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It’s decidedly fall here in the Pacific Northwest, which necessitates donning a pair of waterproof boots for most outings. If you’re vegan, like me, it can be a real challenge (but not impossible!) to find sustainable vegan leather boots.
Most vegan boots are made with plastic ‘leather’ and other toxic materials that can harm wildlife, people, and the planet. So, even if no animals are directly slaughtered to make the boots, these products aren’t altogether vegan or sustainable. And even if the upper, sole, and lining are vegan, many boots are put together using glues made with casein, gelatin, beeswax, and other animal products.
Here are some of the best sustainable vegan leather boots currently available, made with upcycled, recycled, and natural fabrics by eco-conscious companies who eschew animal glues.
Highlights: WVS is a carbon-neutral company making sustainable vegan leather boots that are waterproof but free from PFCs and other toxic chemicals. The company uses OEKO-Tex 100 certified vegan leather made using mostly natural materials, as well as other recycled materials.
Wills Vegan Shoes (WVS) has been at the forefront of sustainable footwear since 2012. These boots are made in small runs in Tuscany, Italy, and are free from phthalates, PFCs, nanotechnology, or APEOs. All WVS waterproof footwear is certified PFC-free.
The company uses eco-friendly vegan leather made using bio-oil from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe. This vegan leather is certified OEKO Tex 100 and adheres to REACH regulations. Some products also carry Ecolabel certification where applicable. The latest iteration of their vegan leather “contains 69% bio-oil and a viscose (a natural material from eucalyptus trees) backing fabric”. The rest of the leather (31%) is made of polyurethane, so it is not biodegradable. The vegan suede is made from 100% polyurethane and WVS uses compressed cardboard toe puffs and counters and buttons, with Tencel™ and organic cotton mix linings.
Vegan leather boots from WVS have recycled rubber insoles and any polyester or cotton is upcycled from pre-dyed factory offcuts, helping to keep materials out of the landfill and saving resources at the same time. WVS tries to source as much material as possible from within Europe to keep the environmental footprint small. In 2021, the company opened a warehouse in the Netherlands to significantly reduce shipping distances to European customers and reduce resources and carbon footprint.
WVS operates a plastic-free, carbon-neutral supply chain using sustainable materials. In 2016, WVS switched to entirely plastic-free packaging and became certified carbon neutral for everything it makes and does.
WVS has a solar roof array on their factory in Italy and includes certified Carbon Neutral deliveries, returns, and exchanges, free shipping and returns in the US, and exchanges for 365 days on all orders, using a paperless carbon-neutral returns service. Boots are delivered in sustainable non-treated paper and cardboard packaging that is plastic-free and carbon neutral and WVS offers a ‘return to recycle service’ when a product reaches the end of its life.
To minimize waste and maximize comfort, WVS use CAD design technology that mirrors typical walking patterns. The shoes use Vibram soles and a patented Support System to ensure a secure and comfortable fit and excellent grip. WVS even boasts fully biodegradable sneakers and trainers.
WVS also has solid ethics around workers’ rights with anti-discrimination and agency worker protection and their own Charter of Human Responsibilities (or Code of Ethics). The company works exclusively with factories in the European Union, which are subject to robust health and safety laws and employment regulations. They explicitly say, “We don’t believe in doing something to protect animals whilst harming humans and the planet… There is always a story behind a low price.”
Highlights: NAE uses mostly natural (including GOTS certified organic cotton) and GRS certified recycled materials to make sustainable vegan boots in a wide range of styles. The company operates within an ethical framework that provides safe, healthy, stable employment, including through the pandemic.
NAE stands for “No Animal Exploitation”, so it’s no surprise that this company makes exclusively vegan shoes and accessories. Instead of animal skin, fur, or any other animal products, NAE uses synthetic, recycled, and natural materials to make a wide range of vegan boots handmade under ethical working conditions in Portugal.
Materials include pineapple leather (Piñatex), cork, Oeko-Tex Certified Ecological Microfiber created using Global Recycled Standard PET. NAE also uses 100% organic cotton ‘fur’ in some products. Piñatex comprises 80% pineapple leaves and 20% PLA fibers (synthetic). The company that makes Piñatex is a B Corp and the process is entirely chemical-free, using river and rainwater to wash the ‘waste’ pineapple leaves that go into making the leather.
