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ethical clothing

Fashion, Life & Style

The Best Ethical Sandals & Flip-Flops For Summer

From ethical walking sandals to vegan sandals, to sustainable and plastic-free flip-flops and more, I’ve got all your eco-friendly summer footwear needs covered.

I’ve got an entire guide to ethical shoes and even ethical trainers. And as the sun has been positively shining lately, today let’s focus our attention on ethical sandals and other summer footwear staples, such as flip flops.

Before we dive in, it is important to bear in mind that sustainability is a complex and nuanced subject. There’s no official definition and the term means many different things to many different people. I’m therefore mindful that everyone has different ethics when it comes to footwear and the materials used in their manufacture. As such, this guide has been designed to be a starting-off point for you to research the most sustainable option for you, rather than a definitive “this is ethical” list.

Guide to Ethical Sandals

Here are the best ethical sandals and flip flops that I’ve been able to track down for you. From sandals made from recycled materials to sandals aiming to be circular, right through to vegan sandals and plastic-free flip flops. Do bear in mind that sandals, like shoes, are notoriously difficult to make ethically. This is due to the numerous components that go into making them. As such options are limited, and you probably won’t find a sandal that ticks 100% of your own particular ethical boxes. Instead, you may have to exercise a degree of compromise.

The price range key for this guide is £ = Under £50 | ££ = £50 – 100 | £££ = £100+

This post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. Moral Fibres may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items that are purchased through those links. This income helps keep this site running.

Birkenstock

Birkenstock ethical sandals

Price range: £ – ££

I bought a pair of Birkenstocks* WAY back in 2006, and, do you know what? I’m still wearing the exact same pair today. These ethical sandals are almost indestructible. I know, I have worn mine every single summer since. I’ve walked perhaps a thousand miles in them – maybe more – and these beauties are still going. They have just this year started to unravel at the footbed, but after 15 years that’s some pretty good innings. In terms of cost per wear, you simply cannot beat Birkenstocks.

I always think of Birkenstocks as being the opposite of fast fashion, as they always maintain a grasp on who they are by not conforming to specific trends. However, what makes Birkenstocks ethical and sustainable is the main component is super sustainable cork.

In some previous research on cork, I found out that to extract the cork not a single tree is cut down.  Instead, the bark of the cork oak trees is peeled away.  The cork is then carefully extracted manually by highly skilled harvesters. The cork then simply grows back. This system preserves the forest in its pristine entirety and enables perpetual harvesting with no damage to the forest or ecosystem. It’s pretty amazing stuff, really.

Birkenstock makes all of its products in Germany. And for top eco points, Birkenstock offers its own repair service. I’ve also heard good things about The Boot Repair Company, which also repairs Birkenstocks.

Birkenstock offers both vegan and non-vegan leather options, depending on your preferences. Their vegan ranges are entirely free of animal products and are verified by independent testing laboratories. However, something I did note is many sandals in their vegan range are made from Birko-Flor, which appears to be a PVC-based plastic.  PVC is the single most environmentally damaging plastic. This is because PVC is made out of petroleum (a fossil fuel), which contributes to carbon emissions. The manufacturing process of PVC uses a lot of resources, and it releases a lot of toxic chemicals. Leather isn’t without its environmental and ethical problems either. Who said making sustainable choices was easy?

Camper

Camper ethical and circular sandals

Price range: £ – ££

Camper* has slowly been working on increasing its use of recycled materials and eco-friendly fabrics. Recently they’ve introduced circular styles which use closed-loop materials or can be transformed into new products at the end of their life. Their goal is to send no waste to landfill by 2030.

At the moment Camper’s circular range is small, but the good news is that these Wabi vegan sandals are part of their ethical Better Collection range. That means that you can return the sandals back to Camper when they reach the end of their life. They will then be ground down to restart life as a new sole or shoe. This sounds good. However, at present these particular sandals are made of only 20% recycled materials, and the remaining 80% is made of virgin plastic, which is oh, about 80% too much, given that fossil fuels are required to make plastics. I hope Camper can nudge the recycled figure upwards as they expand their Circular range. I’ll keep you updated.

Matt & Nat

Matt and Nat vegan sandals in black

Price range: £ – ££

Matt and Nat’s vegan sandals* are a stylish choice if you want to avoid animal-based fabrics. Matt and Nat are a strictly vegan company and do not use any animal products whatsoever.

However, like many vegan shoe materials, there are trade-offs. Good on You highlights shortcomings when it comes to Matt and Nat. For a start, the company does use PVC plastic in some of their products, which, as we discussed in the section on Birkenstocks, is not good for the environment.

