The vegan culture has spent decades trying to get on its feet. It was only a couple decades ago that the idea of ‘going vegan’ was unrealistic for a lot of people. The sentiment was nice, but the difficulty involved in making such a big lifestyle adjustment wasn’t practical.
Don’t get me wrong – going vegan can still be a challenge – but doing it now seems to raise a lot fewer eyebrows than it did even five years ago.
Regardless, the stigma is dissolving. The vegan movement is consuming non-vegans every day and, like a leaf uses sunlight to synthesize nutrition from lesser elements, veganism is encouraging meat munchers to carve healthier diets out of less destructive ingredients.
Veganism is so popular these days that the term no longer just applies to food. If you look, you’ll see all sorts of products advertising themselves as cruelty-free, organic, vegan alternatives – from soaps and candles, to furniture, to footwear. That’s right – you can get vegan sandals.
Vegan Sandals? How on Earth Would They Make Those?
Before you read about the our favourite vegan sandals (scroll WAY down for that), you should have an introduction to the process of how they are made. The concept is strange to a lot of people. It’s important to know how and why vegan sandals have become so popular, and what makes them different from regular shoes.
The materials used to make vegan sandals are the biggest determining factor as to their ‘vegan-ism.’ Of course, the manufacturing process and the company’s ethics are important. The materials, however, can more decidedly tell you whether the product is vegan.
Materials that you want to avoid include leather, wool, silk, snakeskin, feathers, fur, and suede. All of these materials are obtained, one way or another, through an abusive and cruel manufacturing process.
Fortunately, the tags on most footwear can tell you whether or not the materials are vegan. They might not always list “vegan” next to “polyester,” but with a bit of education, you’ll know which materials can be considered vegan or not.
- Assume that shoes and sandals are not vegan unless otherwise specified. Most boots, shoes, and sandals are made from leather, suede, or other animal-based fabrics.
- Look for a label that declares the product as man-made. You’re looking for something along the lines of, “100% man-made,” or “entirely synthetic.”
- Be cautious of sandals made with canvas! It seems like an excellent vegan alternative, but many canvas shoes use leather soles.
You’re not in the clear yet. The glue used to hold shoes and sandals together can be non-vegan, even if the materials are advertised as being 100% synthetic.
However, determining the make of the glue can be pretty tricky. Chances are, if you’re in a shoe store, about to buy a pair of sandals, you’re not going to want to do an hour’s worth of background checks on your smartphone just to figure out if the company used vegan adhesives.
Unfortunately, this is a bit of a moral dilemma. There simply aren’t as many companies making sandals that can be sold as “100% vegan.” This means that most vegans, except for the most dutiful and obligated, will have to take a dice-roll when buying synthetic sandals. Chances are, if the footwear is made by an eco-friendly company that advertises their love for the environment, the glue will be vegan.
Many shoe companies use animal-based dyes to color their products. This can ring true even when products are advertised as non-leather and completely synthetic.
Fortunately, animal-based dye is much less common than animal-based adhesives. It’s most likely that companies advertising 100% synthetic materials will also use synthetic dyes.
Where to Buy Vegan Sandals?
Finding vegan sandals can be tricky at the best of times. A lot of shoe stores don’t cater toward folk who are concerned about the ethics of their footwear. A lot of stores will have a few brands that are advertised as vegan or cruelty-free, but we all know how difficult it can be to find a comfortable pair of shoes.
- Buying online is a particularly appealing option for a lot of vegans. When you buy online, it becomes much easier to do a background check on the companies you’re looking into. On top of that, there are more sites that are built for people who want vegan footwear. These sites will offer you a much wider selection.Buying online may provide more selection, but also makes it difficult to find a comfortable pair of shoes. Vegan shoes are notorious for being less comfortable than other shoes, and buying a pair online gives you no chance to try them on first. You might end up doing a lot of returning and rebuying.
- Finding specialty stores may not be as easy as walking through your local mall. You might be surprised how many specialty shoe stores are hidden in your locale, though. Doing an online search for vegan shoe stores could lead you to some answers.
Other Considerations for Making an Ethical Purchase
Buying a vegan pair of sandals is not always the same as buying an ethical pair of sandals. PETA makes an important observation:
“Animal skin is turned into finished leather through the use of dangerous mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, cyanide-based oils and dyes, chrome, and other toxins. People who have worked in and lived near tanneries are dying of cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather.”
This means that a lot of vegan companies are still exploiting resources, the environment, and our fellow humans. It’s important to ask yourself the following questions and do the relevant research, before buying a pair of sandals.
- Where were the sandals made? Does the company operate out of your country? If so, do they have additional facilities in countries that are known for using cheap labor?
- If the materials used are, indeed, vegan, where are they harvested? Are they done so using ethical procedures? What about the carbon footprint created during the harvesting or synthesizing processes?
- Are the materials made or harvested using sustainable methods?
- Does the company have a robust policy on recycling, waste reduction, good working conditions for their employees? If these things aren’t listed on the website, you have reason to suspect otherwise.
- Will the Sandals last you a long time? There’s no point supporting a company that has ethical manufacturing procedures if all their products fall apart in a year. This would mean that all their consumers are contributing to a global waste problem.
The 12 Best Vegan Sandals
If you don’t want to shop around to find your vegan sandals, I don’t blame you. There’s a shocking amount of products to sift through, a ton of reading to do, and ultimately, you might still end up with a bad or unethical shoe.
