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A good pair of shoes might be the most crucial part of a wardrobe, but often we take our shoes for granted. They take a beating! Whether you use them for lounging around, going to the grocery store, a night on the town, skateboarding, cutting the grass, or running, shoes take the worst of our impact while supporting every step we take.
Some of us go through several pairs of shoes every year, which can be tough on the planet. After all, most shoes aren’t sustainably made. There are a few strong brands out there selling sustainably made shoes, so we wanted to highlight the best ones. Check out the side-by-side comparison table, read the detail reviews below, or skip to the end to see our favorite shoe!
What Is A Sustainable Shoe?
Shoes are often manufactured from non-recyclable plastics, using scarce resources, and with toxic materials. One article written by The Guardian suggests some shoes might last 1,000 years in your local landfill! That is insane! Sustainably made shoes are considerate to the planet. Brands making these earth-friendly shoes consider the resources they consume, the production processes, and the end-to-end lifecycle of their shoes (including how they are transported).
Cariuma Shoes Review: Designed in Brazil, Sustainably Raised Around the World
In a world where fashion fast is still all too prevalent, Cariuma might be the antithesis of fast fashion. Cariuma believes in creating quality products that are sustainably made and will transcend short-term trends.
That starts with choosing the right materials. Did you know that Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world? When bamboo is harvested correctly, the stalk is cut, and the plant quickly regenerates. As another example, cork is derived from cork bark, and when harvested correctly, the tree grows new bark, which is later harvested again. Cariuma uses materials like bamboo and cork to minimize their footprint.
What about leather and suede? Many of Cariuma’s shoes have one or the other. Well, we’re glad you asked. None of their leather or suede products come from areas deforested for cattle-farming, and all of the water used to manufacture the products is recycled and reused. If that still makes you feel a little uneasy, no worries, Cariuma has vegan shoes too.
Cariuma’s newest shoe model, the IBI, is made from a innovative bamboo knit, making it Cariuma’s signature vegan shoe. Since the IBI doesn’t have any leather or suede components, it is also machine washable.
Stylistically, Cariuma has timeless silhouettes that look great with jeans or khaki pants. We like that Cariuma maintains a simple line-up, with four models for men and four models for women. While the silhouettes and options might be straightforward, Cariuma offers plenty of options for expressing your personality through bright colorways if you want to do so.
Are Cariuma Shoes Worth It?
From a pricing standpoint, Cariuma shoes are very affordable compared to many of its competitors, which is impressive given its sustainable focus. Doing things the right way isn’t cheap, but Cariuma sells a beautiful, quality shoe at an affordable price.
Our favorite shoe model is the OCA High, a high top sneaker that is as functional as it is stylish. The OCA High has lightweight memory foam to keep your feet happy, and premium materials that will help your new shoes stand the test of time. It’s available in canvas, leather, suede, and available in a wide variety of colors.
Cariuma shoes are worth the investment, and we wholeheartedly recommend picking up a pair of Cariuma shoes today.SUMMARY PROS
- Brazilian company with Brazilian flare
- No true athletic options (aside from skateboarding)
- Made from premium raw materials
- Built to last longer than typical fast fashion shoes
- Designed in a timeless silhouette to look good for years to come
Allbirds Shoes Review: Sustainability Meets Mainstream Fashion
Allbirds is the most mainstream-brand we have reviewed, and in many ways, made sustainable shoes fashionable. As the company has grown, so has its line-up of shoes, so they also have the most options available. Of course, even though they now have running shoes and weather-repellent high-tops, Allbirds stays true to its earth-friendly roots in everything they do.
It all starts with the raw materials, and Allbirds utilizes the most sustainable materials on the market. Their cold-weather shoes are made from Merino wool from sheep humanely treated by organizations like ZQ Merino. Allbirds warm weather shoes are made from Tencel fibers, which come from sustainably Eucalyptus trees, and require 95% less water than cotton.
While it starts with the raw materials, it doesn’t end there. Allbirds strives for an ethical supply chain that considers the most earth-friendly packaging and shipping practices, such as utilizing 90% recycled cardboard. They also purchase carbon offsets so that their overall carbon footprint lands at 0.0 KG CO2E.
Of course, none of this would matter much if they were selling subpar shoes, but their shoes are top-notch, making the sustainable focus the cherry on top. TIME labeled Allbirds as “The World’s Most Comfortable Shoe,” and Forbes called them “shockingly comfortable,” so you don’t even have to take our word for it.
We’re big fans of Allbirds’ versatility too. While Cariuma and Atoms make what might be best described as “lifestyle” shoes, Allbirds makes everyday shoes that are versatile enough to pass as a trainer in a pinch. And if you prefer something a little more sport-specific, Allbirds now offers a running shoe that could work as an everyday sneaker (dress it up or down!) on those occasions you only have enough room to travel with one pair of shoes.
