Your Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Shoes

Tuesday Bote - Dec 18, 2020


Environmental sustainability is a concept that now lies at the core of many businesses. Not only is this because there is a mandate for companies – particularly those in the manufacturing sector – to comply with environmental standards imposed by governments and consumer boards, but because this will also be healthier for the world and humanity in the long run.

Is it possible to create a sustainable sneaker? Oliver Cabell says yes, of course.

In particular, shoemakers have been keen to embrace the concept of sustainability in terms of using materials that are upcycled from old products, ethically sourced through fair-trade initiatives, or taken from sources that are safer for the environment. 

Some companies have also expanded their take on the concept through the fair and ethical treatment of their workforce, the imposition of low- or zero-waste manufacturing practices, and the use of minimal or, in cases where it’s necessary, biodegradable packaging.

How is Sustainability Defined in Shoemaking?

Among shoemakers, sustainability is often manifested as product stewardship wherein manufacturers proactively take responsibility for their products’ environmental impact. 


At Oliver Cabell, every material that goes into the shoemaking process – even the smallest of components – is ethically and sustainably sourced.

To do so, companies perform a thorough examination of their environmental credentials and levels of compliance, focusing on the sustainability of materials used throughout the manufacturing process, ranking these materials based on their ecological impact, and checking on how large a carbon footprint their industrial processes leave behind. Many companies have noted that they have not been eco-friendly, let alone sustainable, in that respect. 

Upcycling keeps water bottles out of the landfill and turns them into yarn for use in shoemaking.

Makers of sportswear and casual footwear, in particular, have come under flak for this. Even in these ecologically enlightened days, manufacturers still make most of their athletic shoes and sneakers with various plastics that are non-biodegradable and crafted using processes that leave a massive – and potentially destructive – carbon footprint.

Organizations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition seek to minimize the damage by implementing benchmarking tools for shoemakers and companies specializing in outdoor goods and clothing. These tools help companies measure their products' environmental impact at various points in the supply chain so they can make the necessary improvements.

What Makes a Sustainable Shoe?

Now that we know how shoemakers practice sustainability in their work, we can consider the factors that make a shoe sustainable.

Oliver Cabell loafers pair sustainable materials with ethical practices to make incredibly comfortable shoes.

  • 80% of its materials should either be upcycled or taken from renewable sources.
  • Ideally, recycled plastics and rubber components, natural fabrics such as hemp and linen (as in the case of espadrilles), and ethically sourced wood and leather are the right materials for sustainable footwear.

    While there are no hard and fast rules as to what eco-friendly materials are, one thing that stands out is that raw plastics are a no-no when it comes to sustainable footwear. Lamentably, many shoes – specifically sneakers and athletic shoes – end up in landfills and take a long time to break down. Even then, these are seen as environmental hazards as they release toxins and other harmful chemicals into the atmosphere as they decompose.

    Likewise, manufacturers are rethinking the use of natural rubber – the sourcing of which in Southeast Asia and South America has led to deforestation – in favor of ethically produced synthetics of equal, if not superior, quality and durability. 

  • Manufacturing a single pair should result in a carbon footprint that is as low as possible.

  • One of the critical environmental issues arising from footwear production is that making a single pair of sneakers leaves a sizable carbon footprint. 

    A 2013 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered that, if produced using raw plastics and synthetic fabrics, manufacturing a single pair of running or basketball shoes generates as much as 30 pounds of carbon dioxide – something that doesn't help save Mother Nature. As a result, many shoemakers are trialing more eco-friendly but equally efficient production processes at their facilities.

  • The practices that go into making each pair should be ethical and compliant with local or global ecological standards.

  • These practices include selecting materials or the mechanical aspect of production and the treatment of workers throughout the manufacturing process. Over the past decade, horror stories about companies utilizing sweatshops in China and parts of South Asia fired up the public's imagination. They brought down the wrath of labor and welfare organizations upon their brands. In a genuinely sustainable shoemaking enterprise, working environments are clean, well-lit, and ventilated. At the same time, employees are treated with respect and dignity, given a voice in the creative process, and appropriately compensated.

    What Should Customers Consider When it Comes to Sustainable Shoes?

    As with more conventionally produced shoes, comfort is still one of the critical factors in choosing sustainable footwear. When selecting shoes for daily wear like sneakers, loafers, and driving shoes, walking or running in them without pain or discomfort is still what draws customers into buying.

    Oliver Cabell's line of ladies' mules is stylish, functional, and happily sustainable.

    Other factors for consideration include the following:

    • Materials, particularly those taken from renewable sources. While most people are switching to vegan-friendly materials in keeping with animal-friendly living, leather remains a top choice among those looking for 
    • Durability is still a primary consideration for shoe-buyers. Consider this: sure, your brand of choice made your shoes with cloth spun and woven from recycled plastics, but they aren't considered sustainable after less than a few weeks of wear! Indeed, even at the risk of non-eco-compliant shopping, people will still buy shoes that they know will wear well for years to come. In which case, choose well-made shoes from sustainability-driven companies that can withstand frequent wear and harsh weather conditions such as heat or rain.
    • Ethical practices are now among most buyers’ pre-purchase checklists, ensuring that they can wear their shoes without feeling guilty that someone suffered a great deal of pain and hunger in the process of making them.

    Oliver Cabell: The Art of Sustainability

    Oliver Cabell makes a difference in modern shoemaking, combining sustainable practices with an emphasis on producing high-quality footwear that delivers on the promise of comfort and elegance.

    Each pair of Oliver Cabell shoes or boots delivers optimal comfort and durability.

    Crafted using traditional European shoemaking methods, each Oliver Cabell shoe is made to the highest quality and environmental compliance standards, making it an excellent choice for those going in for mindful modern living.

    The company’s use of sustainably-sourced Italian leathers and its emphasis on treating its people as stakeholders in its continued success speaks well of its commitment to both exceptional and responsible manufacturing. 

    Oliver Cabell is bound to have the right pair for you, from sneakers and boots for active living to loafers and mules that embody casual elegance.