From a sports accessory to a style statement to a closet staple, sneakers have come a long way over the years and made their mark as a cultural and fashion commodity.
Today they are worn by people of all ages and are considered appropriate for all casual and smart casual occasions.
Considering the popularity of sneakers, it’s only befitting to make a list of the best vegan sneakers brands so those who’ve committed to an animal-free lifestyle can also sport these trendy shoes. But first, let’s answer a few basic questions about vegan sneakers.
What are Vegan Sneakers?
Like any other type of shoe, vegan sneakers are the ones whose manufacturing does not harm animals.
This typically applies to construction materials and the glue often used to stick together different parts of the shoe. However, some definitions of vegan shoes also assert that any materials tested on animals should be avoided too.
When determining the vegan status of a pair of sneakers (or any shoes for that matter), you must rule out the use of animal-derived ingredients in any part of the shoe as well as animal testing at any stage of the shoe-making process.
Things to Consider When Buying Vegan Sneakers
When shopping for vegan sneakers, watch out for animal-derived materials, i.e., leather, fur, wool, suede, and animal glue.
For the uninitiated, several types of glues used in the making of shoes, handbags, and accessories contain animal-based elements, like casein and gelatin.
While most people are only concerned about the use of animal-derived components in sneakers, some may also consider their manufacturing processes and the conditions they are made in to determine their suitability for the vegan lifestyle.
For example, some people avoid buying from brands that have exploitative work cultures, poor working conditions, and underpaid employees because these are unethical practices. Similarly, some vegans may also consider the environmental impact of shoe companies to make purchasing decisions.
When evaluating sneakers on the vegan criteria, consider all parts of them, not just the outer material. Sometimes, even sneakers made of synthetic vegan materials may have non-vegan inner linings, insoles, or tabs. Therefore, it’s important to rule out animal ingredients from all parts of the shoe.
PETA also recommends looking out for dyes. Most companies use synthetic dyes, but some may use colors derived from animals to color their shoes.
Which Sneaker Materials are Vegan and Which Are Not?
To make the process of buying vegan sneakers even easier, here’s a quick reference list of vegan and non-vegan shoe materials from PETA:
Vegan-Friendly Materials for Sneakers
- Faux Suede
- Cork Fabric
- Cotton Flannel
- Down Alternatives
- Synthetic/Manmade Materials, such as vegan leather and PVC
- Fur Trim
- Alpaca Fiber
Best Vegan Sneaker Brands
There was a time when good-quality vegan shoes were a luxury only few could afford. But with the rise of the animal-free lifestyle, several brands have started producing vegan-friendly shoes, making them widely accessible. Here are some of the brands that make the best vegan sneakers:
1. Ethletic (LINK)
Ethletic is a German shoe company that makes sneakers, lounging runners, and skater shoes using non-animal materials like natural rubber, organic cotton, and latex glue.
The brand is 100% vegan, eco-friendly, sustainable, PETA-approved, and fair trade certified. Most of its shoes are biodegradable, and the company is also working to create a recycling program to become a zero-waste brand.
In addition to following fair-trade practices in its production facilities located in Pakistan and India, the vegan shoe brand also donates to sustainable projects supporting the local economies.
In terms of sneaker styles, Ethletic is primarily known for its classic style sneakers, but the brand offers a variety of both trendy and timeless designs, ranging from low-top to high-top vegan sneakers and colors for both men and women.
Several Ethletic sneakers also feature multi-layered fabric and extra stitching to ensure durability and ventilation, prevent odor, and enhance comfort.
If you’re looking for a pair of sneakers that checks all the boxes, Ethletic is a brand you should definitely check out. Ethletic sneakers are vegan, eco-friendly, sustainable, and stylish.
2. Veja (LINK)
Unlike Ethletic, Veja isn’t a 100% vegan company. But the brand offers over 40 varieties of vegan sneakers and stands as a strong contender in the animal-free shoe industry. It’s also rated ‘Good’ on the sustainable and ethical fashion brand ratings directory Good On You.