Are Allbirds Shoes Actually Good For Running?
The consensus in most of the running community is that Allbirds gets the job done as an everyday trainer and a relaxed 5K runner. If you are training for a marathon, you might want something a little more tailored for distance and performance, but the Allbirds Tree Dasher is an excellent option for most casual runners. The Tree Dasher is also the perfect shoe to take to the gym. It works incredibly as an all-purpose trainer and comes at an affordable price.
Are Allbirds Shoes Worth It?
It’s a little bit surprising how expensive the big brand shoes are, considering they use lower quality materials and less sustainable practices than Allbirds, but that’s the way it is. While selling an awesomely comfortable and sustainable shoe, Allbirds sells their shoes at a very reasonable price. Given they are one of the few sustainably focused shoe brands making trainers and running shoes, Allbirds is definitely worth the investment.SUMMARY PROS
- “World’s Most Comfortable Shoe”
- Most mainstream brand, so shoes are fairly common
- Merino wool is warm in winter
- Eucalyptus blend is cool during the summer
- Running shoe and trainers available
- Company is carbon-neutral
Atoms Shoes Review: Quarter-Sized Shoes For Precision Fit
Some people have a hard time finding shoes that fit mainly because most shoes are only sold in half sizes. Interestingly, some smaller shoe companies only sell shoes in full sizes because each additional shoe requires new equipment and shoe molds. Understanding this dynamic, it is even more impressive that Atoms sells shoes in quarter sizes as a relatively small company.
The company believes in simplicity, so rather than invest in equipment for multiple shoe lines, they invested their capital in quarter shoe sizes so that everyone can wear a shoe that fits.
Simplicity can be innovative all the same. Vogue called Atoms, “the most thoughtfully designed sneakers ever.” While the silhouette is timeless, it is easy to understand why Vogue found Atoms so thoughtfully designed. In addition to the quarter sizing, Atoms have a copper-thread lining to help fight odor, and stretchy laces to slip your shoes on and off with ease.
Their Model 0000 only comes in 4 colorways (ranging from black to white). To spice up their line-up, Atoms drops limited-edition runs of specific colorways (think tie-dye or mariner blue), which results in an almost cult-like following of customers waiting for their next colorway to drop. Atoms’ following is loyal, so the chances are that you will come back for more once you buy one pair.
Are Atoms Shoes Worth It?
In some ways, Atoms are disruptive in the shoe industry because they play by their own rules. You won’t find massive logos, endless silhouettes, or Spongebob-themed shoes. You will find a quality shoe that fits with precision sizing, in a classic profile meant to last the ages.
These are great shoes if you need to be on your feet all day, but they are a little pricey. The Model 000 is up to 70% pricier than similar models from Cariuma and Allbirds. So are Atoms shoes worth the price? If you struggle to find shoes that fit, then Atoms might be worth the investment because of the quarter sizing. Otherwise, we recommend Cariuma or Allbirds.SUMMARY PROS
- Precision sizing
- No athletic or running shoes
- 100% Vegan Inventory
- Minimal variety
- Carbon offsets used for all shipping
- 70% pricier than the competition
Our Favorite Sustainable Sneaker
Allbirds has the most versatile line-up of shoes, so if you are looking for an everyday trainer or a running shoe, Allbirds’ Tree Dasher is our favorite shoe. Allbirds uses innovative materials and has become a significant player, even bristling the likes of Nike and Adidas. After all, when you are labeled as “The most comfortable shoe in the world,” it starts to turn heads, and for a good reason.
Allbirds makes quality products with minimal styling that enhances the versatility of their shoes even more. And did you know that Leonardo DiCaprio is an investor in Allbirds? Let’s get real. If the shoes are good enough for Leo, they are good enough for you.
If Allbirds has become a little too mainstream for you, or if you want less of an athletic shoe, you can’t go wrong with Cariuma either. We are particularly fond of Cariuma’s OCA High, which you can easily dress up with some chinos and a sports coat or dress down with your favorite pair of jeans.
It’s not every day that a company is bold enough to use cork in their shoes, but Cariuma pulls it off and pulls it off well. Cariuma’s shoes are unique in their craftsmanship and styling, but still classic enough to stand the test of time.
Whether you choose to go with Allbirds or Cariuma, you will be proud of your new, sustainably made shoes, and your feet will be rejoicing too.
And by the way, if you are looking for new threads to pair with your shoes, be sure to check out Vuori. Vuori is an emerging California clothing brand with understated style, and focus on sustainability and ethical manufacturing. Vuori is a staple in my wardrobe, and will go well with a new pair of Allbirds or Cariumas.
BONUS - If you prefer minimalist styling check out our review of the top 5 minimalist shoes, including Allbirds, Casca Designs, Oliver Cabell, Suavs, and Greats.
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