The good news is that these Cyndie sandals are made from 100% recycled Polyvinyl Butyral (PVB). PVB is an innovative material made from 100% recycled resin from windshield glass, making it a better choice than PVC.

Whilst these specific sandals are made from ethical materials, there are also question marks over Matt and Nat’s ethics. Matt and Nat’s products are made in China, and Good on You highlights a lack of transparency over certain aspects of production. There are no details on the specific measures they undertake to ensure that their labour standards are being upheld. There is also no evidence that Matt and Nat has, or requires suppliers to use, a Code of Conduct. Reading this I would say that Matt and Nat are a vegan shoe company, rather than an ethical shoe company.

Teva

Teva walking sandals in black

Price range: £ – ££

Many years ago I had a pair of Teva walking sandals* which I absolutely adored. They were one of the most comfortable pairs of sandals I had ever worn. After they wore out, I replaced them with my near-indestructible Birkenstocks, and I hadn’t revisited the brand until recently when I started hearing more and more about Teva’s eco-friendly and ethical credentials.

It turns out that Teva has really upped their eco game in recent years, and has made solid progress in terms of reducing their water consumption, reducing waste and packaging, and increasing their use of recycled materials in making their sandals. In fact, in 2020, Teva transitioned all of its sandal straps to traceable verifiable recycled plastic. Since then, they say they’ve diverted 24 million plastic bottles from landfills.

Teva has a wide range of walking sandals, sandals, and flip-flops. Do bear in mind that if you are looking for vegan sandals, then not all Teva shoes are vegan-friendly. However, they do have many vegan styles, so you won’t be short on choice.

Vivobarefoot

Vivobarefoot tan leather sandals

Price range: £££

If minimal soled ethical sandals are more your thing, then Vivobarefoot* has you covered. This certified B-Corp’s ethical sandals are made from premium leather offcuts from their shoe production, making them a zero-waste sandal. Whilst Vivobarefoot does have a vegan range, unfortunately, they don’t offer a vegan sandal option. Yes, like virgin plastic, leather isn’t the most sustainable material. However, Vivobarefoot’s leather is ethically sourced as a byproduct from small-scale Ethiopian farmers. And as you can see, they are committed to using every last scrap.

Aiming for circularity, Vivobarefoot offers a repair service. And for shoes that have reached the end of their life, you can send them back to Vivobarefoot. Here, their skilled team reconditions the old shoes, by carefully repairing seams, patching torn or weak areas, replacing broken eyelets and lace hooks, and more. By keeping shoes out of landfill, it benefits the planet and allows people to shop at lower price points whilst helping to support circular business practices.

Waves Flip Flops

Waves ethical plastic-free flip flops

Price range: £

Looking for plastic-free and vegan flip-flops? Step forward Waves ethical flip flops*. Yup, the holy grail of footwear materials – a plastic-free vegan product – is possible! You see, many flip flops are made from petroleum-based rubber and plastics. However, Waves flip flops are made from 100% natural rubber that’s FSC certified.

Any off-cuts from the manufacturing process get granulated. These rubber granules are then used to create flip flops. This system cuts down on the total amount of rubber that producers need to grow, thereby reducing water, land, and energy usage. You can also send back your worn-out Waves, and again, these will be recycled. You’ll also get 10% off your next order, by way of thanks for keeping your old flip flops out of landfill.

Which Ethical Sandals Should I Buy?

I find footwear to be the most tricky aspect of an ethical wardrobe. Therefore, when it comes to ethical sandals it’s no easy matter. Any new shoe or sandal will take a toll on the earth. What to choose depends on whether you value plastic-free products, or whether you value vegan and cruelty-free products more. If it’s too tricky to choose, then ask if flip-flops could fulfill your footwear needs. Or, for the ultimate eco-friendly and ethical option – ask yourself do you actually need to buy a new pair of sandals? Could your existing pair of sandals be repaired? I always find this the best starting point before buying something new.

Fashion, Life & Style

9 of the Best Recycled Swimwear Brands Tackling Plastic Pollution

organic basics swimsuit made from recycled ocean plastic

Looking for recycled swimwear made from plastic bottles? I’ve got nine ethical brands right this way for you that are making waves by tackling plastic pollution, as well as High St alternatives.

Swimwear has been an incredibly tricky market to make more environmentally friendly. The reason being that it’s not possible to make plastic-free swimwear, without going back to the woolen swimsuits of yesteryear. These got very heavy as soon as you got in the water, and the swimsuit or shorts failed to hold their shape and had a tendency to fall down. As soon as manmade fabrics came along, such as polyester and nylon, that were more elasticated and durable, wool was quickly cast aside.

