I Need...Shoes

>> Sunday, November 15, 2009

First off, let me say that on the spectrum of Things That Make a Big Difference to Saving the Planet, shoes are pretty far down there. But if you, like me, are trying to live as sustainably as possible, shoes do matter. Because we all own a pair (or two or three or four).

So why should you be conscious about your shoes?

1) Because of what shoes are made of...

Tanning leather uses many toxic chemicals such as mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils and dyes, some of them cyanide-based. Also, the leather usually comes from animals raised in factory farm settings.

On the other hand, fake leather shoes are made of plastic - generally PVC, the evil king of all plastics.

2) Because of how shoes are made...

Most shoes are produced in countries with poor environmental and labor standards (or with less enforcement of those standards). Workers labor under harsh conditions for little pay (in many places, well below a liveable wage) and are often exposed to toxic substances.

3) Because there are so many shoes on the planet...

According to Simple Shoes, 12 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide in 2004 with a projected production of 20 billion shoes in 2010. In 2005, Americans purchased 1.4 billion pairs of shoes - approximately four and a half pairs of shoes per person. That's a whole lot of shoes!

Okay, now here's what you can do:


  • Donate your oldie-but-goodie shoes to a thrift store.
  • Recycle your athletic shoes through Nike's Reuse a Shoe program. Says Nike: "Since we started the Reuse-A-Shoe program in 1990, we've collected more than 24 million pairs – in other words, enough to create a chain of athletic shoes that goes all the way around the world more than five times. That’s a lot of kicks kept out of the landfill." And that's just the number of shoes collected, a minuscule amount of the number of shoes that are bought (and tossed) every year.
  • Purchase fewer shoes. I have to admit, I've never been the type of girl to go ga-ga over shoes, so I really don't get the shoe hoarding habits of so many women. I'm not going to judge you if you're that type of girl - I have my own questionable habits (Diet Coke) - but maybe you could cut out one or two pairs?
  • Buy quality. Investing in good shoes is not only eco-friendly (because you'll be shopping for shoes less often) - it's also a money saver. It might seem counter-intuitive, but in general, spending more for a quality product will save you money in the long run. Think of your shoes as an investment for your feet.
  • Repair, not replace. Locate a good cobbler and make your quality shoes last.
  • Look for shoes made from eco-friendly materials. Many conventional shoe companies have started manufacturing a "green" line. Or you can look for a sustainably-commited company like Simple Shoes, which produces shoes with recycled tires, recycled plastics, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, and other earth friendly materials.
  • Buy used.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
Quality or eco-friendly shoes can be pricey, so I've got one important tip for you: Shop the sales! A couple months ago, I bought some flip flops from Simple Shoes for $10 (regularly $40). I wish I'd waited to buy my hemp EcoSneaks, which I bought at full price but saw on clearance a couple weeks ago for half price!

The other budget conscious route is of course to buy used. But I've found that finding used shoes can be touch and go. Shoes are an item that people wear until they're falling off their feet, so good shoes don't usually end up at the thrift store. I've found better selection at consignment stores, but they're also more expensive - often the same price as new shoes on sale but not in new condition. I've had much better luck with used shoes for my kids.

Where I'm At
I've been able to get my dress shoes at the thrift store, but my everyday sneakers I bought new from Simple Shoes. I've also got my eye on some TOMS. My kids almost always get used shoes.

Photo by Ella's Dad

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Eco Yogini November 16, 2009 at 7:28 AM  

weird! Andrew JUST purchased Simple shoes online last night (I am so proud of him!). He's needed new shoes forever (he only has one pair and they have holes in the bottoms) and hates shopping, he's SO picky!
BUT weirdness that it is- he actually liked a pair of simple shoes. :)

I only ever have a few pairs, and use them until they are completely dead as well.
I wonder if they are donatable...

thanks for the tips!

Green Bean November 16, 2009 at 11:49 AM  

Dang! I've never gotten my Simple Shoes at such a deal. Clearly I've got a thing or two to learn from you. Did you see that Simple is coming out with a line of biodegradable shoes in 2010? Love them.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper November 16, 2009 at 9:16 PM  

@Eco Yogini - Ha! Andrew sounds like my kids. :) Earlier this summer, my four-year-old let me know that he needed new shoes by saying, "Sometimes when I walk, my toes touch the ground." And a couple weeks ago, I was pushing my oldest on a swing and noticed that one of his shoes was missing half the bottom. He'd been walking around with half of his shoe gone and didn't think he should tell me!

@Green Bean - I did see that! So so awesome!

Jenn the Greenmom November 19, 2009 at 1:41 PM  

I love the Simple Shoes site! Shoot, now I'm going to have to resist temptation again...

I actually get a lot of shoes on...big surprise...ebay. Like clothes from particular designers/companies/whatever, I've found that once I know a brand and size that fits, I can order online pretty safely. Like, Birkenstocks don't fit me very well, but Naots do, and I love Earth shoes but absolutely can't afford new ones...stuff like that. I got some good used Rockport dress boots on ebay a few years ago too, and I wear them all the time.

kate February 22, 2010 at 4:40 AM  

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Erin aka Conscious Shopper February 22, 2010 at 9:58 PM  

@Lucy - Thanks! Hope you come back often!

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