March Madness Bracket Busters: Four Stylish and Sustainable Shoes for Spring

In the ever-growing world of sustainable fashion, the competition to create popular, wearable designs in the most sustainable, eco-friendly, and socially responsible way is as stiff as it gets. This is particularly true for the shoe industry.

There are hundreds of shoe companies the world over that are taking steps to minimize their carbon footprints; but at the final buzzer, there are only a few that have a shot of bringing the sustainability title home.

These shoe companies have breezed through the “Sweet Sixteen” to make up the most sustainable “Final Four.” Take a look at them below:

Indosole: Bali, Indonesia

For Indosole, “Souls With Soul” isn’t just a great tagline, it’s three little words that perfectly sum up all this sustainably-minded company has to offer on its self-proclaimed quest to save one million tires from landfill by turning them into everyday footwear. The inspiration behind Indosole’s aspirations came from a single pair of motorbike sandals discovered by founder Kyle Parsons on his first trip to Bali fifteen years ago.

It was on that trip that Parsons saw what resourcefulness at its finest could do. The way that people were putting their overabundance of used tires to use got him wondering… If this was a problem in Bali, what did the bigger used tire issue look like globally? The answer was disturbing, to say the least.

Every year over one billion waste tires end up in landfills globally—that’s the rough weight equivalent of 75,000 school buses. To put that into perspective, 75,000 school buses parked end to end equals 640 miles—enough to cross the state of Ohio three times.

Needless to say, waste tires are a big problem. So how exactly is Indosole working to keep tires out of landfills? This is Indosole’s sustainability gameplan:

First Quarter: Planet’s Winning

Indosole is repurposing useful rubber from discarded tires to create incredibly durable and long-lasting soles for its sandals and shoes. It do this in five steps:

  1. Indosole has a tire-sourcing team that works to intercept tires in India before they are burnt, which releases toxic chemicals that are bad for the environment or buried in landfills. These tires come from garages and tire brokers.
  2. According to Indosole, it “cut[s] the tire sidewall by hand and then utilize various cutting devices to cut the tire into the shape of a sole.” This keeps the durability of the tire intact and is also what makes each sole unique.
  3. Once the sole is created, Indosole artisans use natural material to create the rest of the shoe. These materials can be woven, stitched, folded, or batiked from organic canvas, banana leaves, and grass.
  4. Once the sole and upper are complete they are combined to create the full shoe.
  5. The insole is inserted and you have one super sustainable—and comfortable—shoe!

Second Quarter: People are Winning

The Indo Crew

“Indosole represents a lifestyle of resourceful creation. Our footwear is crafted by artisans in Indonesia featuring repurposed and natural materials.” There is a lot behind that simple statement. In honor of the Indonesian people that inspire its shoes, Indosole not only works diligently to repurpose waste tires, it does it in a way that fully supports its workers. The company does this by creating a professional, safe, and healthy environment where adult artisans and workers can thrive. It makes sure that its facilities are open, sanitary spaces filled with music and laughter.

In a 2018 interview with Let’s Imagine, Killian Page of Indosole was asked what was special about Indosole’s manufacturing location. The answer was very telling of Indosole’s loyalty to the people that inspired its creation: “We manufacture in Java and Bali, Indonesia, and are headquartered in San Francisco, California. Waste tires are available everywhere, but for now, as we grow, we prefer to stick with the people and the culture that created Indosole and have been with us since its inception.”

Third Quarter: Indosole is Winning

Indosole is a B Corporation

Indosole is operationally transparent, and just five years after it started they became a certified B Corporation. This means that the company meets all of the rigorous standards of social and environmental performance required by the nonprofit B Lab. (Rubicon® meets these same requirements, and is also a certified B Corporation.)

Fourth Quarter: We are All Winning

Meet the Good Humans

Indosole has a collection of “good humans” that are fighting the good fight for our planet’s survival. It defines these people as “An influencer who spreads positivity, lives responsibly, takes care of our natural environment, and inspires others to pursue their interests and passions to the fullest.”

Allbirds: San Francisco, California

This San Francisco-based company loves its wool, and the planet, so it’s no surprise that when it comes to its shoes, Allbirds is anything but sheepish about sustainability. How could it be when it proudly claims Mother Nature as its muse!

Allbirds was created when former New Zealand soccer player, Tim Brown, decided he wanted to simplify the shoes he wore in counterpoint to the massive amount of sponsored sneakers he had worn over the years. His idea was simple: make shoes out of wool. Merino wool is warm, breathable, and comfortable—three of the best descriptors of great shoes.

Here’s how Allbirds is making a simple, unbranded, and comfortable shoe that is nurturing for your feet, and the earth you walk on:

The Layup: Materials are Everything

Allbirds has met all of the strict B Lab requirements to become a certified B Corporation. It has done this with a serious dedication to all areas of its manufacturing process. Here are a few examples of Allbirds sustainable material practices:

  • Merino wool requires 60 percent less energy to produce than synthetic shoe materials.
  • It makes their shoelaces out of plastic bottles.
  • It uses castor bean oil to increase the natural content of their insoles.
  • According to Allbirds, Its tree fiber is sourced from South African farms that minimize fertilizer and rely on rainfall, not irrigation. This uses 95 percent less water than traditional shoe materials.
  • The eyelets of Allbirds shoes are uniquely created with the help of microorganisms that consume plant sugars.

