This roundup was originally sent out as one of Bluedot's BuyBetter Marketplace emails. To subscribe, sign up here.
I, Elizabeth Weinstein, Marketplace Editor, am a self-proclaimed stuff-lover, and the child of two stuff-lovers. At the age of four, I proudly declared “I want too much!” The subject, at the time, was butter. But it could be said that the notion has carried over to cookbooks, sunglasses, white tee-shirts, vases, and, my lifelong love, shoes — the subject of our newsletter this week, specifically the super-trendy, white-as-pear-blossoms tennis shoes we want to wear in the warm months ahead.
- Are they cute? This all comes down to taste, but we think we chose fashionably.
- Do they feel good? Or, at the very minimum, “are they foot-shaped?” — my mother’s extremely sensible threshold for shoe buying, and one that a shocking number of brands fail to meet.
Buying new products always has a (planetary) cost, and now is when I remind you that we call this the BuyBetter newsletter, not the BuyPerfect newsletter. But, the nine brands I’ve chosen to highlight all make good-looking, comfortable sneakers that have a lower impact than the vast majority of the shoes on the market. So, if you do decide to get yourself some new kicks today, you can feel good about it. Happy browsing!
Bluedot Living’s Marketplace Monday newsletter features items we believe in. When you make a purchase through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Dame Helen Mirren catapulted Cariuma to fame when she wore their bright green OCA Low sneakers to Cannes in 2021. For every pair of the self-proclaimed “good-looking, crazy-comfy, consciously made” Brazilian sneaks you purchase, the brand plants a pair of trees in the Brazilian rainforest.
Nashville-based brand Nisolo first caught our eye at Nordstrom. The hip huaraches beckoned, but the Sustainability Facts Label — think nutrition facts for sustainability — really caught our eye. They offer vegan and leather options for men and women in styles appropriate for office, beach, and party.
Axel Arigato Sneakers
Swedish brand Axel Arigato makes undeniably cool sneakers. A focus on community launched A.A. to success quickly; weekly drops of small-run items allowed consumers to provide feedback in real time and help the brand hone its hip look. Our favorite styles feature the embroidered bee bird logo.
Unless Collective Sneakers
Unless Collective, a vegan streetwear company, launched its first shoes in December 2022. Their plastic-free, 100% bio-based Degenerate sneakers are designed to eventually decompose. Given how much trash there is on Earth, that’s a very good thing. We love this evolution in modern footwear.
Italian footwear brand Koio makes luxurious shoes that pass through the hands of 42 craftspeople before making it to your feet. The “forever sneakers” maker gained a following when it released the first tennis shoes made with leather from cows raised on regenerative pastures in the Swiss Alps.
“Love.” “Swear by.” “A convert.” Bluedotters feel strongly about Allbirds, the Certified B Corp that makes breathable, washable sneakers from merino wool. Our own Anne Kelley has worn the same pair for nearly five years. “I’m not sure how Allbirds makes money, because mine are still in great shape,” she says.
Simone, a Gen Z-er and crucial member of the Bluedot family, wears Veja sneakers everywhere, as do a number of her friends. She appreciates that “they're comfy for days with lots of walking and flattering with every outfit.” Major bonus: “They last a long time” and come in many colorways.
Bluedot’s Marketplace Editor adores “the ease and preppy cool” of Sperry Top-Siders. She recently ordered SeaCycled boat shoes and reported: “My new sustainable Top-Siders are just as cute and well-made as all my others, and they’re adding more styles made with recycled materials. Go Sperry!”
Thousand Fell Sneakers
We love Thousand Fell, a new vegan sneaker brand that has created the world’s first totally recyclable tennis shoe. Their list of materials reads almost like a recipe, and includes corn, sugar cane, aloe, castor bean oil, and coconut husks. Upcycled yoga mats make ingeniously soft and comfy insoles.
*So, about those questions I like to ask before I buy shoes.
What are they made of?
“Vegan leather” sounds virtuous, but it’s often just code for “plastic.” Seek out recycled and upcycled plastics, organic cotton, natural rubber, and bio-based materials like sugarcane and eucalyptus. With animal products, look for wool, or for leather sourced from tanneries certified (ideally Silver or Gold) by the Leather Working Group.
How do they impact the planet?
Let’s consider carbon: According to the sustainability consulting group, Quantis, the footwear industry releases 700 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, accounting for 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Allbirds offsets as much carbon as it generates and is certified Climate Neutral. Veja conducted an incredibly thorough study into its own emissions and is enacting meaningful change because of it, like no longer air-freighting shoes.
What happens when they no longer serve me?
Lots of companies have started resale programs, as well as trade-in programs that give consumers discounts when returning old shoes. Old Thousand Fell shoes can be returned for $20 offthe next pair. Even more impressive: Unless Collective’s entirely bio-based sneaker can be composted (with some mechanical help) and turned into soil or plant food.
Remember, don't toss your old shoes! Instead, think about:
- Taking them to the cobbler to be reheeled, resoled, repaired, or shined
- Posting them on your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook
- Donating them: see where in Bluedot’s Guide to Getting Rid of (Almost) Anything
- Checking out this list of great ideas from Sustainable Jungle
- Giving them to your dog, who will have the time of his life (but don’t blame us if he eats your new shoes, too)
Please feel free to send photos of your dog, thoughts on sustainable shoes, or any other musings our way by emailing [email protected]. And thanks so much for joining us!
–Elizabeth Weinstein, Marketplace Editor