Fashion usually speaks in terms of trends – but sneakers can hardly be described as one. Far beyond just a passing fad, the sneaker is edging closer to “evergreen classic” status, earning its rightful place in pretty much anyone’s wardrobe. Fashion news site Glossy notes that “the pandemic gave women the green light to wear more comfortable shoes” and establishes that the rise in sneaker sales is more than a fleeting moment.
Sneakers are also part of fashion’s strive for sustainability: a 2019 study by market research firm NPD focused on the “future of footwear” found that millennials and Generation Z – the main consumer target for sneakers – are “very concerned” about the environment. It is no wonder then that so many new sneaker launches have not featured an ounce of leather.
In her book Foot Work: What Your Shoes Are Doing To The World, journalist Tansy Hoskins notes that “the existence of slaughterhouses in the fashion and shoe industries is an issue which is tiptoed around. It is taken for granted that millions of animals should die for our clothing and shoes, with the rights of animals seen as taboo, or embarrassing subject to talk about. And yet, killing is everywhere, hiding in plain sight.” She also discusses the devastating decline of the Amazon rainforest, concluding that “it is a problem inextricably linked to shoes, because cattle is the main thing replacing the rainforest in Amazonia.”
Stella McCartney, the pioneer of all things new and vegan-friendly, led the way by collaborating with Adidas on a vegan iteration of their iconic Stan Smith design. The designer is now, once again, being the force of innovation by launching the Reclypse sneaker – a design crafted from ECONYL, a regenerated nylon that’s mainly made from discarded fishing nets found in the ocean. “The Stella McCartney Reclypse is fashion innovation, taking luxury trainers one step closer to sustainability and circularity – it stylishly blends athleticism with escapism,” the brand has said in a press release.
This is not Adidas’ only foray into vegan designs: the brand has launched vegan versions of its classic designs and teamed up with Parley for the Oceans to produce vegan sneakers made from plastic from the oceans. The brand is also pioneering mushroom leather as part of its range, collaborating with material innovation company Bolt Threads on a design crafted from what could perhaps be described as one of the hottest new vegan leathers on the market. Bio-based and made with a regenerative raw material, mycelium is set to seriously rival animal-derived leather within the next few years.
Another vegan leather that is already making waves in the fashion industry is pineapple leather – and Nike has harnessed its popularity by creating Happy Pineapple, a range of five vegan-friendly designs. Some of the styles also feature cork leather, another plant-based vegan leather alternative.
Reebok launched their Forever Floatride GROW in 2019 – a high-performance sneaker incorporating materials such as algae, castor bean oil, eucalyptus fibers, and natural rubber. This vegan style is part of Reebok’s endeavour to reducing plastics in its collections, ultimately eliminating virgin plastics – something the brand has pledged to do by 2025. For those who love the brand’s Newport Classic sneaker, it also comes in a vegan version made with cotton and corn.
French company Veja specialises in sustainable sneakers, and their vegan range made with recycled cotton and wild rubber from the Amazon rainforest has won a PETA Fashion Award for Best Vegan Shoe Collection. A street-style favourite, Veja continues to win points with eco-conscious shoe lovers.
Cactus leather is the new kid on the block of vegan fashion: made from locally grown nopal cactus in Mexico, this material is the latest plant-based craze, scoring press attention for its eco-credentials – it’s organic and in part biodegradable. Smaller conscious brands such as Carmona Collection and Po-Zu offer sneaker designs in this new material, and bigger brands are bound to follow suit.
It’s safe to say sneakers are a fashion classic – and today, vegan sneakers are surpassing their leather counterparts in terms of trend factor. If we ever needed more proof that the future of fashion is vegan, this may be it.
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- Where to Shop Online For Sustainable, Plastic-Free and Zero Waste Products in Australia
- Introducing the World’s First Vegan Bag Made From Recycled Car Glass
- Dutch Brand Introduces Plant-Based Fish Substitute in Response to Seaspiracy
Cover image via Stella McCartney.