What Are Eco-Friendly Shoes?

Image: Ecouterre Jessica Rugg is an eco-Muslim from Utah. In this comprehensive article, Jessica talks about the hidden truths we walk in...

Eco Shoe Power
Image: Ecouterre
Jessica Rugg is an eco-Muslim from Utah. In this comprehensive article, Jessica talks about the hidden truths we walk in everyday: our shoes. Are they friendly to the environment? Do they produce toxins? Are they in essence, walking in humility? (Qur'an 25:63). Lets find out.

In the name of God, entirely compassionate, especially merciful | بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
All praise belongs to God, and may peace be upon the holy Prophet Muhammad
الحمد الله و الصلاة و السلام على سيدنا محمد ﷺ

What are eco-friendly shoes?
They are shoes that have the least negative impact on the environment; however, for our purposes it also includes the impact to the inhabitants of the environment. We will take into consideration everything from the materials used in production, the treatment of the workers in the factories, and the box the product is shipped in. I’ll share with you some of the information I’ve found and also show you key things to look for when considering the eco-friendliness of a shoe company.

Where do our shoes come from?
Scenes from child-labor sweatshops come to mind. I hesitate purchasing mass-produced products, especially if they come from overseas. Are there still shoes made in the United States? Yes, there are, however note that a shoe only needs to be assembled in the USA in order to bear the ‘made in USA’ label such as New Balance. That means the individual components of the shoe are made in factories overseas.

There are also small niche companies who hand-make footwear or own a small production plant, but generally their products are highly specialized such as custom-designed sandals or for sub-zero temperatures. Most of us will buy shoes made overseas.

If the shoes come from a highly industrialized country such as the US or the UK, then one can assume the workers are treated fairly. When the manufacturing is outsourced to poor sections of developing countries the concern is on profit gain instead of the welfare of the workers and the protection of resources and the environment. Visit the company’s website and read their “about” section to find out where and under what conditions their products are made. If it doesn’t say where they are made, or has a clause like ‘acceptable conditions in comparison to local norms’ when describing the manufacturing conditions, you know to stay away from that company.

The company sole
Look for a company like Simple that has clear-cut guidelines. The best case scenario is that they visit the overseas factories as The Vegan Collection have done to be certain of the conditions there. Another good example is Terra Plana which includes an extensive online section covering everything from their business ethics to the lack of toxicity in the Polyurethanes in their vegan products. Deep ethics.

Ethical concerns
Business know that more and more people are concerned with ethical issues such as using sustainable resources and protecting animal rights and that consumers will base purchasing decisions on their ethical views, so beware of major companies trying to convince you that they also share your concerns.

For example, did you know the dish soap brand Dawn is owned by Proctor and Gamble who tests their products on animals? They do have a particular soap with a picture of some cute wild animal on the label and a statement that part of the proceeds of the sale will go towards protecting wildlife. But, they are only concerned with animal welfare as far as it is profitable for them to be.

Materials - old, new and recycled
Next we’ll take a look at the materials commonly used in production such as leather, leather substitutes, natural fibers, recycled/reclaimed materials and glue.

The first thing you should know about leather is that you should seriously consider alternatives to it based on the known harm it has on the environment, through toxins released from the modern practices of tanneries. Take the book “A Civil Action”, which has been made into a film, for an example of the harm done to the population near a tannery in the US.
"Leather tanneries not only emit foul odors but also produce a host of pollutants, including lead, zinc, formaldehyde, dyes and cyanide-based chemicals. Tannery runoff contains these toxic substances as well as large amounts of hair, proteins, salt, sludge, sulfides, and acids, which are discharged into rivers and nearby groundwater. Furthermore, workers in the tannery trades are exposed to carcinogenic substances such as coal tar derivatives, toxic chemicals, and noxious waste." P.155 of The Vegan Sourcebook by Joanne Stepaniak
Is that leather Halal?
There are other concerns too, such as the health and well-being of the animals when they were alive. If you do wish to continue purchasing leather products, then I highly recommend consulting a Muslim scholar you trust in order to clarify issues related to islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). The least you should do is learn to distinguish pig hide from other types of animal hide and what qualifies as halal leather.

Leather substitutes are synthetic materials which have many of the outward qualities of leather. If you’re worried about the ill effects of the production of petroleum-based synthetics or the reluctant-to-decompose nature of pleather, then this might not be a good option for you. Consider a leather substitute that is an oil coating over a natural fiber like American leather cloth or opt for natural fibers instead.

Natural fibers are commonly used in fabrics and rope. They include materials like jute, canvas, cork, cotton and the like. The Bangladesh-based company Cotheeka Jute Industry has hand-sewn shoes made of canvas and jute.

Commonly used in conjunction with natural fibers are recycled and reclaimed materials. A good example of this is Vegetarian Shoe’s Retread Wombat which is made of artificial leather and a sole made from old car tires. Also consider Sanuk’s RASTA brand.

What’s the deal with glue?
Glue production can release toxic chemicals into the environment and it can also be derived from animal sources. Some may wish to avoid pork products while others abstain from any animal products and environmental harm. The Vegan Collection uses water-based glue in their shoes as do a few other companies.

There are also shoes that are completely sewn and use no glue at all such as the Gumshoes by Simple Shoes.

What’s in a shoebox?
Lastly we come to the finished product and its packaging. Do you want to buy locally or order online? If you live in the boonies and ask around at the mall for ‘green’ shoes, they’ll show you various shades of green shoes. If you ask for eco-friendly shoes, beware that they most likely don’t carry ‘that brand’. Ask for vegan shoes because people will have an idea of what you’re looking for and most vegan companies are concerned with environmental issues. If you live in a large city like Los Angeles or New York then it should be easier to find eco-friendly shoes in local stores.

Another thing to consider is the packaging the shoes come in. In many environmentally oriented societies, like in Germany, the staff of the shoe store will recycle the box for you and you have to request the shoe box if you wish to keep it. Packing materials from the RASTA Project mentioned above are bio-degradable.

Macbeth recently developed a shoe box made from 100% recycled materials and contains no glue. A few companies also offer shoe boxes that are designed for composting.

Now what?
So you’ve done your research and found the shoes most suited to your needs but the problem is they don’t exist. You looked for the zero-carbon, 100% recycled and compostable shoes to match your new outfit. Most likely you will be fond of certain types of shoes and certain types of eco-friendly practices. If there is a company that satisfies you in both areas, praise God, otherwise it’s time to compromise. Also recognize that zuhd or detachment defined as “an attitude towards the world that enables one to do without it” (from the preface of Walk on Water by Hamza Yusuf) might be the best option for you. After all, hyper-production and hyper-consumption is the main cause of eco-destruction.

Further reading:
Is Vegan Fashion Sustainable? By Amy DuFault

Profiled companies:
Traditional Argentinean alpargata shoes with a “One to One” policy where for every pair you buy, a pair is made and donated to a needy child.

Sole Rebels 
Traditional zero-carbon Ethiopian methods of manufacture help support the local community in Addis Ababa.

Post by Jessica Rugg


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