Since then, swimwear hasn’t changed much. As such, only until the last couple of years really, the ethical swimwear market was a poor show, related only to swimsuits made in the UK. Although it’s not currently possible to avoid plastic in swimwear, there are now more sustainable options. The main one being swimwear made from recycled plastic.

I think in time, a natural plastic-free alternative will be developed with those key qualities that we need. However, for now, if you’re looking for sustainable swimwear, then recycled is your key criteria.

The Best Recycled Swimwear Brands

The good news is that there are now lots of sustainable swimwear brands out there, catering to men, women and children. Here are my top tips of the swimwear brands tackling ocean plastic, and making recycled look cool.

This price guide is: £ = Under £50 | ££ = £50 – 100 | £££ = £100+

In order to help support the running costs of Moral Fibres, this post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. Moral Fibres may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items that have been purchased through those links. This income helps keep this site running.

Batoko

Batoko recycled plastic swimwear

Price: ££

Caters for UK sizes 6 – 20

Batoko is a small independent swimwear brand based on the North West coast of England. They create swimwear that is made from recycled plastic waste. These swimsuits are fun and flattering, and suitable for wild swimming, swimming in the sea, or just lazing by the pool. And your order will arrive free of individual plastics and wrapping. 

As a small business, Batoko consciously keeps its swimwear collection small and simple. This way of working allows Batoko to focus on the longevity of each design and ensures that they never over-produce. Keeping small also means that their supply chain is small. This means that Batoko can better ensure that the people making their swimwear remain safe, happy, and fairly paid.

What’s more, every year a proportion of Batoko’s profits goes to grassroots organisations and communities that are action-based within their specific expertise and niche. For example, they have donated to the National Lobster Hatchery in Cornwall, which is helping to save the European Lobster from collapse.

Davy J

Davy J swimwear

Price: £££

Caters for UK sizes 6 – 18

Davy J’s swimwear is made from ECONYL® – a regenerated nylon. This is a high-performance fabric that’s created using ocean waste, such as discarded fishing nets, and post-industrial plastic, and even old carpets.

As well as being made from recycled plastic, Davy J’s swimwear is also designed to last longer. A double-lined, high elastane composition provides extra strength, durability, and shape.

Davy J is also aiming to build a closed-loop resource system, where you can return your swimwear at the end of its life for recycling, so do keep an eye out for that.

Deakin & Blue

Deakin and blue swimsuit

Price: £££

Caters for UK sizes 8 – 24 (cup sizes AA – HH)

All of Deakin & Blue’s stylish swimwear is made from ECONYL®. What’s more, their swimwear is UK-made, in London, in a studio that prides itself on premium craftsmanship in a safe working environment.

Deakin & Blue also works with Oeko-Tex certified suppliers, environmentally and socially responsible manufacturers and partners who pay fairly, use chemicals safely and minimise waste where possible.

Because Deakin & Blue believe that no two “size 12” bodies are the same, they have developed a unique sizing system to offer a great fit, whatever your shape or size. There are three styles of swimwear catering from sizes 8 to 24. One style specifically caters to AA – B cup busts, another caters to C – E cups, and the other caters to F – HH cup sizes. What’s more, they can customise any of their swimwear (free of charge) to fit a post-mastectomy prosthetic. 

Fletch & Mills

Price: £ – ££

Caters for UK sizes 8 – 16 (women’s) and S – XL (men’s)

If you have ever dreamed of matching your family at the beach or swimming pool, then take a look at Fletch & Mills*. Here you can get matching swimwear for fathers and sons, and new for 2021, mothers and daughters too. These are handmade in recycled polyester.

Frugi

frugi swimsuit

Price: £

Caters for UK sizes 8 – 18

If it’s maternity swimwear that you are looking for then the good news is that these come in recycled plastic versions too! Ethical kidswear brand Frugi* has a small but perfectly formed maternity swimwear range. Not only is it made from Repreve, a high-performance recycled polyester fabric that’s made from plastic bottles, but it also offers a high 50+ UV protection factor.

Frugi also offer recycled plastic swimwear for kids*, catering from newborns to age 10.

In both cases, do note that some of their older stock isn’t made from recycled plastic bottles. Look out for the green logo on each product.

