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Everybody owns a pair of those shoes

2009 December 15
by sampablokuper

The leg bone
Is connected to the foot bone,
Is connected to the Export Processing Zones,
And it’s nothing we condone…
But everybody owns
A pair of those shoes.

Million Dead, Holloway Prison Blues

For the ethical consumer, shoes pose a problem. If one wants to buy shoes not made mostly of synthetics, one has two broad options: canvas shoes or leather ones. Canvas shoes are fine for some circumstances, but not for all.

The trouble with leather is that much of it comes from Indian cows that are treated rather badly (I know what you’re thinking: aren’t cows sacred in India? Well, not entirely…) and is then tanned in ways that create substantial water pollution. If you want to buy shoes made with leather from organically-reared cattle, tanned in a sustainable fashion, you’re out of luck.

That may be about to change in 2010. Organic leather company Natureally is working with manufacturers who are hoping to bring organic leather shoes to market. With any luck, this will open the door for more companies to start doing the same.

As for other items of clothing – belts, bags, jackets, hats and so on – it’s probably better to choose items made of sustainable non-leather materials like hemp, organically grown cotton, or wool.

UPDATE: there’s another good option: going barefoot whenever it’s safe to do so.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. February 8, 2010

    … or buy vintage on eBay :-)

    Great that you don’t recommend vinyl, which I recently discovered wasn’t a particularly eco-friendly choice at all. In fact I think leather is better than vinyl, because it lasts longer and keeps your feet warmer and dryer – which is what shoes are for after all!

  2. Diem Hang permalink
    April 18, 2010

    There are companies that make shoes from recycled materials.

  3. September 7, 2010

    The best solution – one which avoids the need for animal products or synthetics – appears to be to go barefoot. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Although most of us in the West are brought up to believe we need shoes, and indeed different shoes for different activities, there’s no shortage of athletes and ordinary folk who prove this wrong.

    A good place to begin learning about going barefoot in everyday life is the Barefooters website. For something a little more impressive, watch these videos of tips for handling unpleasant things to step on when barefoot, barefoot running in ice and snow, barefoot rock climbing (note that falling is a common event during rock climbing, shod or not!), and – perhaps most remarkable of all – barefoot parkour!

    I’ve recently taken up barefoot running, and I’m often barefoot when I’m at home. When I’m confident that my feet can reliably handle a wide range of terrains and temperatures, I may start going barefoot in daily life outside the house.

    Obviously, some circumstances demand protective footwear for safety, in which case preference should go to natural rubber, organic leather, or other low-cruelty renewable materials as discussed in the post above.

  4. November 20, 2010

    For those of you who buy canvas shoes, check out these new sneakers by Ethletics, featuring organic, fairtrade cotton uppers and FSC-certified rubber soles:

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