8 footwear brands that make sustainable sneakers from recycled and renewable materials

Adidas ParleyAdidas

  • More than 23 billion pairs of sneakers are made every year, over 300 million pairs are thrown out annually, and, on average, it takes 30-40 years for a pair to fully decompose in a landfill.
  • Sneakers are one of the most wasteful retail items to produce, but a booming shoe industry shows no signs of slowing down.
  • However, as shoppers become more educated about the environmental concerns associated with producing their clothes and shoes, brands become more incentivised to offer sustainable alternatives.
  • Below you'll find eight brands that are trying to set a new standard by making sneakers with innovative, eco-friendly materials and more sustainable production methods.

The sneaker industry is bigger than ever, and its growth shows no signs of slowing.

More than 23 billion pairs of sneakers are produced every year, but behind the great demand for footwear is an industry so wasteful it's almost beyond measure. Most of these new pairs use virgin plastic, rubber, and petroleum, producing alarming amounts of carbon dioxide. According to sneaker startup Nothing New, about 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown out every year and, on average, it takes 30-40 years for a pair to fully decompose in a landfill.

In the past, most shoppers would have put little thought into exactly how the items they bought were made, but that is no longer the case all around. In addition to demanding trendsetting styles and groundbreaking innovations, the educated consumers of today expect products to be made responsibly.

Sportswear retail expert Matt Powell explained to Business Insider that younger people are very concerned with how their purchases are affecting the environment. "Sustainability is an important theme in retail, so much so that younger consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products," said Powell. "Brands have long been concerned about making products sustainably, but they're being more forward and open about it."

If you're looking to make better, more sustainable choices, we hear you. We are too, which is why we rounded up this list of brands that are using innovative, eco-friendly materials and more sustainable production methods to make sneakers.

From performance sneakers made by popular brands like Nike and Adidas to fashion-forward trainers from startups like Everlane and Allbirds, you'll find plenty of brands new and old working to set new standards.

Check out 8 brands making more sustainable sneakers:

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Adidas x Parley

Adidas x Parley
Shop all Adidas x Parley for the Oceans sneakers and apparel here

When it comes to mainstream sportswear brands, Adidas is easily the most vocal about its sustainability efforts — and environmental organization Parley for the Oceans has been its biggest collaborator. The two brands teamed up for the first time in 2015 with a sneaker using yarn made from recycled ocean plastic and illegal deep-sea gill nets. They officially launched products to the public in 2016.

In 2017 and 2018 respectively, Adidas sold 1 million and 5 million pairs of sneakers made with Parley's recycled ocean plastic — and the goal for 2019 is a whopping 11 million pairs.

Today, you'll find Parley's recycled materials on everything from running sneakers like the Alphabounce+ Run (pictured above) and Ultra Boost to outdoor shoes like the Terrex Two.

Read more: Adidas sold 1 million pairs of sneakers made from recycled ocean waste in 2017

Tread by Everlane

Tread by Everlane
Shop Tread by Everlane Trainers for men and women, $98

While recycled knits account for a big part of the sustainable sneakers market, Tread by Everlane is for those who still appreciate quality leather. With 94.2% non-virgin plastic soles, leather sourced from the world's cleanest tannery, and laces and linings made from recycled plastic bottles, The Trainer is touted (by its maker, mind you) as the world's lowest-impact sneakers.

Even if you aren't a particularly conscious consumer (although you should be), Tread by Everlane has great appeal. Its style lends itself well to minimalists and lovers of that cut-and-sewn look found on retro running sneakers.

Read more: We tried Everlane's low-impact unisex sneakers — here are our thoughts

Reebok NPC UK Cotton + Corn

Reebok NPC UK Cotton + Corn
Reebok NPC UK Cotton + Corn unisex sneaker, $90

When Reebok first launched the Cotton + Corn NPC UK sneaker, it featured leather accents on the heel tab, but after receiving kickback from Peta, the brand took the initiative to make the shoe vegan. The updated sneaker features a 100% cotton upper, a sole derived from corn, and insoles made from castor bean oil. Even the packaging is 100% recycled.