The Starting Lineup: Mother Nature Comes First

There is more to Allbirds than just great materials. It is revolutionizing the way shoes are packaged with a triple threat approach that uses 90 percent post-consumer recycled cardboard which serves as a shoebox, shopping bag, and mailer all in one.

Here are a few more ways Allbirds is doing the right thing for the planet:

  • It keeps shoes from the landfill by distributing them to communities in need through its partnership with SOLES4SOULS.
  • It doesn’t use just any Merino wool; it uses ZQ-certified Merino wool, which indicates a strict standard of sustainable farming and animal care has been met.
  • It is Forest Stewardship Council certified, meaning it sources materials that meet strict standards to protect forests and the animals and people who depend on them.

Veja: Paris, France

With firsthand knowledge of the amazing ways that fair trade can change the economy, Veja decided to revolutionize a product that everyone on the planet can use in a balanced way that would create a fairer exchange between consumers and producers. This is why it has meticulously rebuilt the sneaker.

According to Veja, it had to be the sneaker because “as a consumer product, it stood as a symbol for our generation… We were the ones wearing sneakers in the nineties when they became massively popular and went from sport fields to the streets.” That sparked Veja to create a sneaker that people can feel good about wearing, not just for themselves, but also for the planet.

Veja states that sneakers are “one of the most interesting products on an economic level because it concentrates the most advertising spendings… When you buy a pair of sneakers from a big brand, 70 percent of its costs goes to advertising and communication […] only 30 percent goes to raw materials and production.” As a response to this flawed model, Veja is answering back by being more sustainable than the big brands, while also adhering to social responsibilities.

This is how Veja is playing defense to create a great offense:

The Double Team: Social Responsibility

In 2003, a visit to a Chinese factory opened Veja’s eyes to the product breakdown and lack of social accountability to employees. After spending three days with workers, things seemed above board until they saw the living quarters—thirty-two workers living in a 270 square foot room filled with five-level bunk beds.

In response, Veja decided to reinvent their business model in a way that would take care of the workers it couldn’t live without. This meant eliminating its advertising budget while producing its sneakers more expensively to shift the company’s spending to production, raw materials, and, most importantly, the people who make the sneakers.

Within this model Veja:

  • Worked with a small agro-ecological cooperative of 35 Brazilian producers who provide its organic cotton.
  • Abides by Fair Trade principles—it pay for crops in advance, at a three-year contracted price.
  • Manufactures its sneakers in Porto Alegre, an area with strong social rights, reasonable hours for workers, and unionization, in the south of Brazil.

The Box Out: The Earth Comes First

Veja’s sneakers are unlike most you will find on the market. This is because the company works diligently to source all of its materials in an environmentally sound, socially responsible way. Every stage of production is focused on these ideals. Veja:

  • Works with rubber harvesters that live in harmony with the Amazon. The rubber that it collects responsibly has created forty percent of all of Vejas sneaker soles.
  • Protects the environment by making its leather from a vegetal process.
  • Makes a shoe entirely from recycled water bottles. According to Veja, the bottles are picked up from the streets of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil.

The Three Pointer: What You See is What You Get

Since the 2005 sale of its first sneaker, Veja has been focused on leaving the world a better place than it found it. This hasn’t changed along the way as the company grew from ten employees to sixty, or now that it is selling its shoes in more than fifty countries.

Two Degrees: London, England, United Kingdom

Thanks to Two Degrees, boat shoes are getting an eco-friendly overhaul without sacrificing their signature features of serious comfort and durability. The reason for this reinvention of an old classic is pretty basic—Two Degrees is motivated by its love of the environment.

Here are a few examples of how Two Degrees is making the world a better place to live.

The Full Court Press: Saving Endangered Habitats Globally

Would you be more inclined to wear a great pair of boat shoes if you knew that they were directly responsible for protecting 1,000 square feet of endangered habitat? If you buy a pair of Two Degrees then you can do just that, thanks to their Feet for Feet® business model and a partnership with 1% for the Planet and the World Land Trust.

According to Two Degrees Co-Founder Plum Turner, “We always knew we wanted to create a business that also gives back which is why we’re excited to be working with the World Land Trust to bring our Feet for Feet model to life.”

The Free Throw: Full Transparency and Impact Assessment

Two Degrees provide an impact assessment that covers all of their bases. Here is some of the information the company shares:

  • All of its leather is biodegradable. Leather tanning is done with a bioprocess that keeps the environment free from damaging heavy metals.
  • Its soles come from recycled rubber waste such as old car tires.
  • Its packaging is minimal (one sheet of cardboard makes one box), biodegradable, and plantable.
  • Its supply chain exists within a 100-mile radius to decrease its carbon footprint.

The Winning Shot: Taking Leather to a New Level

Two Degrees loves leather for its durability and natural breathability, and it takes its procurement very seriously. This is why it sources its leather from the waste products of the meat industry.

Remember the tanning process we mentioned earlier? Two Degrees takes this a step further by creating hypoallergenic material that is safe even for babies to wear. This material also biodegrades in fifteen days, whereas the company states that the majority of footwear leather tanned with Chromium can take more than fifty years to biodegrade.

Want to go into overtime? Read about Rubicon’s recent zero-waste success story with the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, and be sure to learn more about Rubicon’s work transforming the entire category of waste and recycling, be sure to download our inaugural Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Report.

Editor’s Note: References made to businesses/companies in this post are not meant to convey affiliation with or endorsement of Rubicon by those companies in any way.


Amy Koonin Taylor is Marketing Content and Media Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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