The Problem With Ethical Sneakers

What’s the problem with ethical sneakers? Other than how to style them without looking like an 80’s office worker ala Melanie Griffith in Working Girl?

The inspo for those Everlane sneakers

The inspo for those Everlane sneakers

Actually that’s a problem I have with all sneakers but that’s a post for another time.

No, the problem with ethical sneakers is that they’re usually made by ethical companies with comparatively little experience in the sneaker-making business and that they’re usually made with natural rubber.

Let’s tackle the natural rubber issue first. I get why ethical companies like using natural rubber: because it’s not virgin plastic. Rubber is an organic material made from the sap of rubber trees and thus is biodegradable in its purest form. It’s the original elastic polymer before plastics came along. But the problem with rubber when its used for the soles of shoes is that it’s heavy, stiff, and makes for a clunky uncomfortable sneaker. This is true with the Veja sneakers (reviewed here) as well as Everlane’s sneakers.

But take this with a grain of salt because I’m an ex-runner so I expect my sneakers to be cushiony and lightweight—truly something that I can work out in. If you’re okay with skater type of shoes, then you might not mind a heavy stiff shoe with no cushiony support.

Also as an ex-runner I believe in the research and development that sneaker companies put into their shoes. And that’s why I have issues with ethical companies with little or no experience making sneakers, especially if people start working out in them. If you’re going to be putting miles on your sneakers, either by running, walking, or even jumping around, you want to be sure that those shoes were made for that. So even though sneaker companies may be using virgin plastic like no tomorrow, at least your legs and feet stand a good chance of being protected from injury (and sorry if it came down to my legs or the environment, I’d choose my legs each time). I would not recommend working out in either Veja or Everlane sneakers since they’re not made for that. Oh and please don’t hike in them either (at least not a serious hike—get dedicated hiking shoes for that and your future ankles will thank you).

Of course, if you're just wearing sneakers for light walking and as a fashion statement then wearing ethical sneakers is totally fine. In which case maybe you can give me some pointers on how to style them without looking like I’ll be changing shoes at the office.

P.S. So my solution for adding sneakers to an ethical closet? Buy them secondhand from a store like Crossroads or Buffalo Exchange. The shoes you find in those kinds of stores are usually still in great condition and have lots of mileage left on them. Plus I always wear socks with my sneakers so it’s less gross to me to buy athletic shoes used (but smell the inside of the shoe first—sounds gross but it’s a must).

P.P.S I also read this article, which I found through Grechen, and it highlights the difference between an ethical fashion brand’s (Everlane’s) approach to sneakers and a sneaker brand’s (Adidas’) approach to a more ethical shoe. If I were to buy one, I would go with the big shoe brand with their large R&D budget. Now if only Adidas could use recycled plastic and then make a recyclable shoe. Maybe someday, though it feels like it’s a little too late for this technology already.