Lemonade Sky

Price: £ – ££

Caters for UK sizes 8 – 20++

Lemonade Sky* is a London-based sustainable start-up boutique clothing brand born from the frustration of never being able to find trendy, comfortable, high-quality products that fit fuller busts properly, while also being suitable for those smaller-chested. As such, they design for up to an H cup.

All of Lemonade Sky’s products, including their swimwear, are handmade locally from eco-friendly fabrics like recycled plastic bottles. Lemonade Sky’s seamstresses are paid a fair living wage, and their packaging is plastic-free.

Lemonade Sky also gives back – including to charities that support equal rights and treatment for women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and the Black community.

Organic Basics

Organic basics recycled swimwear

Price: £ – ££

Caters for UK sizes XS – XL

Organic Basics stylishly simple Re-Swim line*, catering for both men and women, is made to the highest ethical standards with recycled plastic from oceans and landfills. This plastic is regenerated from industrial plastic, fabric scraps, plastic ocean waste, and ghost-nets in the sea.

Their range is PETA vegan approved, and Organic Basics offer free CO2 neutral worldwide shipping. What’s more, products ship in plastic-free packaging.

Use discount code WENDYOBC to take 10% off your order.

RubyMoon Swim

Price: ££

Caters for UK sizes 6 – 20

RubyMoon* is a sustainable swimwear and activewear brand for women. As well as their collection being ethically manufactured and made from sustainable materials, RubyMoon also helps women set up and grow businesses across the globe. Here, 100% of the net profits generated by RubyMoon are lent out as small loans, to empower women entrepreneurs in eleven nations.

RubyMoon makes their swimwear from ECONYL® nylon yarn from used fishing nets and other waste material from the Mediterranean, Aegean & North Seas. Their swimwear is also PETA-Approved Vegan and Oeko-Tex certified. What I also like is that their swimsuits come with a hidden ‘shelf bra’ for extra support for those with larger chests.

Seasoon

Price: ££

Caters for UK sizes: S – L

If you are looking for swimwear that’s less for swimming in, and more for lounging beside a pool, cocktail in hand, then Seasoon’s swimwear* is the one for you. Their swimwear is definitely more on the design-led side of things. However, Seasoon’s swimwear is made from Carvico – a fabric made using ECONYL® yarn. Carvico resists the action of sunscreen, as well as sunlight, repeated washings, sea, and chlorinated water. This means it will look better for longer.

Stitson Studio

Price: ££

Caters for UK sizes 8 – 12

Stidston Studio’s swimwear* is made from ECONYL® using sustainable and environmentally focused manufacturing techniques. Their swimwear is designed, cut, and sewn in Devon in small batches to ensure that product waste is kept to a minimum. They also avoid designing products with specific print placements as this creates a lot of fabric wastage. Instead, they use solid colours or repeat prints to reduce waste.   

Recycled Swimwear On the High Street

Recycled swimwear on the high street
Fat Face’s range of recycled swimwear

If your budget doesn’t stretch to ethical recycled swimwear brands, then the good news is that many high street retailers are getting in on the recycled plastic act when it comes to swimwear.

These include:

  • Fat Face. However, do note that not all of their swimwear is made from recycled plastic. You need to specifically look for the tag that says “made with recycled materials”.
  • White Stuff*. Many of White Stuff’s swimwear is made from a recycled plastic called Repreve.
  • Boden. All of Boden’s swimwear appears to be made from recycled nylon.
  • Speedo. Speedo offers a wide range of swimwear, for men, women and children, all made from recycled yarns.
  • Roxy. This surfwear brand offers a huge range of women’s swimwear, in a variety of styles, all made from recycled nylon.

Does Recycled Swimwear Release Microplastic?

So this is the really key question. Yes, like regular swimwear, recycled swimwear does release microplastic. It’s definitely not a silver bullet to the microplastic problem.

If you’re not aware of the microplastic issue then microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are shed every time we wash synthetic clothing. It also comes from a variety of other sources, such as sunscreen and cosmetics, but also from industrial sources too. Microplastics end up in the food and drink that we consume, and ultimately end up in our bodies, where scientists are currently not sure what the long-term effects of this may be.

One solution at the individual level is to wash your swimwear in a product that catches microplastic, such as a Guppyfriend*. I’m more of a fan of interventions at the governmental and manufacturer level, as I don’t think this should be an issue for individuals to shoulder the responsibility or cost of. Continuing to press on the Government for action on microplastics is therefore key.

Other things you can do to help release microplastic release from your swimwear is to gently hand wash your swimsuit in cold water, rather than machine washing it.

Guide to ethical swimwear made from recycled plastic

Image in header used courtesy of Organic Basics