A 5,500-year-old leather shoe was recently discovered in a cave in Armenia in 2010.
While recycling experts can’t say exactly how long it should normally take a shoe to decompose, their estimate is around 50 years.
While sustainability is perhaps the buzzword du jour in the fashion industry (and, for good reason) designers are rising to the challenge of environmentally friendly wears – particularly in the footwear realm.
Traditionally the most difficult to mass-produce while also being eco-friendly, a number of designers have taken it upon themselves to eschew leathers and non-compostable goods for manmade materials like piñatex, a natural leather alternative made from cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves.
Vegan leather has also come to the fore, championed by sustainability advocate Stella McCartney, whose new Emilie boot (€745) takes classic Chelsea boots and apron shoe silhouettes and transforms them with a 90s-inspired chunky gum sole shoe.
Matching this is Alfredo Piferi, the former head designer at Jimmy Choo, who debuted his eponymous collection at Milan Fashion Week in February, composed of sleek (and 100% vegan) boots and curvy sandals with removable components.
“I wanted to create a brand with purpose,” he told British Vogue. “Five years ago, I stopped eating meat and discovered so many other flavours I’d never considered until meat wasn’t an option anymore. I thought, Maybe I can do the same thing with shoes. Nobody was doing sexy and sustainable.”
Piferi focuses on bio-based materials – such as corn oil for shoe lining – as well as recycled synthetics like recycled polyester, recycled Lurex and faux suede by way of reclaimed plastic bottles.
Closer to home, Cork Crafts in the Rebel County make shoes, bags and even wallets from handmade cork leather in Portugal. No plastic or synthetic chemicals are used in the process, just adhesive to stick it to the backing fabric.
Converse has also paired up with vintage retailer Beyond Retro to create new sneakers from recycled cotton, discarded jeans and upcycled plastic bottles to create one-of-a-kind Chuck Taylors.
Of course, most of us don’t buy something just because we know it’s better for the planet; we buy it because we truly love it. The luxury shopper has particularly high standards for craftsmanship, quality, and comfort – which is why shopping pre-loved designer might be more your thing. If so, check out Siopaella, whose wares can be viewed either online or in their Dublin stores on Wicklow Street and in Temple Bar.
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So yes, our Siopaella HQ have moved to the countryside during this lock-in ... but we are adamant this is not going to break us! Our online store is up and running with limited staff (@elladeguzman77 and @stephenryan81 with the help of furry babies @raqqilou) and we cannot stress how grateful we are for all your online orders and messages of support as it’s keeping us afloat. Unfortunately there is no financial support for non essential retailers like us - our rents and bills still need to be paid despite a huge drop in sales for the obvious reasons so honestly your support right now means so much to ourselves and our team ❤️ Praying we can get back to normal soon ❤️ ps - between chatting to you lovely folks on insta and WhatsApp I’m also overseeing the re-thatching of our 200 year old cottage 藍
While it seems apparent that everyday shoes have most certainly gotten the sustainability treatment, the one realm left to cover is that of trainers.
Today, sneakers, runners or tackies if you're from Limerick, have become a currency of their own: nary an influencer would be seen without their Balenciaga Triple S', technical whizzes can be often found in a Nike Flyknit while Old Céline fans pair their cigarette trousers with Stan Smiths.
Yes, the Sneaker revolution is most certainly here. And thankfully, even they have gone sustainable.
Made eco-conscious by way recycled materials with consideration for the environment, Vejas are most certainly the kick of the moment. A Portuguese company that offers shoes made from low-chrome leather, organic cotton, recycled rubber and wild rubber, Veja shoes became popular for their minimal styling and high credentials.
According to the company’s website, their cotton chain complies with the organic standards but is globally involved in a more ambitious scheme: agro-ecology i.e. does not have organic cotton certification. Similarly, the company began the accreditation process for Fairtrade status some years ago but have yet to attain it.
It appears that all of their shoes are made in Brazil, so buying directly from the company may make them a less sustainable option. That said, they do have a few analogue stores about. And yes, they are the shoes you've spotted on Meghan Markle.
Better known brands (the likes of Adidas and Nike) and niche labels (Vivobarefoot, for example) are all, thankfully, trying to reduce their carbon footprint in different ways, be it through manufacturing processes or material innovations – with Nike bosses claiming that their Flyknit technology has prevented some 3.5 million pounds of waste from reaching landfill.
Similarly, Everlane has committed to removing all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2021.
So perhaps taking an insular approach by acknowledging what changes can be made within the house is the key to becoming more sustainable? Well, if the shoe fits.
Main image by Stella McCartney Press Office