What Are Vegan Shoes and How Are They Different?

When most people think about veganism, the first thing that comes to mind is usually food. We try our best to follow the vegan creed and don’t consume any animal products.

However, “not consuming animals” also means not consuming consumer goods made from animal products. If you’ve ever wondered, “What are vegan shoes?” then this is the post for you!

Simply put, vegan shoes are shoes that have been made without the use of animal products, such as leather, fur, or wool.

Additionally, many vegan shoe companies also have a strong focus on environmentally-responsible manufacturing methods and even use recycled materials in their shoes.

While there are several notable companies that “solely” (pun alert) focus on making vegan shoes, there are also plenty of accidentally vegan shoes as well.

In today’s post, I’m going to point out some of the main differences between vegan shoes and regular shoes.

Then, I’ll answer a few common questions and give you some helpful tips for keeping your vegan shoes clean and fresh!

Vegan Shoes vs. Regular Shoes: What’s The Difference?

Vegan Shoes vs. Regular Shoes: What’s The Difference?

The main difference between vegan shoes and regular shoes is that vegan shoes aren’t made with animal-derived materials like leather or wool.

Some of the glues used in modern shoe production also contain animal-derived ingredients that you’ll never find in certified vegan shoes.

In regards to company ethics and manufacturing, you’ll also find several other notable differences between the best vegan shoe companies and your typical shoe producers.

Here’s a quick table outlining some of the key differences between vegan shoes and regular shoes:

Non-Vegan ShoesVegan Shoes
Often use leather.Use faux (fake) leather instead.
Often use wool to create a warm interior.Use synthetic wool or warm cotton.
May use animal-derived glue and adhesives.Use natural glue or synthetic glue that’s produced without animal-derived ingredients.
Often source shoes from countries where workers are underpaid and work in unethical environments.Often make their shoes in America or buy them from factories where workers are treated better and paid a fair wage.
Tend to create new synthetic materials for their shoes.Tend to utilize recycled materials to create shoes, reducing landfill waste.

If you’d like to learn more, keep on reading! Below, I’ll further break down the top differences between vegan shoes and their non-vegan alternatives.

1) Vegan Shoes Don’t Use Leather, Fur, Or Wool

Vegan Shoes Don’t Use Leather, Fur, Or Wool

Throughout human history, leather has been the material of choice used to create shoes, sandals, and boots. Early humans couldn’t just go to their local supermarket and buy shoes anytime they wanted; they had to shell out a considerable sum of money or make their own shoes.

This meant that shoes needed to last a long time (something that leather is known for).

We can forgive our ancestors for their use of animal products, but we have no excuse! Today, there are plenty of high-quality synthetic shoe materials that are just as durable as leather.

The same goes for wool and fur, which used to be used to create warm boots and shoes for the cold winter season. And if you thought wool was vegan, think again.

To this day, fur and wool are still common materials used in high fashion. Despite the number of synthetic and naturally-derived fibers that are just as warm, animals continue to be butchered in the name of fashion.

2) Vegan Shoes Tend To Be Ethically Produced

Vegan Shoes Tend To Be Ethically Produced

Unfortunately, some of the most popular shoe brands on the planet outsource production to countries like China, Mexico, Thailand, India, and Taiwan.

Even though labor laws are evolving, many factories make a habit of ignoring them or finding loopholes.

For example, in China, it’s common for factory workers to follow the infamous “9-9-6 work schedule,” where they’re required to work from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week.

If they try to take a day off or protest, they’re effortlessly replaced by one of the millions of job-seekers trying to feed their families on less-than-fair wages.

Here’s an interesting Vice episode on the 9-9-6 work schedule and how detrimental it is to workers’ physical and mental health:

If you look at vegan shoe manufacturer TOMS, for instance, they promote a healthy, happy workplace where workers are treated ethically and with respect. Do their shoes cost a little bit extra? Sure. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay, knowing that my shoes were made with love.

Of course, not all vegan shoe manufacturers are 100% ethical (especially those name-brand shoes that are “accidentally vegan” just because they use synthetic materials).

However, if you look at vegan shoe brands that are committed to veganism and the environment, you’ll find that they treat their workers a lot better!

3) Vegan Shoes Are Often Made From Recycled Ingredients

Vegan Shoes Are Often Made From Recycled Ingredients

Another cool fact that everybody can appreciate is that many vegan shoes are made from 100% recycled ingredients!

Even companies that can’t source 100% of their materials from recycled sources make an effort to use recycled materials whenever possible.

