An editor's guide to the best sustainable sneakers

Elizabeth Di Filippo
·Editor
Image via Instagram.
Image via Instagram.

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The environmental impact of fast fashion has inspired change within the industry. With textile production releasing more carbon equivalent (CO2e) per year than international flights and maritime shipping combined, many brands have risen to the challenge of creating sustainable fashion products.

A few months ago I set out on a fashion challenge to educate myself and explore the world of sustainable footwear. Beyond recycling and using public transit whenever possible, I had no idea I could effect change by doing what I already love to do: shop.

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I’ve rounded up some of the most popular sustainable sneakers on the market in an effort to help you make more socially and environmentally responsible choices.

Royal seal of approval: Rothy’s

I was first introduced to Rothy’s after Meghan Markle wore a pair of the brand’s woven flats during her royal tour of Australia in 2018. Combining both fashion and function, Rothy’s has transformed more than 40 million plastic water bottles into shoes for both women and kids. Available in a variety of styles, I opted for The Sneaker in Black Honeycomb as an alternative to my basic black flats.

As someone with a wide foot, Rothy’s are a snug fit. They aren’t uncomfortable, but they don’t have much give. I love that my Rothy’s are designed to be machine washable. Instead of searching for ways to wash and take care of some of my other favourite sneakers, I just have to remove the sustainable insoles, toss them in the wash on cold and let them air dry.

Image via Rothy's.
Image via Rothy's.

SHOP IT: Rothy’s $166 CAD

Affordable and sporty: ALDO

One of the factors that initially turned me off from sustainable shopping was the price tag. The one downfall about fast fashion (aside from the environmental impact) is that although it’s affordable, it’s often low quality, which makes finding a product that has the best of both worlds a challenge. Thankfully, ALDO shoes has introduced a new line of sneakers made from 100% recycled polyester knit and a foam sole that contains algae biomass that are affordable and comfortable. According to their website, the each pair of shoes in their RPPL collection helped clean and filter 35 litres of polluted water in an attempt to help solve the algae crisis threatening freshwater marine life.

Having worn my pair of light pink RPPLs for several weeks, aside from the price tag, I really enjoy that the design can go toe-to-toe with pricier sneaker brands. I can dress my RPPLs up or down thanks to their athletic lace-up look and have worn them on several long walks with my dogs without issue. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the world of sustainable shoes without breaking the bank, this is a great place to start.

Image via ALDO.
Image via ALDO.

SHOP IT: ALDO, $90 CAD

A must-have for rain or shine: Vessi

Vessi has done what I once thought was impossible: combined stylish design with waterproof materials to create a sneaker that can be worn in any type of weather. The Canadian footwear company was founded in 2017 by three Vancouverites in need of a shoe that can handle the rainy west coast climate. Together, they launched Vessi footwear and developed a 100 per cent vegan sneaker that reduces the carbon footprint of its competitors by 600 per cent through manufacturing advancements to reduce the knit time of each pair of shoes.

I’ve walked through puddles and wet grass with my dogs on hikes and unlike other knit sneakers, Vessis hold up no matter the weather. The brand’s founders even kept safety in mind, by creating a lightweight sole that’s ultra comfortable and includes their signature wave design grip to improve traction.

Image via Vessi Footwear.
Image via Vessi Footwear.

SHOP IT: Vessi, $135 CAD

The cream of the crop: Allbirds

I’m having a love affair with Allbirds, and it’s getting pretty serious. I first heard about Allbirds from an American colleague who raved about the eco-friendly sneakers. This summer I tried my first pair of Allbirds and was immediately taken by how comfortable they are. After trying on my pair of casual Tree Breezers, I passed the shoe around the office for everyone to experience for themselves just how much bounce was in their trademark patented SweetFoam sole, derived from Brazilian sugar cane.

I’ve waxed poetic about the carbon neutral company before, but took our relationship to the next level with their latest collection of sneakers made from sustainable merino wool. The Wool Runner Mizzle combines the same comfort Allbirds customers have come to love with their water repellant treatment, Puddle Guard to protect the upper shoe material (and your feet) from getting wet.

Whether or not you’re into sustainable fashion, I can’t recommends Allbirds enough; they truly are a game changer when it comes to footwear.

Image via Allbirds.
Image via Allbirds.

SHOP IT: Allbirds, $165 CAD

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