NAE offers interesting styles such as high-top vegan sneaker boots made with Piñatex that are breathable and water-resistant. These are made with a CO2-free manufacturing system and feature a paperboard agglomerate insole and microfiber lining (90% microfiber and 10% polyurethane), with a synthetic rubber sole and recycled polyester laces. This makes the boots hypoallergenic and naturally antimicrobial.
The recycled materials used by NAE are certified by GRS (Global Recycled Standard) and the organic cotton is GOTS certified by EcoCert. The company uses 100% recyclable packaging and opts for recycled cardboard boxes and recycled kraft wrapping paper as well as an eco-friendly tape made from kraft paper and natural rubber adhesive. NAE warehouse and store teams reuse cardboard boxes and encourage customers to do the same if returning a product.
NAE’s latest report also notes that they have protected workers from the pandemic’s socioeconomic impact by maintaining their regular salaries and schedules and that “No employees from our offices, physical store or warehouse have been laid off due to the Covid-19.”
Highlights: Vegan boots in a wide range of styles, made with mostly plant-based and recycled materials such as fruit leathers and recycled plastic bottles. Shipped in eco-friendly packaging by a Portuguese company that offsets 100% of its carbon emissions.
Minuit sur Terre offers a wide range of styles including low boots, high heel boots, and knee-high boots all made with vegan leather and suede. Many of the styles are made with bio-based corn oil fibers, some recycled polyurethane, and some seemingly virgin synthetic materials including solvent-free polyester.
The company claims that from Spring 2021, 80% of the collection has been made using recycled and plant-based materials such as grape leather, apple leather, and cereals (not intended for human consumption). These are all Oeko-Tex 100 certified and animal-free, with products all PETA-approved vegan.
Since 2020, Minuit sur Terre has been using recycled bottle plastic for sneaker mesh material, laces, and bag linings, as well as fabrics, made using grape and apple scraps.
Minuit sur Terre boots are made in Porto, Portugal, under fair working conditions.
The company packages its products in kraft paper, without bubble wrap or other plastic. It also uses 100% recycled shipping labels and has eco-friendly office practices to reduce emissions and cut down on waste. Minuit sur Terre uses natural cleaning products and renewable energy and has partnered with Reforest Action to offset 100% of its carbon emissions.
Highlights: Totally vegan brand making BlueSign approved boots that are PFC-free and made with some recycled and sustainable polyurethane.
Eco Vegan Shoes makes sustainable shoes and boots that are durable and stylish, using predominantly recycled polyurethane and castor bean-derived polyurethane. All products are vegan, and the company uses no fluorocarbons or PVC. They do have an ecorepel® finish, however, that is made with paraffin, a petroleum-derived product (though this is a by-product of the petroleum industry and breaks down over time). The ecorepel® finish is arguably better than a PFC treatment and allows treated fabrics to remain almost entirely biodegradable and non-toxic while also being waterproof.
All products are certified by the Vegan Society and most boots feature a replaceable, water-resistant, and hard-wearing Eco-OrthoLite® insole for comfort, support, and hygiene. All Eco Vegan Shoes products are made either in the EU or in Indonesia, with footwear BlueSign® approved, meaning “no child labor, no sweatshop labor, no slavery, fair pay and decent terms of employment, safe working conditions.”
These boots and shoes are made under fair working conditions in Spain and all packaging is plastic-free and recyclable. The company collaborates with Carbon Link to offer carbon offsetting at checkout on all orders.
Highlights: Fun and fashionable PETA-approved vegan boots from a Spanish brand using bio-based fabrics and recycled materials. Carbon offsetting available on all orders.
Mireia Playà is a PETA-approved vegan brand founded in 2016 by the eponymous fashion designer and her father (who had 30 years of experience in the footwear industry). This sustainable vegan footwear brand is based in Spain and offers designer boots and shoes in a mid-price range ($150-250) with a distinct style that includes fun prints and shapes.
