Veganism is becoming increasingly popular – and we’re very happy about it! A common issue for vegan folk is finding good quality shoes and accessories that are free of any animal products. However, although this is something that is becoming more accessible as the lifestyle gains a bigger following, there are still issues at hand, especially for those that care about ethics and sustainability throughout the production process. As a vegan do you ever ask yourself, are vegan shoes eco-friendly?
It’s important that we look further into this issue as we often can be blind-sighted by a clearly moral choice, without thinking about other disadvantages. Luckily your pals here at Revival Collective have investigated vegan shoes and their benefits and issues, to bring you a succinct guide to vegan shoes.
There are clear benefits to cutting out animal by-products when buying textiles
No animals are being slaughtered and hurt for material value, and no grain is harvested and watered for feed, which saves on the amount of land needed to produce textiles without animals.
However, there has been a range of issues with vegan shoes that have left environmentalists questioning whether they are truly a conscious choice after all!
Use of Plastic
Often, faux leather and suede shoes are created using plastics; plastic is notoriously bad for the planet and any environmentalist would be wise to steer clear of this harmful substance where possible.
More specifically, vegan shoes are often created using PVC, a type of plastic that bad for the environment and has been found to be bad for our health. One of the key issues here is that PVC is associated with Dioxin, a known human carcinogen, during its manufacturing period and incarceration. Another worrying issue with PVC is that a phthalate called DEHP is often used to soften PVC, and it’s linked to reproductive birth defects and other illnesses.
Due to the widespread knowledge of PVC and its problems both to our health and the planet, in recent years many companies have turned their attention to Polyurethane – however this is also a morally questionable material.
Although Polyurethane may be somewhat better than PVC, it still has environmental issues. An example of this is the method of making this product; the raw material comes from fossil fuels which, we are all aware harm the environment in a number of ways. It has also been proven that Polyurethane is not entirely non-toxic which poses another issue.
Generally, when looking for vegan alternatives to leather and suede, various plastics are most commonly used which has very negative consequences for the environment. While there are vegan alternatives that are better for the environment, plastics are generally cheaper to produce, so many large companies use them despite the environmental impact.
Many people have also questioned the ethical practices in place when these shoes are made. You might be surprised to learn that many high street stores like Primark and H&M offer vegan shoes – this is mainly because animal textiles like leather can be more expensive to source than other plant-based textiles. However, these companies are well known for using cheap labour, and having terrible working conditions within their factories.
Often you’ll find that vegan shoes are created in countries where workers are often victims of poor working and living conditions with horrific rates of pay. The Vegetarian Site have questioned the ethics behind these products given that little is known about the working conditions under which they have been made. Their website encourages consumers to read more into products that they’re buying and where possible, purchase shoes that are created in countries with strong labour laws to ensure that human exploitation is not being encouraged.
When we consider cruelty in the production chain, it’s important to consider the treatment of both animals and humans. Yes, it’s fantastic if you can find vegan shoes in Primark, but they were still produced as a result of mistreatment towards humans.
It can’t be ignored that vegan shoes are often on the pricier side and it can be hard to find affordable, high quality products at a reasonable price. Unfortunately this is an issue that can’t be solved overnight, particularly in our financially stunted society. However, we can hope that with an increase in demand from vegans, this will become more accessible.
Although lowering the price would make vegan shoes more accessible to some, we strongly believe in changing attitudes towards clothing. Your shoes should be seen as an investment and spending money on ethically and sustainably made products can definitely work out to be more cost effective, as many conscious brands make shoes that are amazing quality and made to last.
It’s not all bad…
As seen, there are multiple issues with vegan shoes and their production methods. With this being said, however, science and textile technology is constantly adapting and growing so new companies and products are always reducing their environmental footprint. There is also a big market in recycling shoes and repurposing them to decrease waste and lower the environmental damage; these shoes can be found on websites like Eco Vegan Shoes, Avesu and Beyond Skin.
Beyond Skin are also using vegetable-based plastics. They guarantee that all of their vegan leather is created in the EU, using 100% recycled PU with a vegetable coating. Although this may not be ideal, it is a step in the right direction and is cutting down on resources and reducing waste. They are also still looking into developing their products further and creating a totally ethical vegan shoe collection.
Matt and Nat are another fantastic company when it comes to creating vegan products (and a personal favourite of mine!) All of their products are created from a close-knit team in Montreal, ensuring that love and care go into each and every piece. Unfortunately they use PU and PVC within their products – however, they are constantly striving to create a wholly sustainable range and use other eco-friendly ingredients such as recycled nylon, rubber and cork, and recycled materials for their linings.
Bourgiouse Boheme have a range of shoes made out of Piñatex™ leather (made out of pineapple leaves). Piñatex™ is a natural and sustainable non-woven textile which uses by-products of the pineapple harvest and therefore requires no extra land, water, fertilizers or pesticides at production stage. Piñatex™ resembles luxurious textured leather and is soft but strong, light, breathable and comfortable. How cool is that?
Although there are known issues with the methods of creating vegan shoes and the materials that are chosen in the process, there is also a wide range of research being conducted to fix this issue and ensure that the future of vegan shoes is completely sustainable.
After learning a bit more about the materials and processes involved, I would still rather choose vegan shoes as opposed to non-vegan shoes. However, I’ll be looking a lot more carefully at exactly how the shoes are made, and remember that just because they are vegan does not mean that they are ethical or sustainable!
Will you continue to wear these vegan shoes? Or has this led you to question the ethical processes of vegan footwear all together? Comment below or tweet us @revival_collect