A Vegan’s Guide To Shoes

For someone switching to a vegan lifestyle, making dietary choices is pretty simple.

Replacing their favorite suede bootie with cruelty-free alternatives, however, is much harder. 

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You may have certain impressions of vegan footwear being niche products and expensive purchases. You also might expect to compromise on style, color, fit and performance.

If you believe vegan footwear is boring, think again.

You have boots, clogs, sandals, sneakers, formal shoes, and more that are elegant, sturdy, comfy, and easy to maintain. This footwear guide shows you how to identify vegan shoes, where to buy them, and how to keep them in mint condition.

What makes a shoe vegan?

When you’re picking up animal-friendly socks, you look at the fabric or yarn and leave it at that. But, buying vegan footwear is a slightly more complicated process. 

Your shoe can’t contain animal material – hide, fur, hair, bones, teeth, shell or other body parts.

In other words...

  • Fabric created from natural fibers like cotton, jute, hemp, and bamboo are IN.
  • Leather (including coated), suede, fur, wool, alligator skin, silk, sheepskin, and alpaca are OUT. 
Shoes made with synthetic materials (including glue) are positively Vegan. 

You can easily identify materials used for upper, outer sole, and laces.  Things get trickier when it comes to other parts; namely the tab, tongue, lining or inner sole.

One area that people tend to overlook is the adhesive that holds the shoe together.

Non-vegan shoes are fixed with glues containing animal ingredients. Like gelatin, these are made by boiling connective tissue and bones. 

Even that innocent looking canvas sneakers could be constructed with animal-derived glue or have a suede inner patch. So, your new pair of boots may not truly be VEGAN.

Some vegans are picky about it, while others let it slide.

How to identify vegan shoes?

If you’re in-store, do a physical inspection to rule out the use of animal materials.  For online purchases, you’ll have to rely on the 360° visual and product description.

Check tabs or labels

Check the sticker or label on the outer sole.

This will help you to identify vegan and animal materials. Assume your shoe is non-vegan unless the tag says 100% Synthetic or All Manmade.

If the label mentions “other materials” for the outer sole, without providing further details, check with the company or pass.


Know the symbols

Your shoe label often comes with a diagram showing the materials used in the upper, inner lining, and outer sole.

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Leather is represented by an image of animal hide, while a woven pattern reveals the use of natural or synthetic fibers.

A diamond shape indicates the use of other materials (usually in the outer sole). This can be confusing as you’re not sure whether other shoe parts are free of animal ingredients. 


Confirm with company website

The original source is the most reliable way to find out more about the product.

Shoot an email to customer service and be specific about required clarifications. This is a better way to get answers even when you shop in-store.

Sometimes, the salesperson may not even know what makes a shoe vegan.

Caring For Your Vegan Shoes

Leather, suede, and fur footwear are high maintenance, and every reader who has recently turned vegan knows it well.

Vegan shoes tend to be tougher than their animal-skin counterparts, specifically in wet, muddy and humid conditions. But these beauties still need a little TLC.

Follow the standard shoe aftercare advice:

Keep them in a ventilated and damp-free room, and away from direct sunlight. To retain shape, stuff tissue or newspaper in the toe area. Use boot shapers for long boots.

Remove salt stains using a few drops of vinegar and water. Get the heel fixed by the cobbler, instead of attempting it yourself.

For cleaning and upkeep tips for specific vegan materials, read on:

  • To keep your faux leather shoe clean, give it a good wipe with damp cloth. Retain the glossy look and remove accumulated dirt with soapy water. Use a bit of shoe polish to hide scuff marks.
  • Avoid wearing your microsuede or faux satin shoes in the rain or snow. Clean suede shoes with a damp cloth or baby wipes. Invest in a spray protector.
  • Vegan satin and felt footwear need to be dry cleaned.
  • Faux wool shoes benefit from a hand wash. Just remember to line dry them afterwards.
  • Shoes made with hemp or jute can be machine washed, but follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Cotton, like faux satin, doesn’t take kindly to water and could shrink when washed. If your shoe is made of preshrunk cotton, you can machine wash it, but stick to the manufacturer’s cleaning tips. If the shoe gets wet, leave it to dry. Stuff newspaper inside to retain shape.
  • For shoes constructed with recycled material, use a suede or soft shoe brush to remove muddy splotches.

Vegan vs. Non-vegan materials for shoes

If you believe plastic and manmade materials are as bad as leather, then rest assured that the vegan shoemaking process is less harmful to the ecology.  

Water consumption and use of harsh chemicals and dyes are minimized. Many brands make polyurethane (PU) polyester using castor oil rather than petroleum.

Cruelty-free alternatives match non-vegan fabrics in sturdiness and comfort.

