You recycle your packaging and buy recycled products for your home. But did you know that you can also buy recycled shoes? Here is a roundup of the best recycled shoes and brands to put a sustainable spring in your step.
I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I find shoes the single most tricky thing to shop for ethically, sustainably, and responsibly.
There are a lot of different parts that go into making up a single pair of shoes. From the upper fabric to the lining, and the insole. Then there’s the sole, the laces, the eyelets, and any other component parts. All of this is to say that there’s a lot more to a shoe than, say, a sweater.
When you add in specific requests, such as shoes made ethically and/or from recycled materials, then it starts to get tricky. The market gets very small. Thankfully, there are some brands out there making shoes from recycled plastic bottles, post-consumer textile waste, and even old jeans.
The Best Recycled Shoes For 2023
Shoes are complex items. As such, I’ve found that it is nigh on impossible to find shoes that are entirely made with recycled materials. And in some shoes on my search, I found that only the laces were made from recycled plastic. I felt that wasn’t quite good enough to be classed as a recycled shoe.
Never fear though, I have found some great shoes where a high proportion of the materials used are recycled and reused. Use the quick links below to navigate to each brand, or read on for the full guide:
Norm Shoes – available in the UK at Immaculate Vegan – is a Belgian-based sustainable and vegan trainer brand entirely made in Europe. Made with 90% recycled materials, these unisex trainers are the result of three years of research and development.
The upper of these shoes is made from 6 recycled plastic bottles, and two trees are planted for each pair sold.
Norm prides itself on its transparency. As such, its costs, suppliers’ names, the manufacturing location, and the carbon footprint of each pair of shoes are shared with you. This is because Norm believes that the more you know, the better purchasing decision you will make.
Sign up for the Immaculate Vegan mailing list for 10% off your first order.
Keen’s fabric Mosey shoes – available at Alpinetrek – are made with an upper known as ReWooly. This is crafted using a 50% recycled Italian wool blend – certified by the Global Recycling Standard – and made in a circular manufacturing process.
The rest of the shoe is made from natural materials. The outsole is made from gum rubber and cork outsole, whilst the laces are made from sustainable hemp.
Keen is a family-owned, values-led maker of hybrid footwear, that is on a mission to make the outdoors more accessible and inclusive. What’s more, its whole supply chain is PFC-free. If you’re not familiar with PFCs, these are waterproof coatings (also known as Perfluorochemicals) that are added to outdoor gear. This sounds beneficial, but PFCs are incredibly toxic to animals and last indefinitely in the landscape, so top marks to Keen for avoiding PFCs.
Do note that some Mosey shoe styles are made from leather. These are not made from recycled leather so stick to the fabric styles.
Get £5 off your first order when you sign up to the Alpinetrek mailing list.
Vegan shoe brand Astral – available in the UK at Amazon – combines hemp with recycled polyester to create sustainable shoes designed for outdoor lifestyles.
Why hemp? Hemp requires 79% less water to grow than cotton, plus it doesn’t require pesticides or fertilisers to grow. As well as being super sustainable, hemp is a great fabric choice for shoes. It is durable, breathable and rot-resistant, plus it gets softer and more comfortable the more you wear your shoes.
What About Recycled Shoes On The High Street?
The recycled footwear market is incredibly small, so I wanted to show you some offerings from the High Street.
There are some pretty big ethical issues with these retailers, so I wanted to share these too. Not to make you feel guilty if these options are the most accessible to you. It is rather so that you are fully informed.
It’s also to encourage you to reach out to the brands to raise any concerns with them. It is important that customers encourage these brands to produce shoes from more environmentally conscious materials and address ethical issues in their supply chains. After all, if enough customers demand change, brands will have no choice but to listen.
Nike’s recycled trainers and shoes are one choice if you are looking for shoes on the High Street.
My top pick is the Nike Crater Remixa – available at Schuh. This is a sporty trainer, made with a 100% recycled fabric upper. The lining is also made from 100% recycled fabric. The only part that isn’t recycled is the sole. However, because the sole is the heaviest part of the shoe, it works out that only 20% of the weight of the shoe comprises recycled materials.
It’s important to bear in mind that one small sustainable collection does not make for a sustainable brand. To be perfectly honest though, it is disappointing that a global brand like Nike, with considerable size, clout, and resources at its disposal, has not done more, and done it faster.
Nike could make its entire range from recycled materials if it wanted to. Instead, Nike has deliberately chosen not to. Compared to small brands like Norm Shoes, which has made sustainability its core value, it is simply an embarrassment for Nike to be lagging so far behind.
There are other ethical issues with Nike. In 2020 the brand was reportedly linked to forced Uighur labour in China. The New York Times reported in November 2020 that Nike lobbied against a forced labour bill that would ban imported goods made with forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region. The brand also is not doing enough to ensure all workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage – leaving garment professionals’ children to go hungry.
The Converse Renew Collection features sustainable trainers made from secondhand jeans. To create these shoes, Converse worked with Beyond Retro, a UK-based sustainable fashion brand, and vintage retailer, to pick out pre-loved jeans in dark, medium, and light washes. The denim is then cut and constructed to form the upper.
Meanwhile, the Converse Renew Canvas Collection mixes the original design of its Chucks high-tops with canvas made from 100% polyester that came from used plastic bottles.
The uppers of the Canvas collection are made with a 100% recycled fabric called morphlon. Morphlon is a unique combination of recycled polyester and post-industrial textile scraps. However, the collection also uses recycled materials throughout the design. From 100% recycled laces to insoles made with around 20% recycled content and a toe-cap and outsole, each made with around 10% recycled content.
In terms of Converse’s ethics, Converse is owned by Nike – so shares the same ethical issues.
More Ethical Footwear
If Converse or Nike are the most accessible option for you, then
How About Recycling Old Shoes?
Before we buy recycled shoes, it’s more important to recycle our old shoes. While it is tricky to recycle shoes – see my full guide to recycling shoes for the full details – many retailers now offer take-back schemes. Whilst these aren’t perfect, it does help to stop your old shoes from ending up in landfill.
That’s a rundown of the recycled footwear landscape. As always, I aim to keep this post updated as and when I find any new brands that fit the bill – i.e. not just making their shoelaces from recycled plastic. Do check back next time you are on the hunt for sustainable shoes!