Mireia Playà uses bio-based fabrics made from corn and recycled materials. The company also boasts a vegan suede made with recycled polyester and uses natural rubber latex for its soles. They don’t carry certification for recycled materials (such as GRS).
Highlights: UK vegan footwear brand using a mix of recycled and virgin materials, including Piñatex, to make vegan leather boots. The company minimizes waste by only making small runs of each style each season. Products are shipped in sustainable, eco-friendly packaging.
Founded in 2016 and based in the UK, Collection & Co. is a sustainable vegan footwear brand offering PETA-approved leather boots made with upcycled materials. Ranging from classic Chelsea boots to combat boots to knee-high imitation crocodile leather boots, the Collection & Co. collection is made in Greece in small batches to minimize waste and is affordable at under $200 for most products. This does mean that many products sell out quickly, with most of the Autumn/Winter 2021 collection already snapped up.
The company puts animal ethics and sustainability at the center of its operations. This translates to reusing materials discarded from previous collections, so nothing goes to waste. Other materials include recycled material from discarded fishing nets and Piñatex. The Kali Boot, for instance, is made with an upcycled faux leather upper and lining, and a (seemingly synthetic) rubber sole, with no animal glues or other animal-derived materials used in the boots’ construction.
Unfortunately, there’s no information available on whether the company’s recycled materials are certified by GRS, nor any information on other sustainability initiatives at Collection & Co. The company does, however, use 100% recyclable packaging, with compostable mailing bags.
Highlights: Well-established and totally vegan brand offering high-quality classic styles of boots made with some recycled and recyclable fabrics and natural materials under fair working conditions.
Matt and Nat may be most famous for its luxury vegan bags, but this award-winning company founded in 1995 also makes excellent sustainable vegan boots and shoes. The company’s name originates from ‘mat(t)erial and nature’, with the commitment to not using leather or any other animal-based materials. All Matt and Nat products are designed in Montreal, Canada, with a greater focus in recent years on biodegradable materials and recycled fabrics.
For instance, Matt and Nat introduced a Purity collection in 2020 made with PVB (polyvinyl butyral) created from 100% recycled windshield glass resin. This innovation allowed the company to switch its Women’s Dwell collection from PVC to recycled PVB, making the line fully recycled except for the hardware.
Matt and Nat is also experimenting with fruit skin fibers (i.e., pineapple, apple, or grape leather), and all linings have been made with 100% recycled plastic bottles since 2007. This amounts to more than 9 million plastic bottles recycled annually in the manufacturing of Matt and Nat bags.
Matt and Nat offer classic, timeless designs with a focus on quality and rigorous testing. The intention is to create capsule pieces made to last, rather than fast throwaway fashion. Matt and Nat state that it intends to become fully sustainable by 2023, although there are no further details on how that will look or steps it will take to get there.
Matt and Nat are committed to ethical working conditions at its factories and ensure regular audits (twice a year) and multiple visits by the company’s CEO each year. One of its factories is SA8000 certified and the company aims to make that a bigger part of production going forward.
Highlights: El Naturalista isn’t an entirely vegan company but does offer a vegan collection. Boots are made in Spain and Morocco and the company has a transparent supply chain and fairly solid environmental ethics.
El Naturalista was founded in 1998 and offers a small number of comfortable and stylish vegan leather boots and shoes (24 styles at the time of writing). These boots are made in the company’s own factories, giving them complete control of the processes. This enables efficient use of materials and the inclusion of recycled fabrics and other materials such as cardboard, cork, excess microporous materials, and fishing nets recovered from the ocean with their own on-site facilities.
The boots are made with water-based glues and incorporate materials such as bamboo, polyamide, polyester, and recycled rubber.
El Naturalista publishes a robust environmental report detailing measures taken or planned to improve energy efficiency. This includes switching to LED lighting and renewable energy sources, improving water consumption, and aiming for at least 25% of all products to be made of recyclable, organic, or renewable materials by 2025, with greater transparency for that information.
El Naturalista uses some recycled materials already, including recycled zippers and cork, as well as some GOTS certified organic cotton. The company is also aiming to use 100% recycled eco-friendly packaging and already uses 100% recyclable soles, insoles, linings, and carton boxes. They also have animal leather as part of their range, so check listings carefully to ensure the boots are vegan.
