Ethical Sneaker Update10 Feb 2016
Slowly but surely the sneaker industry is catching up with fashion's current, and hopefully lasting, fascination with sustainability. While Franco-Brazilian pioneer Veja has been pathing the way for over a decade, more established brands have often lagged behind in improving their production process.
Amongst the recent game changers is the Adidas x Parley primeknit sneaker created from recycled plastic waste and illegal fishing nets, which follows a similar philosophy to G-Star's Raw for the Oceans bionic yarn and Spanish recycling apparel brand Ecoalf.
Then there were Taiwanese designer Ammo Liao's bio-knit sneakers, which by way of textile biomimicry drastically reduce the cost of recycling multi-material products.
And finally, with the recent resurgence of veganism, brands from all spectres are trying their hand at vegan footwear. Amongst them Issey Miyake with a colourful 3D print, joining the luxury sector's vegan veteran par-excellence Stella McCartney.
However, the fact that vegan footwear doesn't necessarily equal sustainability, potentially involving harmful synthetic materials, as well as unethical working conditions, has left many confused and others in heated debate.
But let's have a look at what the current ringleaders of ethical sneaker production are up to. There have been quite a few exciting collabs, Veja x Bleu de Paname being one of them, along with Veja's V-10 extra white sneaker below, right in time for their 10th anniversary - bon anniversaire!
There are also some pretty smart SS16 collections and additions to existing lines of other brands to be discovered, making the coming season looking rather promising.
Veja 10-V extra white
ekn footwear x Mr. Bailey
Ethical sneaker brand ekn footwear from Germany and self-confessed EntrepreNERD Mr. Bailey of ConceptKicks, have recently launched their men's sneaker collab "Bamboo Runner", a style-conscious choice to get you through your busy city days in comfort. This model comes in two colours and each pair you buy will have two sets of shoelaces which can be tied at the front or back.
As with all of ekn's sneakers, they are 100% Portuguese, i.e. handmade by a family-run factory in Porto, from partly recycled upper-material, as well as vegetable-tanned leather for their removable insoles - N.B. supplied by one of Europe's first chrome-free leather tanneries with exemplary water management - and soles made from recycled waste material of the footwear industry, all of which is sourced in Portugal.
There are also lots of other nifty details, such as the organic cotton laces, the wax stitching for extra durability, or the recycled and compostable packaging.
For more information of ekn's production process and interviews with founder Noel Klein-Reesink and his Portuguese collaborators watch their mini documentary here, and as their motto suggests "walking clean in a dirty world"!
German-Swiss team Stefan Rechsteiner and Patrick Ruegg of VELT have taken the alpine nation and its neighbours by storm, bagging a design award from the Swiss state for their debut collection back in 2013.
Their popular sneaker, so far available in black and white, with either white or show-stopping blue soles, has just received a smart addition all in black.
Designed in Berlin and manufactured in Switzerland from European leather, these subtly elegant sneakers combine everything a grown-up sneaker lover with a thing for careful details and good quality could hope for.
FEIT, NYC - Cuoio
Perhaps it was those icy New York winters or a hint to their Australian heritage when FEIT founders, and brothers, Tull and Josh Price decided to kit out their beautiful sneaker-like Cuoio shoe with some cosy wool shearling lining - who knows... ...whichever the case, there's hardly anything more comforting imaginable for your feet on a cold winter day ladies!
Each model is handcrafted and sewn by a small team in China, which was trained by Tull according to sustainable principles, and uses vegetable-tanned leather from Tuscany.
Looking at these understatedly luxurious shoes, t's evident that handmade vs. mass-produced has been FEIT's credo right from their beginnings in 2005. In the brother's first film commission titled "Man vs Machine" (watch here), director Jack Riccobono and his team explore the frantic beat of mass-manufacturing vs. the calm of handcrafting - soothing!
Rombaut, Paris - SS16
Mats Rombaut's SS16 sneaker collection is all you'd expect from a Belgium designer really. Boldly modern in style and highly innovative in its use of unexpected, in this case eco-friendly materials. Rombaut's combined passion for nature and science led him to experiment with a range of different natural materials, such as stones, yes, you've read it, along with more usual contenders like tree bark from Uganda, organic cotton/cellulose, coconut fibres and responsibly sourced, natural rubber from the Amazon. Each pair is expertly handcrafted in Italy, assuring the kind of quality a luxury sneaker line demands.
French brand Piola endears us this year with a fun sneaker collection in lush colours, made in one of Portugal's finest factories from local or Italian leather.
The wild rubber used for soles etc. is sustainably sourced in the Amazon and bought according to fair-trade principles through Ecomusa, a Peruvian company supported by a joint preservation project of the UN and WWF (read their fascinating story here).
Piola also donates 4 Euros from each sneaker sale to the communities involved in the rubber collection. Their plan is to make future donations to the farmers in southern Peru, who supply them with GOTS-certified organic cotton.
Piola's connection with Peru stems from co-founder Antoine's time working with an NGO in Lima, which inspired the team of friends/founders high committed to preserving and improving the livelihood of their producers. You can learn more about the brand's involvement on their website.
All images via brands mentioned.