For example. Adidas recently partnered with plastic recycling innovator Parley, to create a line of vegan shoes made almost entirely from recycled water bottles found in the ocean!

I respect any shoe manufacturer that’s helping to clean up the ocean and produce dope shoes at the same time.

H&M is another popular manufacturer that produces a number of vegan-friendly clothes and shoes from recycled materials. Anybody can go into any H&M store and recycle a bag of old clothes to receive a discount on their purchase.

The old clothes and shoes are then re-manufactured into new clothes and new vegan shoes! Pretty cool, right?

Is Faux Leather Durable?

Is Faux Leather Durable?

One of the most common complaints about vegan leather shoes is that faux leather isn’t as durable as traditional leather.

This simply isn’t true. The rumor likely started from people who purchased cheap, low-quality shoes that were made with faux leather. Vegan or not, cheap shoes are never a good investment.

When made with integrity, though, shoes using vegan faux leather are extremely durable. In many cases, faux leather shoes are even more durable than leather shoes.

Faux leather won’t crack, doesn’t scratch as easily, and won’t break down under UV light the same way that real leather will.

Another cool fact about faux leather is that you can dye it any color! Traditional leather is typically dyed darker as it has a dark gray base that doesn’t allow for as much creativity.

Are Vegan Shoes Better For The Environment?


One of the biggest debates about vegan shoes is that synthetic material production isn’t always environmentally friendly.

Factories that produce synthetic plastics and synthetic leather often use far more chemicals and produce more greenhouse gasses than factories that use traditional materials.

This is a valid argument and one that should be addressed.

Eventually, the hope is that synthetic materials will be produced in a more environmentally-responsible manner.

If scientists put their heads together, creating high-quality air filtration systems shouldn’t be an issue. At this point, the trouble is getting manufacturers on board with it.

This is another reason I really like the concept of buying shoes made from recycled plastic!

By purchasing recycled shoes, I know that my purchase is helping to clean the environment instead of producing more synthetic plastics and waste that will end up in a landfill somewhere.

Why Do Vegan Shoes Smell Funny?

Why Do Vegan Shoes Smell Funny?

Another common complaint about vegan shoes is that they sometimes “smell funny.”

This is usually caused by one of two reasons:

  • Synthetic leather often has a chemical smell from the factory.
  • Synthetic shoe materials aren’t usually as breathable and may retain foot odor.

The first problem is nothing to worry about. The chemical smell should go away by itself after a few days.

If it’s really noticeable, let your shoes sit outside for a day or two to freshen them up. I’ve addressed the second problem below!

How To Keep Your Vegan Shoes Smelling Fresh (Best Tips)

Okay, so vegan shoes may retain a bit of an odor. Guess what, though? With enough time and use, non-vegan shoes develop odors as well.

So, that being said, here are a few helpful tips to keep your vegan shoes smelling fresh and clean:

  • Sprinkle a bit of baking soda in your shoes after a long day to neutralize odors.
  • Invest in a shoe warmer to dry any sweat/moisture and prevent odors.
  • Leave your shoes out in the sunlight and fresh air for a day. The sun’s UV rays will eliminate odor-causing bacteria and fresh air will leave your shoes fresh and clean
  • Make a natural shoe odor spray by mixing 2 ounces of water, 2 ounces of rubbing alcohol, and 20 drops of lemon or peppermint essential oil in a spray bottle.
  • You can also use a store-bought shoe odor spray, but those tend to have a strong chemical odor.


As long as you’re buying from a trustworthy brand, vegan shoes are just as durable and stylish as non-vegan shoes.

By purchasing shoes made from faux leather, cotton, synthetic fibers, and recycled plastic, you’re not only saving animal lives but reducing your carbon footprint.

I’m not saying that you need to throw out all of your non-vegan shoes right now, but once they’re no longer wearable, I encourage you to replace them with vegan-friendly shoes.

Shoes aren’t the only consumer goods made with animal products. In fact, many of your favorite cosmetics and skincare items also use animal-derived ingredients or participate in animal testing.

If you liked this post, then check out my post on whether or not Dove’s skincare products are vegan-friendly or not!

Photo of author
Author Bio
Im Emma and I’m the creator of Vegan Calm. When I became a vegan seven years ago, I mainly did it for health and ethical reasons. To my surprise, it had another amazing benefit; I became a much calmer and peaceful person. This change inspired me to create Vegan Calm. Whether you’ve been a vegan for a long time or just want to learn more, this website will have something for you!

Check Out These Posts:

Are Glazed Donuts Vegan
Are Mission Flour Tortillas Vegan
Are Fruit Snacks Vegan