Veja makes its vegan shoes, including sneakers, using a combination of recycled plant-based and synthetic materials. These include recycled polyester, organic cotton, wild rubber, plastic bottles, and corn waste. One of its vegan sneakers, called Campo, is made from waxed canvas and is 100% biodegradable.
Although Veja is a French brand, its shoes are made in Brazil, where the plant materials are often sourced directly from local farmers.
The brand is also known to offer a living wage to its workers and uses fair-traded, often organic, materials for its vegan shoes. Along with great quality and timeless designs, Veja also offers unisex vegan sneakers designs, making it a popular brand among vegans and non-vegans alike.
Though it is not a 100% vegan company, Veja enjoys great popularity in the vegan and sustainable fashion communities because of its ethical policies.
In addition to sneakers, the brand also offers vegan running shoes.
3. Native Shoes (LINK)
Native Shoes is a certified vegan and PETA-approved brand known for creating lightweight footwear using earth-friendly materials, like pineapple leaf fiber, linen, kenaf, cotton, and natural latex made from hevea tree milk (used for outsoles).
It also takes pride in being a company with significantly fewer CO2 emissions and water usage than traditional shoe brands.
Native Shoes is also actively working to reduce the amount of waste it produces and aims to make all its shoes recyclable by the end of 2023.
Once it achieves that goal, customers will be able to return their old Native Shoes, which the company will then recycle to make things like insulation, seating, and protective flooring for children’s playgrounds.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, the brand describes itself as ‘beast-free,’ indicating its animal-free manufacturing and ethical practices, and offers sneakers in a variety of styles and colors for both men and women. There are also some unisex designs in the vegan sneakers catalog, further enhancing the brand’s appeal.
4. Freewaters (LINK)
Characterized by their Supreem foam footbeds that guarantee supreme comfort, Freewaters’ vegan and eco-friendly sneakers are made with sustainable plant-based leather and recycled materials. It’s not a 100% vegan brand, but it is eco-friendly and gives back to the community.
The company works with several non-profit companies to supply clean drinking water to poor and marginalized communities in Kenya, the Philippines, and Haiti. A percentage of the profit from each pair of shoes sold goes towards this goal.
The vegan sneakers from Freewaters aren’t just made with ethically-sourced plant materials but also supplied in recycled packaging.
5. Vivobarefoot (LINK)
From repurposed plastic waste lining to algae insoles to lesser padding, there are several factors that make Vivobarefoot sneakers stand out in the vegan shoe industry. 90% of the materials used to create these vegan shoes are sustainable and guarantee maximum comfort.
The idea behind Vivibarefoot shoes, both vegan and non-vegan, is to offer the same level of ease and comfort that you experience walking barefoot.
If you like barefoot shoe style, which is an emerging trend, or just want to add a different kind of sneakers to your collection, get your hands on Vivobarefoot vegan sneakers.
6. Ahimsa (LINK)
Ahimsa is a Brazilian shoe company that doesn’t just make vegan shoes but is also credited with establishing the world’s first 100% vegan shoe factory. That should alone be enough reason for any vegan to buy from this brand.
But if you want more reasons, Ahimsa shoes are also high quality and feature timeless designs. Its vegan leather sneakers are also waterproof, which makes them suitable for everyday, rugged use.
7. BEFLAMBOYANT (LINK)
BEFLAMOYANT offers handmade vegan sneakers with fresh designs and impeccable quality. It’s an all-vegan brand that has never been involved in animal cruelty and has followed vegan practices since the very beginning.
All its sneakers are made in Portugal by expert local craftsmen, and this is the primary factor that has helped BEFLAMOYANT gain widespread popularity in a short span of time.
BEFLAMOYANT vegan sneakers come in a variety of styles and colors, ranging from monotone designs in neutral shades to bright and bold colors with flamboyant patterns.
These are made using a variety of plant-based materials, such as recycled cotton, PET, rubber, and corn waste. Several of its sneakers also feature a removable insole made from recycled foam and activate carbon from vegetable sources.
The brand also carries PETA’s approval stamp and BCOME’s seal of transparency. Moreover, the company also contributes to improving the environment by planting a tree for every pair of its vegan shoes sold.