While there are many “synthetic” and “vegan leather” sandals out there, only a handful label themselves as “vegan”, or include a blurb about not including animal products in their manufacturing. Therefore, we didn’t include any products that said “synthetic” simply because we don’t know if their leather or adhesive is animal based.
Also note, we included individual products here instead of brands, as most sandal companies offer a vegan line of products or a few sandals here and there, but are not 100% vegan companies.
With that said, we believe the products listed below to be the best on the market. Hopefully you can find one that will suit you!
Vegan Sandals for Women
Chacos are a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts who want to bring their sandal from the morning trail to brunch with the girls. They are known for their comfort (make sure you break them in before wearing for extended periods of time!), versatility, and arch support. Chacos come in tons of colors, and when you wear them down, you can send them in for repairs instead of throwing them in the garbage.
Does it get any more vegan than sandals made from yoga mats? The Sling 2 Sandals feature a comfortable rubbery mat sole with fabric straps. These sandals come in 30 bold colors, and are good replacement for your cheap flip-flops. You can wear these to the pool, or out on the town with your favorite shorts or sundress.
The Verra sandals by Teva combine performance and comfort with sleek style. The sandals feature contoured EVA foam midsoles, a shock-absorbing heel cushion, and hook-and-loop closures for easy fastening. The shoes even have a microban zinc-based antimicrobial treatment to protect your feet while wearing. The Verras are ideal for long walks on flat surfaces.
A more traditional-looking strap sandal, the Bork-30 sandals from Outwoods are a perfect choice for warm weather footwear. These sandals feature vegan leather, adjustable buckles, and a cork midsole for comfort and support. They come in a variety of neutral colors that will go with all your favorite outfits.
“Birkenstock” seems to be a synonym for “hippie”, so it’s fitting that these beautiful Gizeh sandals are 100% vegan! Available in a deep navy microfiber, these shoes give the same suede look of traditional leather sandals with none of the cruelty. The cork sole is super supportive and features arch support and a deep well for the heel. The sandals have an adjustable buckle and can be easily dressed up or down.
TOMS is perhaps best known for donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased, but the style of their vegan-friendly sandals cannot be understated. The Clara Espadrilles are made from natural linen, making them perfect for warm weather vacations, and utilizes a comfortable sling-back strap. These stylish shoes come in natural linen or chambray colors.
Vegan Sandals for Men
Though this Sandal is labeled as for “Women”, don’t let that deter you – it’s unisex and perfectly suitable for men. The Arizona is a classic Birkenstock sandal that is now available in an animal-friendly format. The sandals are made from a comfortable but hard-wearing microfiber weave – the material composition is even analyzed by independent testing laboratories. The cork-latex footbed is anatomically shaped, so you don’t have to sacrifice mobility for style. These sandals can be adjusted via two adjustable pin buckles.
Sitting somewhere between a sandal and a sneaker, these shoes are…well, unique! The huarache-inspired design features a woven cord upper, which has drawcord lacing and non-marking rubber outsole. It also has an anatomical footbed, which provides support for comfortable, all-day wear and long periods of walking. This is ideal for active wearers, as the cushioned strap supports the ankle and the midsole provides the support of a sneaker.
Chaco athletic sandals are comfortable, practical, and simple. Each classic sandal is made of only eight parts, making for a durable shoe. The sandals use podiatrist-certified LUVSEAT footbeds for all-day comfort and support, and each pair has adjustable straps so you can tailor them to your feet. Planning to do a lot of walking? These sandals feature antimicrobial protectant for odor control.
The men’s version of the popular yoga mat flip-flop, the Yogi 4 from Sanuk features a slim footbed shape and rubber sole for maximum comfort. It also has a heavy canvas strap material for a clean look and a nylon webbing toe post. These flip flops are perfect for the pool or the beach, or for running quick errands without fear of blisters or chafing.
Love the look of leather, but hate the cruelty? The vegan leather line from Reef is made with entirely animal-friendly alternatives, without the use of animal products or PVC. The Marbea SL features a vegan upper and footbed with an asymmetrical strap design. This supports the arch of the foot, so you aren’t walking on flat shoes all day. While simple, these sandals are extremely durable, with a compression moded triple density midsole and rubber outsole.
An ideal choice for your vegan beach vacation, the Santiago flip flops from toms have a new, super comfortable footbed and embossed toe post. The sponge foam supports your arches for long walks by the ocean, while a rubber outsole helps your keep your footing on pavement and boardwalks. The forged iron dye gives these shoes a distinctly masculine appeal. Best of all? TOMS donates a pair of shoes for every purchase.
Kickin’ It Vegan Style
Sandals and footwear tend to be minefields for vegans – even innocent-looking synthetic sandals can contain sneaky animal ingredients. However, with just a bit of knowledge and a solid lineup of vegan-friendly sandal brands, there’s no reason to keep your feet under wraps all summer!
Whether you prefer an athletic sandal that allows you to hike and walk while exposing your toes, or a simple stylish leather-lookalike without the cruelty, there is a vegan sandal out there for you. Even better? Stock your closet with one (or a few) pairs of each type, to make sure you’re ready to rock for every summertime adventure.
With so many affordable and stylish options, there’s simply no reason to wrap your feet in cow skin for one more summer. Now, you and your loved ones can maximize your summertime style while being kind to our animal friends.