The Hottest Sustainable Sneakers of the Year

2021 was the year of the sustainable kicks. Countless footwear brands leveled up their shoe game with planet-friendly releases.

From Adidas to Nike and Vans, countless footwear brands leveled up their shoe game with hot new vegan releases. (Which we may or may not already have sitting in our online shopping carts.) Put simply, 2021 was the year of the sustainable kicks.

Leather is out

While historically, brands have used leather to make sneakers and other footwear styles, things are beginning to change. Many brands are slowly beginning to transition away from leather, and instead opting for more earth-friendly materials as awareness of the impact the industry has on animals and the planet increases. But there is still a way to go before fashion is leather-free.  

In December, a new study—conducted by supply chain research firm Stand.earth and environmental group Slow Factory—linked more than 50 clothing and apparel brands to the biggest leather exporter in Brazil, JBS. The company, also the world’s largest meat producer, has ties to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. And that’s not the only problem with leather production. In addition to being land-intensive, the process of turning cow skin into leather is toxic; runoff waste from the industry pollutes waterways. 

But leather doesn’t have to be made from animal hide at all. Plant-based materials, such as mushrooms, cactus, apple peels, pineapple leaves, and cork present an equally durable, yet more sustainable solution.

Sustainable sneakers of 2021

In October, Ganni announced it would be ditching leather in favor of grape skins. The Danish fashion label revealed that from 2023 on, the company would only use the sustainable, plant-based leather, made by Vegea. The Italian brand makes biomaterials for a wide variety of sectors, including the fashion and automotive industries. “We’re phasing out leather completely by 2023, as it conflicts with our efforts to minimise our impact due to high levels of methane emissions from the livestock,” said Nicolaj Reffstrup, the founder of Ganni, per Fashion United.

This year, Crocs also revealed it would cease using leather. The company said its decision to go 100 percent vegan was in order to help fight the climate crisis. The move is part of Croc’s commitment to go net-zero by 2030. “Taking action to reduce our environmental footprint by implementing more sustainable practices across our entire business is the right thing to do for Crocs,” the company’s CEO, Andrew Rees, said.

Ganni and Crocs aren’t the only companies that are embracing greener materials. Although brands still have a long way to go, many are releasing collections using plant-based materials. Click through the gallery for 10 brands that launched vegan, sustainable sneakers in 2021 (no cowhide necessary).

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