As summer approaches and wardrobes transition to accommodate warmer weather, sandals offer a versatile option to keep you cool. Choosing sustainable footwear can be difficult, however, with vegan leather alternatives like PVC being labelled by Greenpeace as some of the most environmentally damaging plastics available. Leather, too, raises sustainability concerns thanks to emissions from animal agriculture and the toxic chemicals used in the tanning process. As well as material concerns, the cheap, disposable nature of sandals can encourage unethical manufacturing that incurs a human debt.
To aid in this search for sustainable, ethical footwear, we have put together a list of six brands who's integral ethics aim to reduce negative manufacturing impact through investment in craftsmanship and innovative new materials.
Purchasing a pair of shoes from Nisolo secures investment in over 500 people integral to their supply chain through better than fair wages and provision of healthcare. The brand follows three ethical modes of production; their own factory in Trujillo, Peru, ethical factories in other countries across the world, and investment in small independent artisans. Nisolo also aim to offset the emissions of their production through a partnership with Ecosphere+ which encourages changes that create a positive ongoing chain for environmental outcomes, particularly in protecting the rainforest close to their Peruvian factory. So far this scheme has protected 76,928 trees and inset 570 metric tons of CO2 thanks to customer purchases.
These Lucia Block Heel Sandals are made in Nisolo's ethical factory in Peru and come in two different neutral browns.
MATT & NAT
The name MATT & NAT represents the union between materials and nature that is central to the brand's ethos. Stating that they are entirely vegan, no animal products are used in the manufacture of their bags and shoes. Addressing the potentially dubious environmental credentials of many vegan leather alternatives, the brand strive to use recycled plastics, rubber, and cork wherever possible. MATT & NAT's vegan leathers are also PU (polyurethane) based rather than PVC, an alternative that not only increases the quality of the products but also avoids the harmful emission of chlorine in the manufacturing process.
MATT & NAT's products are durability tested to ensure longevity and the company actively encourages its customers to upcycle items they no longer use. The Cory Sandal is an elegant slingback that comes in four different colours including this vibrant red.
Cory Sandal in Red
Established amidst doubts that that a luxury brand could exist without the use of fur and leather, Stella McCartney have been breaking established boundaries since their founding in 2001. Since 2013 they have been using their own material Eco Alter-Nappa as an alternative to leather in handbags and shoes. The substitute is made from solvent-free PU, recycled polyester and has a coating that is made with 50% vegetable which helps the brand to reduce consumption of plastics. Stella McCartney's sustainability mission statement highlights that their use of recycled polyester in particular causes 24 times less environmental impact than imported Brazilian Calf leather. Looking to future developments, the brand are currently aiming to move toward using more bio-based plant leathers and recycled materials.
The Elyse Sandal is made from Stella McCartney's Alter-Nappa Fabric and features a sustainably sourced wood platform wedge; they come in both black and white.
Like many of the other brands on this list, Beyond Skin are a vegan shoe brand using non-animal leather alternatives and attempting to do so in a sustainable fashion. Fabrics are sourced locally and the factories used by Beyond Skin in Spain work closely with the brand to ensure that there is no exploitation. The brand also use PU as opposed to PVC due to its reduced toxicity but also offer unique suede alternatives made from 100% recycled PET plastics and only found otherwise on the seats of luxury cars. The rubber soles of Beyond Skin's shoes are made from 70% recycled rubber resin and the brand are currently seeking to invest in an alternative to remove the necessity for the remaining fresh material.
Beyond Skin have a number of heeled and flat sandal styles available using both the more common PU leather alternatives and their recycled suede alternative. These mustard block heels are handmade feature a breathable faux leather lining.
Moving away from PU leather alternatives are brands like Sydney Brown who use combinations of sustainable materials to create their plastic-free shoes. Sustainable materials are integral to the design process as they encourage a "reverence for life" that balances respect for human, animal, and environment. Not only does this ensure that they are biodegradable but also gives each pair a unique appearance due to the natural variation present in materials like cork and wood. Sydney Brown also use innovative materials derived from coconut and pineapple fibres to create the uppers of their shoes and each has a sustainably sourced German beech wood heel.
Particularly unique is Sydney Brown's iridescent range that uses polymers obtained from natural sources such as grains and vegetable seeds to create a faux-nappa. This matte purple and blue iridescent platform sandal with cork insole particularly stand out among the offerings from the other brands featured.
Piñatex is a leather alternative created by MIT researchers from fibres found in pineapple leaves that boasts a very close texture to animal leather. Breathable and strong, the fabric poses a good alternative and has been used in limited collections by a number of brands including Hugo Boss. Bourgeois Boheme first introduced the leather alternative in 2017 and it has since featured frequently in their unique designs. The brand are beginning to become a staple with vegan celebrities like Natalie Portman and Bryan Adams with their combination of luxury and sustainability.
These minimalistic Felicity sandals are handcrafted in Portugal and feature a Piñatex upper, plant oil based lining and are 100% animal-free.