8. NAE (LINK)
Short for ‘No Animal Exploitation,’ NAE is a 100% vegan company that makes shoes, including sneakers, bags, and wallets with faux leather, Pinatex, organic cotton, cork, recycled materials, like airbags and plastic bottles, and carbon-neutral microfibers.
In the sneakers category, the brand offers a variety of styles, including the classic lace-up and Velcro strapped designs, as well as the zip-up and slip-on vegan sneakers. There are also plenty of color and design options, ranging from plain and neutral pairs to patterned and shiny ones.
Made in Portugal, NAE’s vegan sneakers are stylish yet elegant, trendy yet ethical and sustainable, making them a popular choice for those following a vegan, ethical, and/or eco-friendly lifestyle.
Vegan Sneakers from Mainstream Brands
None of the mainstream sneaker or athleisure shoe brands is 100% vegan. However, many have come up with vegan-friendly options, considering the increasing demand for them. Here are some of the leading shoe brands that have vegan sneaker options:
Word of Caution
While many of the mainstream sneaker brands now offer vegan options, most of them are infamous for their non-environmental-friendly procedures and labor exploitation. If this is concerning for you (should be), it’s better to avoid these brands. However, if your commitment to veganism is only limited to avoiding animal ingredients, you may check out their vegan sneaker options.
Are Vegan Shoes Eco-Friendly?
Contrary to the common perception, vegan shoes aren’t always environment-friendly. However, they are always a lot more eco-friendly than non-vegan varieties.
The environmental footprint of vegan materials is significantly less than those derived from animals. This even applies to synthetic materials that are otherwise not considered great for the environment, such as PVC and PU.
Having said that, with the rising awareness, vegan shoe companies are increasingly opting for more environment-friendly materials and procedures to reduce their carbon footprint and waste. As a result, we see an ever-increasing use of natural and recycled materials in the vegan shoe-making industry.
If you prefer buying eco-friendly vegan sneakers (or any type of shoes), here are the materials you should look out for (listed from most sustainable to least sustainable):
- Repurposed natural materials, such as cotton, cork, bamboo, rubber, and hemp, and vegan leather fibers made from pineapple leaves, sugar cane, corn, mushrooms, coconut, and algae.
- Recycled materials
- Microfiber synthetic leather. Most often than not, it’s tested for harmful substances and carries OEKO-TEX 100 certification
- Polyurethane (PU)
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Is Synthetic Leather Better Than Original Leather?
Synthetic leather may not be the best animal-free material out there, but it is certainly significantly more ethical and less harmful to the environment than animal leather. For perspective, vegan leather made with Polyurethane has seven times lesser carbon footprint than cow leather.
Animal leather is not just cruel and involves animal abuse; its manufacturing also contributes to deforestation, water waste, and air and water pollution.
How to Know What Material Your Shoes are Made Of?
Most shoes carry the symbol for the (main) material they are made with. They are usually placed on the inner tongue or insole and can help determine the vegan and non-vegan status of a pair of sneakers (or any shoes) when they are not labeled by the seller. Here’s a quick cheat sheet for your reference:
|Diamond||Plastic, Rubber, Wood|
|Crosshatch||Natural or Synthetic Textiles, like Canvas, Polyester, And Nylon|
|Cowhide with Diamond Inside||Coated Leather|
There was a time when vegan sneakers were hard to find. It’s long gone, thankfully. Today, we have a decent amount of vegan-friendly sneaker options from both 100% vegan and non-vegan brands.
Several big shoe brands have also started to produce vegan sneakers to meet the ever-growing demand for them. However, they aren’t usually the first choice of vegans due to their exploitative labor policies and the environmental damage they cause.
If you’re concerned about the environment, along with animals, you should buy from vegan sneaker brands. The best options out of those are the companies that are 100% vegan, eco-friendly, and sustainable. However, if they aren’t available, you may consider brands that aren’t 100% vegan but eco-friendly and sustainable.
Still have questions or concerns about vegan footwear or how to find them? Check out the following video for a quick vegan shoe-shopping guide…
Are you interested to learn about vegan options for other types of shoes as well? Check out my article Best Vegan Work Shoes.