Nothing New

Nothing New
Shop Nothing New sneakers for men and women now, $95-$110

Founded in 2019, Nothing New is a sneaker startup that aims to positively impact the planet and educate the people that live on it. Unlike most brands on this list that are simply making strides to improve their eco-friendliness, sustainability is at the very core of the brand.

As the name suggests, Nothing New sneakers are made with only recycled materials. The upper is 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, while its other components are made from recycled cotton, fishing nets, rubber, and cork.

Beyond the production process, Nothing New offers $20 discounts on new pairs to those who send back their used sneakers. Depending on the condition of the sneakers, Nothing New will clean and donate them or break them down and put the materials back into its recycled supply chain.

Read more: This sneaker startup is helping to change industry sustainability standards by using 100% recycled materials

Converse Renew

Converse Renew
Shop the Converse Renew collection here

The Chuck Taylor All-Star is cemented in footwear as one of, if not the most timeless sneaker on the planet, but Converse has proven that it's able to stay in touch with modern demands. Using 100% recycled plastic bottles to make up its canvas upper, the Renew Collection is the latest example of its commitment to produce more carefully.

The process starts with plastic bottles sourced by UK-based recycling company First Mile. The plastic is then ground up into flakes, melted, rolled into bales, spun into yarn, and weaved into canvas.

The best part about the Converse Renew collection is that shoes are fully customizable and are available in sizes from toddlers to adults.

Nike

Nike
Shop all Nike Flyknit sneakers here

Over the last five decades, Nike has continually pushed boundaries in sportswear innovation. While performance has been at the forefront of its designs, sustainability has also been a major factor in recent years. Even though sustainability isn't heavily incorporated into the brand's marketing (compared to Adidas Parley or Allbirds), the brand's work has not gone unnoticed.

In 2018, Nike was recognized by Textile Exchange as using the most recycled polyester in the industry for the sixth year in a row, and from 2010-2018, the brand transformed 6.4 billion plastic water bottles into recycled footwear or apparel.

Nike's signature Flyknit material, which can be found on footwear throughout the brand's catalog, is made in-part with recycled plastic, but the Swoosh is doing more than sustainable kits. This past Earth Day, Nike also launched sneakers made from Flyleather, a new material made from at least 50% recycled leather fiber. Although there haven't been many other sneakers to release with Flyleather yet, you can expect the material to be included in more future designs.

Allbirds

Allbirds
Shop Allbirds sneakers for men and women here, $95-$115

As the brainchild of New Zealand native Tim Brown and San Francisco-based renewables expert Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds is the wildly popular sneaker startup you've seen all throughout Silicon Valley and New York City. In just four years, the brand reached a $77.5 million valuation — all thanks to its sustainable footwear.

Love them or hate them, all of Allbirds' designs are undeniably unique and unmatched in comfort. The brand's shoes are made with merino wool or eucalyptus trees for the uppers and sugar cane for the SweetFoam soles. They even made the patent on their SweetFoam material public so that other brands could utilize it as a sustainable alternative. Recycled plastic and castor bean oil also make their way into the inner-workings of the shoes. Allbirds even uses 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard for packaging that serves as a shoe box, shopping bag, and mailer all in one.

We've reviewed everything from the signature Wool Runners to the newer Tree Toppers, and found them to be incredibly comfortable.

Read more: Allbirds, the company behind 'the world's most comfortable shoes' also makes a kids' version

Timberland Brooklyn EK+

Timberland Brooklyn EK+
Shop the Timberland EK+ collection now, $120

As a brand built for the outdoors, Timberland has been working on sustainable footwear well before it became popular to do so.

In 2007, the brand launched its Earthkeepers collection, which featured boots with Green Rubber soles made from recycled tires, and lining and laces made from recycled plastic bottles.

To date, Timberland has used the equivalent of more than 345 million plastic bottles in its products — and the brand is increasing its efforts with the new Brooklyn EK+ sneakers. Coming in lace-up and slip-on models, the shoes are made from 100% recycled plastic "ReBotl" uppers and outsoles made of 34% recycled rubber.

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