanical masterpiece’ of the human foot, Vivo Barefoot restore humanity’s relationship with the natural world; connecting your feet to the earth through ‘super minimalist design’. Its vegan range is made from recycled plastic bottles and over 30% bio – based products. The algae used in every pair of Barefoot Ultras gives back 57 gallons of clean water and removes the equivalent of 40 balloons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

VEJA

white vegan shoes with a green V

Since 2005, VEJA has been making sneakers differently infusing each stage of production with a positive impact.’

Based: Paris, France

Shoe range: Sneakers

Price range: €85 – €270

Ethos: Vegan range, zero advertising, fair trade, upcycling, sustainable materials, innovation, transparency

Rather than using leather alternatives riddled with plastic, VEJA strives to be part of the ‘ecological solution’ by creating a natural, bio – based material made from cotton canvas and a corn oil – based coating. 1 in 3 VEJA shoe models are 100% vegan and include a variety of renewable and naturally derived materials such as wild Amazonian rubber, certified organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles.

TOMS

Toms vegan shoes, green and beige fabric shoes

A thriving humanity means a thriving planet.’

Based: Los Angeles, California, USA

Shoe range: Slippers, espadrilles, alpargatas, sneakers, boat shoes, flip – flops

Price range: $49.95 – $89.95

Ethos: Vegan range, empowering communities, charitable causes, circular supply chain, sustainable materials

Fervently stepping into sustainability, TOMS is committed to reducing its waste and carbon footprint; developing end of life programmes so less shoes end up in landfill. TOMS is expanding its eco – friendly Earthwise range, plans to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 and has donated almost 100 million pairs of vegan shoes to community projects.

Conscious Step

Vegan socks with animal prints

You are what you wear, so wear premium products that stand for causes you care about.’

Based: Brooklyn, New York, USA

Product range: Socks

Price range: $14.95 – $44.95

Ethos: Certified vegan, empowering communities, charitable causes, sustainable materials, circular supply chain, fair trade

Conscious Step cotton socks are fair trade GOTS and vegan – certified; free from herbicides, insecticides, pesticides and GMOs. Dedicated to fair and sustainable working conditions in developing countries, Conscious Step maintains a ‘clean’ supply chain and works with partners such as Oxfam and Water.org to create a ‘better world’.

References

  1. Hancox, D. (2018) The unstoppable rise of veganism: how a fringe movement went mainstream. The Guardian.1 April. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/apr/01/vegans-are-coming-millennials-health-climate-change-animal-welfare
  2. Greenpeace (2009) Slaughtering the Amazon. Available from: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/research/slaughtering-the-amazon/
  3. PETA (2020) Leather: Animals Abused And Killed for Their Skins. Available from: https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/animals-used-clothing-factsheets/leather-animals-abused-killed-skins/
  4. Gonzaga, D. (2020) Fires are ranging in the Amazon – again. Greenpeace. 21 July. Available from: https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/44159/fires-brazil-bolsonaro-amazon-deforestation-2020/
  5. WWF (2020) Inside the Amazon. Available from: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/
  6. Gatehouse, G. (2020) Deforested parts of the Amazon ‘emitting more CO2 than they absorb’. BBC. 11 February. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51464694
  7. PBS NewsHour (2017) Bangladesh’s leather industry exposes workers and children to toxic hazards. 29 March. Available from: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/bangladeshs-leather-industry-exposes-workers-and-children-to-toxic-hazards
  8. Meyer, M. (2020) This Is How Many Vegans Are In The World Right Now (2020 Update). WTVOX. 17 September. Available from: https://bit.ly/36woNER
  9. The Vegan Society (2021) Worldwide. Available from: https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics/worldwide

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