Vegan materials are eco-friendlier than leather, flexible, and lightweight, providing better design options.

Cotton

This natural fabric is breathable and durable. Choose shoes made with preshrunk cotton, as they keep their shape better.

Canvas

Canvas is another eco-friendly and long-lasting fabric made from hemp, cotton or linen. It’s a popular choice for sneakers and casual shoes. Waxed canvas makes your shoe water resistant.

Jute

This is a cheap, natural, and biodegradable fabric.  Shoes made with jute are durable, comfy, and breathable.

Hemp

Industrial hemp is a natural fiber with antibacterial properties. As raw hemp absorbs natural dyes, you have colorful shoe options that are sturdy and fit well.

Cork

Cork is tapped from trees without destroying the habitat. As cork is anti-bacterial, fire resistant, light, and breathable, it’s a good choice for shoes.

Bamboo

This biodegradable, natural, and soft fabric also has antibacterial properties. Shoes made with bamboo are truly beautiful and unique items.

Rubber

As natural rubber is hardy and flexible, it’s used in the outer sole and other parts of the shoe. Rubber can be further recycled to make rubber boots or used in shoe soles.

Pinatex

This faux leather fabric is made from pineapple and other biodegradable plant fibers. The resulting material is lightweight, strong, soft, and breathable.

Pleather 

Vegan leather, or “pleather”, is made from polymers -- PU (Polyurethane) or PVC (Vinyl or Polyvinyl Chloride). Choose shoes that use eco-friendly, antibacterial, and breathable PU over PVC.

Micro Suede

A synthetic, knit blend fabric with a brushed finish that resembles suede. Soft faux suede is more stain proof and liquid resistant when compared to suede. It is, however, less durable and not ideal for wet or harsh weather.

Microfiber

Made from fine nylon or polyester threads, this light fabric is water resistant. Microfiber is often treated to make it waterproof and is a superior option to suede.

Faux satin and silk

Vegan satin and artificial silk are delicate fabrics made from polyester, rayon or nylon.

Faux wool and felt

Fake felt is a non-woven shoe fabric made from synthetic fibers instead of wool. Vegan alternatives to wool include fabrics made with synthetic polyester and acrylic fabrics.

Gore-Tex

This is a synthetic membrane used in hiking and outdoor shoes as it’s water and windproof.

Recycled materials

Rubber tires, PET bottles, and inner tubes are recycled and used in vegan shoes. The finished material is soft, sturdy, and easy to clean.

Upcycled materials

Existing raw materials like old tires are used to create durable, water repellent, and attractive vegan shoes.

The average vegan shoe tends to be budget-friendly. Expect to pay more when you’re shopping for a premium brand or investing in a unique pair.

Our favorite vegan-friendly shoemakers

Cridecoeur

A New York brand that makes stylish, bold colored shoes from hemp, organic cotton, PU, recycled plastics (faux suede), and salvaged wood.

Osenhaus

Elizabeth Olsen’s footwear brand provides 100% ethical shoes to consumers worldwide.

Their trendy and versatile shoe designs are sought after by many vegan shoppers.  

Oka-B

USA based Oka-B makes chic sandals and flats from synthetic materials like  Microplast.

Their inexpensive shoes contain 15-25% recycled plastic. Okabashi, their sister company, makes recyclable flip flops from vegan materials.

Indosole 

An ethical shoemaker that has turned tire waste into an art. Their sandals, flats, walking shoes, and high tops are made with natural materials and upcycled tires sourced from Indonesia. 

Vegetarian Shoes

This UK-based company offers a huge collection of footwear made from pleather, Pinatex™, microfiber, and other vegan fabrics. 

Beyond Skin

If you’re looking for premium and comfy vegan shoe designs, shop at this company based in Brighton, UK.

Their specialty – Dynamica™ (microfiber) shoes - are made with recycled PET bottles. 

Native Shoes

This Canadian shoe brand makes walking and outdoor shoes from cruelty-free and eco-friendly materials.

People Footwear  

Their unisex shoes are some of the lightest in the world. These shoes are created using vegan supplies and 3D printing technology.

Keep   

Based in Los Angeles, Keep manufactures a variety of vegan shoes, including their popular high tops.

Insecta Shoes

Insecta uses vintage clothing to create handmade vegan masterpieces.

Neuaura Shoes

Another versatile shoe brand that offers vegan footwear. Their product ranges from heels and wedges to formal and casual shoes.

Nicora

Stephanie Nicora’s company makes luxurious artisan shoes from recycled material, faux leather, and textiles.

Susi Studio

Made from denim, hemp, canvas, and pleather (recycled plastic), SUSI shoes are eco-friendly and completely vegan.