Highlights: A favorite brand with vegan celebrities, Beyond Skin offers a totally vegan product line including boots made with some recycled, natural, and sustainable materials. Shipped in recycled and recyclable packaging.
Beyond Skin is another UK brand of vegan footwear, established in 2001 and known for high-quality luxury vegan boots and shoes. This brand is a favorite of vegan celebrities like Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway, and the boots are priced accordingly at around $300-$600.
Beyond Skin boots are made by hand in Spain, using some sustainable and recycled materials. These include recycled microfiber suede and faux leather linings with a plant polymer coating. The company uses 100% recycled or recyclable packaging and sources materials from Spain, local to its factories.
The collection is free from silk and uses polyester satin rather than viscose (which is harder on the environment). The synthetic leathers are PVC-free and made from cotton-backed polyurethane (PU) and are sourced from Italy. The insoles are made from around 70% post-consumer cardboard and the heels and top pieces are made from PU plastic. The soles are made from rubber resin (approx.. 70% recycled), with the exception of the Beyond Skin Sole range which is made from natural latex. The company is trying to source 100% recycled resin that is as durable as resin with some fresh material.
Beyond Skin donates 5% of profits to grass-roots environmental and social projects.
Highlights: Stella McCartney’s designer vegan boots are high-end and more sustainable than most other vegan boots. As a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and a promoter of the circular economy, this brand tries to use renewable, recycled, and recyclable materials where possible.
Stella McCartney’s vegan boots are luxury items ranging from around $650 to $1900. These include over-the-knee boots, Hunter boots, Chelsea boots, and some serious heels. All of the brand’s products are free from animal leather, feathers, fur, or exotic skins, and none of the glues used in the boots come from animals. Some Stella McCartney products do feature wool, however.
Stella McCartney became a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in 2021. The ETI is an alliance of companies, trade unions, and NGOs promoting respect for workers’ rights globally. The company has used the ETI Base Code as the basis of its Supplier Code of Conduct and is committed to fair working conditions for those making its products.
This high fashion brand is also leading the way into a circular fashion economy. This means looking more closely at materials to reduce resource use at every step and ensure that all materials can be put back into circulation by being restored, regenerated, or recycled so that no clothes or shoes end up in landfills.
Stella McCartney still has work to do to make a truly sustainable vegan leather boot, but the current offerings include materials such as sustainably sourced wood platforms and recycled polyester. All of the wood, paper, and packaging used is FSC-certified or from recycled sources.
The company also phased out all PVC in 2010 and instead uses polyurethane. There are also no PFCs or azo dyes used in Stella McCartney products, making the boots less toxic overall. That said, some boots include styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR), which is not at all eco-friendly and can harm workers and the environment during manufacture and decomposition.
To further reduce the company’s environmental impact, Stella McCartney makes sure that all its new stores have LED lighting and that all its UK locations are powered by wind energy. The company also purchases fittings and fixtures second-hand where possible, helping to reduce landfill waste.
Highlights: A big name in vegan footwear, but few options for sustainable vegan boots. Most products are made with synthetic materials, but the Snug Pinatex Boot offers a more eco-friendly option.
As a longstanding vegan company, I wish I could give Vegetarian Shoes a better leaf score but much of the collection isn’t all that eco-friendly. The company is upfront about this as they state that their main driver is to offer footwear free from animal products, which for them means boots and shoes mostly made with synthetic materials such as polyester and polyurethane. Some boots feature cotton and hemp, and some have synthetic rubber and PVC in the soles (the Airseal line, for instance).
The Pinatex Boots are a slightly more sustainable offering as these pull-on boots are made with pineapple leather and stitched-on (synthetic) rubber and cork sneaker soles. The lining is fleecy faux sheep wool (made with synthetic fibers).
Highlights: New York brand making high-quality vegan leather boots with a timeless aesthetic. Boots are free from many common toxic chemicals and are built to last.
