Beads of sweat form themselves in crevices, in the nooks and crannies of toes and, slowly, gradually, find their way to the surface of a sock; embedding themselves in the underlining of a pair of shoes. The smell of a used shoe.
Ugh… a shiver makes its way down my spine.
The only words I can think of are “clammy” and “humid”.
You’re probably thinking; “what a drama queen” and “she has some weird ass feet”.
You’re right, but in my defence, I grew up on a tropical island where 30 degrees Celsius is the norm. I’ve had my fair share of sweaty shoes and the idea of sharing, swapping or buying someone else’s pre-owned footwear is not a pleasant thought, to say the least.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate of wearing pre-owned clothes.
It’s the second most eco-friendly thing right after being naked in my opinion.
But my ‘inability’ to wear second-hand shoes (if you held me at gunpoint I would probably yield in to the idea), leads me to an impasse. It leads me to a conundrum. A conundrum that divides ethical bloggers and sustainability advocates all over the world: Real leather or fake leather?
Truth be told, they’re both terrible. If you don’t know why they’re both terrible, this article on The Ethical Resistance website will enlighten you.
Real leather is not great for various reasons. First of all, it involves using the skins of animals which entails… the killing of animals. Both the meat and leather industry are imbued with such acts of cruelty that I would rather not have anything to do with them.
Real leather also involves curing the skins of animals which can be done through chrome tanning or vegetable tanning. The former is like applying a used charcoal foot pad on Mother Earth’s face (it’s extremely polluting) and the latter is like pulling all of her hair out (it requires a lot of natural resources).
Well, that puts real leather out of the equation then.
So here I go, turning expectantly towards vegan leather, only to be faced with more soul-destroying facts.
Vegan leather can stink too. Most vegan leathers are made of PVC which the Greenpeace deems as the “single most environmentally damaging type of plastic.”
So I can’t use PVC leather either? Darn it.
I go back to the vast internet and do my research. A few hours later, I sigh with relief. “Thank goodness, there’s PU leather!”
The sigh of relief is replaced with one of despair very quickly.
PU leather is definitely better than PVC but is derived from fossil fuels and is quite polluting in the making. (insert slap face emoji)
What do we do? Walk barefoot for the rest of our lives?
So I turn to alternative ‘leathers’. They’re not really leathers but they’re called that. I learn that cork and pinatex ― a material made of leftover pineapple leaf fibre – are used to make shoes.
Ahhhhhh, thank you, Lord Jesus. This dilemma is over. Finally.
Waaaaait, what? Cork and Pinatex are not COMPLETELY waterproof? They’re just water resistant? But I live in the UK, it’s constantly raining. What if it’s snowing? Surely, a pair of impermeable shoes is not too ostentatious of me to ask? Right?
So after ploughing the internet to no end, I decide a compromise has to be made.
A stratagem is formed; a solution bubbles to the surface.
It’s not perfect.
But it’s the closest I’ll get to being a sustainable shoe wearer I think. Feel free to borrow this solution or tweak it to your own needs.
Ready? Here it goes:
Buy one or two excellent pairs of PU shoes in a classic, timeless style. I know I said it’s like pulling Mother Earth’s hair but wait for it.
For the rest of your shoe collection (if you need to build a collection still), opt for cork and pinatex materials instead as those are 100% sustainable.
However, before buying PU leather shoes make sure it conforms to the checklist underneath as you want it to last you a lifetime. Yes, a lifetime.
- Made of vegetable tanning. Vegetable tanning is more eco-friendly but also more durable as it turns out. Durability is a key factor in this solution so make sure you go for the veg option.
- Made by an ethical brand that only employs adults and remunerates those adults with at least a minimum living wage. Supporting ‘made to order’ or/and ‘handmade’ is also a very nice touch.
- Make sure the pair of shoes is of good quality and is well-built. Look for strong seams and good grip on the sole as those are the shoes you’ll be using in adverse weather conditions.
- Comfortable. If it’s not comfortable, then it’s all pointless.
- Practical. Avoid cute cut-outs or zips that lie too close to the sole as they might let water in.
- Classic, timeless style that will suit most occasions and most outfits.
I personally went for a pair of Chelsea boots and a pair of combat boots.
Chelsea boots are great for work and casual occasions. They look professional and complement most outfits.
Combat boots look great on jeans but are also great on feminine dresses as it adds an element of edge to them especially if you’re wearing them with tights as you would in winter.
And to satisfy any other shoe need you might have – heels, sneakers, other boots, flip-flops -. there is always cork and pinatex to help you accomplish your shoe goals.
The two leather shoes are there just to cover your bases in case there are adverse weather conditions such as torrential rain and snow. In all honesty, your pinatex and cork shoes will probably withstand a drizzle or even a shower. Just don’t pull them out during the April showers or that one day of snow we have in London.
If your PU leather shoes (or any of your shoes for that matter) get broken, take them to the cobbler and get them repaired. Just like the good old days. You’ll be helping a small business out and you’ll also be doing right by mother nature.
Keep in mind that the one/two leather shoes that you buy will most likely be expensive. If you choose right and go for great quality; they definitely will be. But in the long term, the savings you’ll be making are immense because you won’t have to buy a new pair every month.
Remember that if you’re paying for a pair of cheap shoes, someone, somewhere is paying and that someone is NOT the brand. It’s the people in poor countries who can barely scrape enough money to feed their family.
However, more expensive does not always mean better quality or more ethical.
Here are my favourite PU leather shoe brands:
Here are some shoes that I’m dying for but won’t buy because I will never need, but if you need some new shoes; hope this helps