MattandNat

This Montreal based brand uses recycled rubber, cork, plastic, and nylon to create stylish vegan leather footwear.

Mohop 

Want to create your own vegan shoe?Mohop makes it possible with the use of body scanning and 3D printing technology. The final product is a fine mesh of tech and traditional artistry.

Shoe companies that offer vegan shoes

Onitsuka Tiger

This Japanese shoemaker offers vegan-friendly casual sneakers as well as running shoes.

Emerica

Emerica has a decent collection of vegan skate shoes that are both budget-friendly and sturdy.

Merrell  

Searching for hiking or trail shoes? Merrell comes to your rescue with their tough and stylish collection of vegan shoes.

BC Shoes

BC Shoes (Born in California) has some inexpensive and chic vegan shoes to offer.

Superga

This Italian brand offers 100% vegan shoes under the label -- 2075 COTU classic.

Etnies

Etnies makes vegan sneakers in addition to regular styles. This includes both high-top and low-top skate shoes.

Inkkas

An eco-friendly company that creates canvas shoes in vibrant art patterns. They also plant a tree for every shoe purchased.

Saucony  

Saucony, the running shoe brand, has added an extensive range of vegan models for men and women.

Jambu  

Jambu creates trendy sports and outdoor-inspired footwear.

This USA based company has a nice collection of vegan shoes manufactured in its factory in China.

Shops that carry vegan shoes

Unicorn Goods

Unicorn is a PETA endorsed vegan shop that sells branded and indie products, including a largecollection of shoes.

Avesu

Although based in Germany, their online site ships worldwide. They stock the best vegan products from brands across the globe.

Alternative Outfitters  

This vegan boutique is a great source of cool and trendy shoes, in addition to other products like bags, cosmetics, and personal care items.

Mooshoes  

A vegan business based in New York, Mooshoes sells ethical goods from footwear and bags to clothes and books.

Vegan Chic  

Vegan Chic brings you designer brands and smaller labels that are 100% vegan. You’ll find a good collection of fashionable and durable footwear, among many other items.

Mod Cloth  

If you’re looking for cool and fun shoes that are vegan and inexpensive, Modcloth is the place to go.

Free People  

Another online store that stocks chic footwear, but more of the faux leather and microsuede variety.

Zappos

This famous shoe company sells a neat set of cruelty-free shoes. Prices are usually in the $$-$$$ range.

Doc Martens

Doc Martens boots are popular among vegan shoppers as they tend to be hardy in inclement weather. They do have other designs including sneakers, sandals and formal shoes.

TOMS

TOMS has a durable and fashionable range of vegan and non-vegan shoes. A PETA approved brand, but some of their ‘vegan’ models may still use animal glues.

Vans

This famous skate shoemaker carries some great cruelty-free casuals and sneakers on its shelves. The best part: you get to customize a shoe that fits your budget.

Keds 

This American store also sells vegan designs. They mostly carry canvas styles with rubber insoles but have a few pleather versions as well.

Forever21.com

For uber-cheap (under $25) and trendy vegan footwear, head to this site. They also stock simple and classic styles.

Zara  and H&M

A search for vegan shoes on these sites will tossup some stylish vegan designs. Sort by price and materials.

Asos  

Looking for trendy but ethical footwear? ASOS offers great non-leather designs. Sort by price and verify materials used.

American Eagle

They tend to carry seasonal vegan styles – sandals in summer and boots in winter. As they sell a lot of leather stuff, carefully check product details.

Old Navy.com

Female readers should definitely check out this place, as they have a wide selection of vegan-friendly, low-cost, and adorable ballet flats.

Nastygal.com

Another site that caters to female vegans. They sometimes carry hot and chic pieces -- perfect for date nights or clubbing.

Urban Outfitters 

They often stock cool and reasonably priced vegan styles, so do check them out. As always, read the product details before you buy.

Payless

This discounted footwear store has cruelty-free products on offer from time to time. Read the product description to confirm the shoe is indeed vegan.

Etsy

A search for vegan shoes brings up unique goods crafted by independent creatives. Some of these high-quality shoes are quite affordable.  

Amazon

You’ll find shoes from your favorite company as well as smaller brands. With varied price ranges and styles, there is something for everyone.

Final Notes

With numerous vegan options available, you don’t have to buy shoes that endorse cruelty to animals.

Show your love for the environment, animals, and people working in the shoe industry by choosing a company that reflects your values – using natural, recycled or upcycled material. Preferably breathable and eco-friendly PU polymer in synthetics. 

Support a company or brand that maintains stringent quality control and provides decent working conditions.

Enjoy shopping the vegan way!

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Last modified on March 20, 2018 at 21:53

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