Vegan-Friendly Footwear

Vegan-Friendly Footwear

Smart looking, comfortable vegan-friendly footwear can be tricky to find. In the past it's always required a balancing act between looking nice and standing the test of time. There are so many brands offering vegan footwear now that you no longer have to compromise style for comfortable or wear ugly shoes just because they're the most practical option–unless you want to! I pick my shoes for very specific purposes and it's rare to find a brand that covers all basis. I've pooled together all my knowledge about shopping for vegan-friendly footwear and shared with you my favourite brands and the shoes I love to wear.

A note about materials. The argument that plastic is terrible and the things we wear shouldn't be made out of it is a fair one. However, when we're choosing between leather shoes and plastic alternatives, we have to bear in mind that we're choosing between two evils. Leather in particular is terrible for the planet. Leather production comes at a huge cost to our environment and it's linked to a variety of human health hazards. It requires a vast amount of feed, land, water, and fossil fuels to raise livestock in order to produce leather and the tanning process is among the most toxic in the fashion industry. Workers are exposed to harmful chemicals, which increases their risk of cancer between 20-50% and the waste produced by leather production continues on to pollute our natural water sources. Components of leather shoes almost always involve some form of plastic so you'll never escape that problem entirely. Plastic clothing is terrible too, of course but it comes down to the choice between something that's terrible for the environment and something that's terrible for the environment and causes the death of sentient beings. There are plenty of non-synthetic alternatives made from plant fibres so plastic isn't the only alternative to leather.

Our first option should always be to find what we need second-hand before buying new. Then we should focus on making the best decision about the things we buy based on their environmental impact, buying only what we need, repairing them when they wear out, and wearing them until they fall apart.

These are the brands making vegan-friendly footwear; the shoes I've worn for years, can attest to their durability and comfort, and would recommend investing in should you require a new pair of shoes. I chose each pair for a specific reason and purpose, and will continue to wear and repair them until I cannot do so anymore.

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Dr. Martens

Everyday shoes: Vegan 1461

If I could only own a single pair of shoes these would be it. They're the shoes I wear the most, come rain or shine. They're comfortable, reliable, and go with everything. The style and shape is less clunky than traditional Dr. Marten shoes with a smooth, matte look making them smarter in appearance and appropriate for most occasions. The price might make you wince but they're well worth the investment. If you're concerned about longevity of non-leather shoes, my pair of 1461 shoes are over 5 years old and still going strong with no signs of wear. Birkenstock shoes have a reputation for needing to be broken in, where the heels might rub and blisters form. I'm happy to report my pair of Vegan 1461 didn't require any breaking in, they were comfortable right from the moment I started wearing them. They're true to size so if you're feeling discomfort, it's likely you need to break them in. If you find yourself struggling to break yours in, my recommendation is to wear them around the house with several pairs of thick socks on until they've loosened up.


Practical sandals: Arizona Vegan

There's a reason why these sandals are so popular despite being, in some people's minds, rather ugly; they are incredibly comfortable. I wear mine as often as possible, which means any time the weather is warm enough for exposed feet! The cork-latex footbed molds to the shape of your foot over time to create a pair of sandals that fit you perfectly making them the most comfortable shoes you'll ever own. They have an iconic style that you either love or hate; with the right clothes, they either look chic or antiquated. Personally, I consider them to be practical, if nothing else. They do require a little upkeep especially if you're heavy footed. The sole will eventually wear away and must be repaired before it wears through to the cork footbed. I've been wearing mine every summer, at home and on holiday, for the last few years and while there are signs of wear (noticeably on where the strap joins the base and on the heel) I've yet to see a desperate need to resole them. I purchased my pair from Vegetarian Shoes when the 3-strap Milano sandals were still available. The closest design Birkenstock now makes is the 2-strap Arizona sandals or Vegetarian Shoes sell their own 3-strap sandals.


Versatile flats: Canvas Espadrilles

When you want to wear something smarter than a pair of sandals but don't require anything quite as smart as mules, and it's too hot to wear shoes or boots; canvas flats are the perfect option for day trips and lunch dates. A pair of espadrilles are the ideal compromise between looking put together and being comfortable. These slip-ons are casual yet not overly so, making them suitable for most occasions where you need to look dressier than a pair of sandals allow. The rope-wrapped sole and pearlized canvas adds a simple detail that elevates the style while the padded insert makes the shoes super comfortable to wear. A note on sizing: I have to size up in TOMS to get a comfortable fit. I'm a size 4 (Euro 37) in all my other shoes and in TOMS I'm a 5.5, which is a considerable difference!

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Matt & Nat

Smart shoes: Victoria Mules

You're not going to find a single pair of heels in this round-up, instead you'll find something far more practical and just as classy. Mules look effortless in the day time and elegant at night; they're classic looking and add an interesting detail to an outfit. The easy, slip-on design makes them smart yet comfortable–unlike heels. What I love specifically about mules is they have the effect of making the clothes you wear all the time look a whole lot dressier, which if you have a minimal wardrobe you'll be thankful for. Mules aren't the most comfortable shoe choice if you're planning on doing a lot of walking but if you're going out to dinner, to an event, or want a smart alternative to heels for the office, mules are a great option. Sizing up in mules is a good idea–half a size will do it–unless you want your foot to be hanging off the back of the shoe. I wish Matt & Nat offered half sizes because I ordered these in a 5 and they're slightly too loose.

Wills Vegan Shoes*

Versatile boots: Chelsea Boots

Considered a timeless classic by many, these boots are an essential staple piece in lots of wardrobes. These Chelsea boots are sleek and stylish; they're an ideal smart option for the cooler months when you need something a little more protective. They have a breathable interior and water resistant exterior with cushioned insoles. These are some comfortable boots that are as smart as they are practical. I opt for these in autumn and winter when my mules are too cold to wear; having a choice between the two makes my wardrobe more versatile and wearable all year round. The Deep Tread Boots will take you into the depths of winter if you require something more heavy-duty. I find the Wills Chelsea Boots to be true to size with a comfortable fit requiring no breaking in.

Po-Zu Sandals*

Smart sandals: Salome Sandals

Made from eco microfibre, coconut husk, and recycled rubbish with a glueless, side stitch assembly, these shoes are as eco-friendly as they are stylish. If you're looking for a pair of sandals that are not only practical and comfortable in the same way Birkenstocks are yet smart enough to wear to dinner like the Matt & Nat mules, these are it. The sandals are true to size with an adjustable strap for the perfect fit. Both the sole and the straps are padded for extra comfort, and the style makes them as appropriate for summer evenings as they are the beach. Po-Zu have an entire range of vegan-friendly footwear for women, men, and children including boots, trainers, and sandals.

Some items in this post were gifted (marked with *) without obligation to share.

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Vegan-Friendly Footwear