What are the Options for Ethical Footwear? Eco- Trainers & Veja

I needed* some new trainers recently and it presented quite an ethical dilemma. Generally if I want such a specific item I will have a look on eBay to see what’s going second-hand however, I wasn’t that keen on buying second-hand trainers. It’s strange because I don’t mind buying second-hand shoes although I know a lot of people are a bit funny about it, but trainers I did have a problem with. This was for two reasons; firstly hygiene – I felt that trainers can get pretty sweaty and not everyone has lovely feet; secondly – trainers are often well used and can become well-worn easily, the lining starts to come away etc. The hygiene thing is slightly silly because I could just put them through the washing machine, but still I decided to see what ethical alternatives were out there.

Sports brands regularly come under fire for producing their goods in unethical circumstances. This makes concerned consumers particularly uncomfortable I think, because the brands in question charge top dollar for their fancy footwear and instead of passing this profit onto the factory workers they pay huge sums to their executives and spend millions on shiny advertising campaigns. Research from the international campaign Playfair found workers in China who were employed by Adidas suppliers earned as little as £20 per month making sports shoes which cost up to £50 a pair. So if I wanted to avoid these companies and I didn’t want to source my trainers second-hand, what were my options?

VEJA immediately sprung to mind; a brand I had heard about but not seen up close. Veja is a French brand who produces ethical trainers, bags and purses for men, women and kids. They use organic cotton, wild Amazonian rubber and eco-tanned leather in their products, whilst keeping their carbon footprint to a minimum. I bought the Grama, a simple sneaker shoe in blue. I particularly liked the sound of wild Amazonian rubber. The Amazon is the only place on earth where rubber trees grow in the wild. Veja work with Amopreab, an association of Seringeiros – ‘the rubber tappers’ who live in the forest and harvest from the trees.

Veja Grama

They work better as fashion shoes rather than sports shoes. I won’t be running in them but I wanted them for fitness (toning) classes where I needed a less chunky shoe. What I REALLY wanted were these lovelies – the Greg Asner printed high tops. Greg Asner is a Stanford scientist who travels to the furthest corners of the Amazon rainforest and creates a novel way of mapping unknown species with photography, the shoes make use of one of his pictures.

Greg Asner VEJA Trainers

I bought mine direct from Veja but you can also get them on ASOS.


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New Shoes! Clarks are Comfy but are they Ethical?

Fed up of getting wet feet, and of shoes with flimsy soles, I decided to invest in some ‘sensible’ shoes this week. And so the first place I thought of was Clarks. Having been brought up on Jones shoes before moving onto New Look (way over that phase), Topshop, Office and River Island, I only brought my first Clarks shoes last year, and boy, are they comfy.

Clarks lived up to expectations with plenty of good quality, sturdy, stylish and well-priced options. I picked up these brown leather and Harris Tweed brogues for £50 and beige leather, low-heeled Mary-Janes in the sale for around £27. Both are very cute, comfortable and should keep my feet dry. As I was justifying them to myself at the till, my thoughts were three-fold. A – I knew that they are a long-standing British brand (not that shoes are manufactured in the UK but it’s a start), B – I knew that the shoes should last, therefore they are more sustainable than buying countless cheap ballet pumps, and C – I remembered that Clarks had created these cute desert boots last year using organic yarn to create a hand knitted cuff (vaguely ethical?).

With my purchases safely back home I thought I had better check Clarks out and happily they do have a social responsibility section on their website. Some of the work they do includes the following:

• Following recommendations by Greenpeace Clarks do not use leather in their products produced from cattle raised in the Amazon Biome (a reason for deforestation).
• In 2009 they contributed to the inaugural ‘Forest Footprint Disclosure’ report. This initiative champions sustainable and sound business practice in the key commodities that, if managed badly, can encourage deforestation: soy, timber, cattle products, palm oil, and bio-fuels.
• Some of their shoes are made by women trained through Soul of Africa, a self-sustainable charity initiative that helps orphans affected by AIDS.
• They support the Shoe Biz appeal which asks consumers to donate old shoes for reuse to raise money for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi. Collection points in more than 500 Clarks stores.

So is Clarks ethical? Ethical Consumer Magazine scored them down for supply chain management as they failed to provide evidence of a code of conduct which addressed workers’ rights within its supply chain.
But in considering sustainability, Clarks are made to last, and although it would be nice to have an excuse to keep buying new shoes, I think my Clarks shoes will put me in good stead to last the winter and beyond.

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