BHAVA is a New York brand offering vegan leather boots and other footwear. All products are vegan and handmade in Spain or India using materials imported from Italy. The company’s ethos encompasses more than just animal welfare, with attention paid to working conditions and environmental impact, although there is very little information available on the precise materials used to make these boots.
BHAVA does note that it uses Italian vegan leather free from aromatic amines, PCP, formaldehyde, PVC, phthalates, azo-dyes, or chrome. The boots and shoes are also designed with repairable soles and BHAVA offers an eco-friendly shoe care kit to help keep your footwear in good shape (this kit has a brush with synthetic bristles, though).
The designer Francisca Pineda established BHAVA in 2012 and focuses on using artisan, organic, recycled, and cruelty-free materials. Pineda once taught Ethical Fashion and Sustainable Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
BHAVA is meant to evoke a “timeless elegance with a dose of ingénue charm.” As a New York brand though, BHAVA also wants every pair of boots or shoes to be fashion-forward, comfortable, and able to hold up to rough urban terrain.
One of my favorites from the current collection, the Jackie Low Ankle Boot is inspired by a ‘60’s aesthetic with a soft square tow and two-inch high natural solid wood heel. It has a natural cork insole and is available in a variety of colors perfect for fall and all year round. It’s not clear what other materials are used to make these boots though, so I’ve asked BHAVA for more information.
Highlights: PETA-approved vegan boots with a west coast street style aesthetic, made with some recycled materials and shipped in eco-friendly packaging.
BC Footwear offers affordable vegan boots that are PETA-approved and a bit more urban and modern than many other brands. These ‘West Coast Cool’ boots channel LA culture and street style with playful, bold colors and cuts.
BC Footwear manufactures the boots in Fujian province in China using factories adhering to strict social compliance standards. The shoes are free of casein, gelatin, beeswax, or other animal derivatives and feature OrthoLite® Hybrid™ foam insoles made with 5% recycled rubber and 15% repurposed production waste.
I’ve asked the company for more information on the materials used in its footwear and will update this listing and leaf score accordingly.
BC Footwear ships its products using recycled packaging materials including shoeboxes made from recycled cardboard printed with plant-based inks.
If you’re curious as to what’s wrong with animal leather, I’ve written more extensively here. In short, leather is a valuable commodity and not a byproduct, with one billion or more animals killed for leather each year alone. This means harm to animals and harm to the environment, what with animal agriculture being a major drain on water, land, and food resources and a huge emitter of greenhouse gases.
Leather tanning is also highly toxic and dangerous to workers and nearby communities. And leather isn’t ‘natural’ – it can take more than a century to biodegrade, thanks to all those toxic chemical preservatives used in tanning.
Is vegan leather more sustainable?
Yes! For the most part. While some vegan ‘leather’ is made of virgin plastic, the brands above either use natural materials or upcycled or recycled plastic, meaning no new plastic is involved. And even if virgin plastic is used, the environmental footprint is still lower than for animal leather. Better still, this plastic can be recycled once your boots wear out, thanks to organizations like TerraCycle.
Thankfully, vegan leather is made to be much more durable these days, as well as being more flexible, lightweight, and available in a wider variety of colors than animal leather. Just a few of the materials now used to make vegan leather include:
- Pineapple, apple scraps, mushrooms, and SCOBYs (yep, from kombucha!)
- Waxed cotton
- Recycled rubber
- Recycled PET or nylon
- Recycled polyurethane.
If a company doesn’t state all the materials used in a pair of boots, ask. We need much better transparency from brands and retailers, so we can all make more informed choices that are better for the planet, people, and other animals.
When choosing vegan leather boots, look for the following certifications:
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Fair Trade Certified
- OEKO-TEX Certified (for textiles free from or with very low levels of certain harmful chemicals)
- Made Safe Certified (for products made using safe, non-toxic ingredients)
- Certified B Corporation (for companies leading the way in environmental performance, transparency, and accountability)
- Leaping Bunny Certified (for products that are Cruelty-Free)
- Bluesign Certified (for textiles made according to strict standards for environmental and waterway impacts.
Aside from GOTS, these certifications offer no guarantee that a material is natural or organic in origin. This means that the boots may be made using synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic, as well as conventional cotton. Ask the company if you’re not sure.