Looking back on a year in which sustainability is finally bursting into the mainstream, many of us start with 2020 by taking a closer look at our consumption habits. At this point, we all understand that the most sustainable choice is to stop consuming completely, but for those who crave newness, there are more options than ever when it comes to brands that share as little damage as possible while still posting new things in the world. In the field of footwear, some remarkable (non-sneaker) brands want to offer cute shoes that are vegan and responsible.
& # 39; An important thing to note is that veganism is far from synonymous with sustainable. Although the leather production industry has a historically well-documented negative impact on the environment, there are many shoe brands that learn to use leather in a more sustainable way. In addition, polyurethane, which is often relied on to mimic the durability and ease of leather, is not exactly the greenest material out there.
As we learned from the great faux versus real fur debate, synthetic materials can be even more problematic than animal-derived. So, for the founders of vegan, & # 39; sustainable & # 39; brands, finding and developing the right materials and production methods was an ongoing, uphill battle, and each country on their own solutions, from water-based polyurethane to recycled plastic to carbon neutralized.
Many of these founders would first acknowledge that the world no longer needs shoes, but they want to show consumers and industry that a bright new apprentice is not the only option – without the Stella McCartney -level charging prices.
Read more about four brands that consider themselves vegan and sustainable, and how they got their place without compromising aesthetics or durability.
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Taylor and Thomas
Los Angeles-based Jessica Taylor Mead and Elizabeth Thomas James launched a direct-to-consumer brand Taylor & Thomas in 2018 with the goal of creating luxury footwear that has the look and feel of leather without affecting animals or the environment to harm. Currently, they use a water-based polyurethane for the top products, by-products for linings, a mixture of straw beans and recycled rubber for insoles, recycled plastic water bottles for ultrasonic material, beech wood for heels and recycled rubber for the bulbs. The brand also uses recycled and rolled-up packaging materials and partners with Native Energy to offset the carbon footprint.
While the founders feel the brand is too new to come up with an end-of-life recycling plan – "The goal is not to create a fast-paced, fast-fashion product that people want to sell, "says Mead – they say they will do it when the time comes.
The hardest part of the process was obtaining these alternative materials and then finding factories that were willing to work with them.
"Some factories have said, & # 39; No, we are not going to work with synthetic materials, & # 39; and those who did find it required a lot more work – just because the material behaves differently than leather," James explains. However, it was all worth it. "We take pride in the fact that many people who see our shoes do not realize that they are not learning, and it is a bonus if we share this information that it is a better environment for the environment , "she adds.
Although most of the brand's customers have so far been vegans, James and Mead hope to appeal to & # 39; a larger audience and & # 39; make people realize & # 39; Ah, these are & # 39; beautiful shoes, they are vegan, I just like & # 39; to dress it because it is beautiful and high quality, luxurious and fashionable, & # 39; & # 39; said James.
Taghrid Zorob introduced her brand Rafa, best known for his checkered ultra-suede (made from recycled water bottles), picked up sandals in 2014 with heels.
"I wanted to create something that is sustainable, beautiful and animal-free, but at the same time it has to be comfortable and good for people and good for the environment," she says.
She works at a small Los Angeles factory to manufacture her shoes, which were also convincingly needed to work with animal-free materials.
& # 39; The man who runs this place has been making shoes since he was 13 years old; (it's) a lot like the old school to make things, & # 39; she explains. & # 39; He pushed me back a lot, but eventually we could make it happen. & # 39;
While Rafa does use plastic, Zorob is focused on making sure that her production methods and supply chain are as responsible as possible.
"It was important to me to keep (production) local. We pay very reasonable wages; everything is made in the right way without sacrificing the human aspects of manufacturing," she says.
It also allows Rafa to order products – only some of the most popular styles are kept in stock – which reduce waste. Zorob also buys all the packaging materials locally and forgets the shoe box completely, even if it is shipped to wholesalers. And she's trying to send everything off the ground. All these measures can result in higher prices and slower deliveries than less responsible competitors.
"It was a bit of a challenge to educate the consumer about it, but once they get it, they get it and love it," Zorob says.
area for families
New York-based Aera, which just launched last year, positions itself as a & # 39; luxury brand for men and women using vegan materials & also as & # 39; 110% sustainable & # 39; meaning that it works with a third party to offset all of its carbon. emissions, and then & # 39; some. The line was founded by entrepreneur Alvertos Revach, fashion executive Tina Bhojwani and footwear designer Jean-Michel Cazabat, who saw an opportunity in the luxury space to cater to the growing community of ethical seen consumers.
"Thanks to innovations in materials and technology, it's exciting," says Bhojwani. "People who come (see the shoes) say they can't see the difference between what we use and any other luxury material."
As with our other founders, it was not easy to get there, although they could find a solar-powered production facility in Italy specializing in vegan leather alternatives, with recent investments in recycled materials, materials with lower plastic content, renewable materials and water-based polyurethane. The tops of Aera are made of synthetic agents, including polyester, polyurethane, poly viscose, polystyrene and nylon; the company works specifically with Plastic Bank to compensate for this component.
The soles are made of 50% synthetic rubber, 40% inorganic mineral compost (silicones and mixed clay) and 10% additives (fasteners, pigments and plasticizers); the linings are made of vegetable materials and the heels are made of recycled plastic, wood and / or thermoplastic polyurethane.
The brand already has a take-back program to recycle shoes once customers finish, but the founders note that they are deliberately focusing on timeless designs that will no longer be stylish from season to season.
"I think there are probably enough shoes in the world that we no longer have to manufacture until the end of time, but the challenge is that people do want new styles and new things, so it's extremely challenging to to balance. " said Sydney Brown, who launched her namesake vegan shoe line in 2011.
At the time, with much less innovation in sustainable vegan materials, she had her work cut out for her.
"I just took a shoe apart, and in general there are about 15 different components in each shoe, so if I couldn't find a sustainable supplier to work with, I had to find out for myself how to do it. I would find the key people in the industry and work on collaborating, "she explains.
It worked with chemists in particular for four years to develop the vegan glue she now uses. It was an ongoing process to develop new and better materials; she worked everything from fennel to pineapple to cactus.
"It's a constant refinement process, and what we considered sustainable five years ago is no longer sustainable today, so we need to keep improving," she says. & # 39; That's & # 39; a kind of less bad question, because nothing is perfect. & # 39; Right now, she's passionate about the future and the potential for bio-manufactured materials such as "growing mycelium mushroom leather and the actual collagen protein in a science lab; you can basically learn to grow."
Next month, she will begin a return program for return, and she has just appointed a CEO and COO who will help the brand absorb carbon emissions. She adds that her goal for 2020 is to build community with similar brands to share information instead of seeing each other as competitors and keeping secret.
"The only thing we can do for this climate crisis is work together," she says.