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5 Sustainable sneaker brands to watch

By Simone Preuss

14 Jul 2021


Image: On

More and more consumers today have had enough of sneakers that are trendy, expensive and wasteful - in one word: overhyped. They want something that is easy on the eyes, the feet, the environment and their wallet. An extra bonus is, if the sneakers don't end up in the hazardous waste bin at the end of their lives. Is it possible to do all this? FashionUnited found five young sneaker labels that promise a better future.


Image: Ethletic

Sustainable sneaker brand Ethletic proves that fashion and environmental and social awareness do not have to be mutually exclusive: It manufactures vegan sneakers from Fairtrade-certified organic cotton and natural rubber (FSC) and donates one US dollar per pair sold to workers' welfare associations. Those who are particularly happy with their sneakers can also send a tip to the workers in Pakistan.

“The people who work for Ethletic are not just a number on the balance sheet or a cost factor for us. We have gotten to know these people. We appreciate them and their skills, their commitment, their history," explains Ethletic CEO Mark Solterbeck, who travels several times a year to India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to maintain personal contacts with the manufacturers.

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Image: Genesis

German sneaker brand Genesis has been sustainable and environmentally friendly from the get go. It combines pretty much everything that makes a consumer's heart beat faster when it comes to consumption without a guilty conscience: upcycled materials, textile innovations made from oyster shells, banana leaves, pineapple leaves and others, fair working conditions, donations to environmental organisations and, of course, good design and quality.

“It is in my nature not to do anything half-heartedly. If it's a sustainable shoe, then everything has to be sustainable: All the materials used for the shoe, but also the packaging, the transport, POS materials, and so on, right down to the tape we use to seal the boxes,” says Genesis founder Jens Huesken.

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Finnish sneaker brand Rens came out with the world’s first sneaker from coffee grounds and recycled plastic in 2019 and won the 2021 Reddot Award for Outstanding Product Design. Each shoe uses up the coffee grounds of 21 cups of coffee, which get carbonated and mixed with the recycled PET from six water bottles.

Community is important for the brand, which is already planning its second sneaker model: “There has been constant encouragement from the beginning and also great feedback from the community. We have now integrated many of the wishes and comments into our next performance sneaker model Nomad, which will be launched by mid July with a Kickstarter campaign,” announces the brand.

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Image: On

Swiss sports shoe brand On has done away with owning a pair of sneakers: Produce, use, reuse - with its Cyclon running shoe, On closes the product cycle. The high-performance shoe is an item of clothing that you can never really own. When the running shoe reaches the end of its life, it is traded in at the manufacturer for a new pair. Sounds crazy, but that is exactly how On hopes to make the textile industry a little greener.

And Cyclon is just the “beginning of the future” for the brand that was founded in 2010 in Zurich: “We are on the way to eventually designing and producing all our products in a circular way and Cyclon is the first step in this direction,” said Viviane Gut, head of sustainability at On, at the Sustainable Fashion Summit 2021. The brand also makes sure it sources ethically, is transparent about its supply chain and reduces packaging to a minimum.

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Image: Woden

Danish sneaker brand Woden - which stands for ‘Works of Denmark’ - has been focusing on giving their shoes a greener footprint from the beginning. The brand has replaced as many synthetic materials as possible with materials such as fish leather, a minimum of 10 percent recycled rubber in the outsoles and eco-friendly cork insoles in all the shoes. The dual density polyurethane Natural Soft midsole took two years to make and provides a more cushioned and shock-absorbing sole for added comfort. Parents will be happy to know that Woden also offers sustainable sneakers for children.

“It’s slowly becoming fashionable to be sustainable. But there is no such thing as a 100 percent sustainable sneaker. Everything produced has an environmental and social price and we still have a long journey ahead of us. But at Woden we are proud to be a part of the change. This is how we raise the bar for a greener footprint – one step at a time,” explains Woden founder and CEO Carsten Holm.

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Though Holm is certainly right, as of now, there is no 100 percent sustainable sneaker - yet but brands keep innovating and researching to go further steps in this direction. What we liked about the five sustainable sneaker brands portrayed here is that they are young brands who had a sustainable focus right from the beginning. They also know their customers well and make sure that they incorporate their wishes in terms of environmental consciousness, comfort and transparency without making the resulting sneaker unaffordable: All sustainable sneakers shown here are in the low to medium price range.

This article was originally written in German for FashionUnited.de before being translated into English.