As more and more of the population become aware of environmental issues, including the heavy toll cattle-raising places on the land, people are turning increasingly towards vegetarianism and synthetic leather footwear. Often decried in the past as being just as environmentally irresponsible and less comfortable, vegan shoes have today become both eco- and foot-friendly, to say nothing of being easier on the wallet.
The Growth of Synthetic Leather Footwear
Synthetic leather footwear has been available in some form or another for decades, although initially it was aimed at customers who could not afford the real thing. Vinyl or even cheap forms of patent leather neither looked nor felt as good, but if you were poor, they were your only options.
When concerns about human impact on the earth and the manufacturing industry's practices both took hold in the 1960s, non-leather shoes were very much the staple of the hippie wardrobe and an easy target for those who made fun of them. The comfortable Birkenstock sandal, the symbol of the peace- and earth-loving residents of northern California, has been sneered at as much as it's been admired. And they weren't even vegan! Even today, someone who wears Birkenstocks is likely to be seen as eco-conscious, but now it's considered cool.
For those who wanted to live a low-impact life and yet still look good and even fashionable, however, there was almost nothing on offer. Vinyl is just as hard on the planet, as it's full of PVCs and other problematic chemicals. Luckily, clever designers have risen to the challenge, and it's now possible to buy synthetic leather shoes that look great, feel great and are kind to the planet and your pocketbook. Even the older hippies are happy to swap their 'stocks for something new and fabulous.
Shopping for Vegan Shoes
As with any shoes, you're really better off trying something on before you purchase for the first time. Once you are sure of your size in a given line, you can buy a second pair via the Internet, but for that first pair, you should purchase in person if possible.
However, you can certainly browse online. Actress and activist Natalie Portman has launched a line of vegan footwear with Te Casan shoes, and they are anything but stodgy. They include sexy Mary Janes (some with stiletto heels), pumps and cute pixie flats.
Another great source for earth-friendly shoes is Alternative Outfitters, which features such cuteness as the Ah Nee Mahl Pickle Vegan Wedge Sandal. A sexy strappy sandal that can be worn day or night, this is a two-toned number with criss-crossing straps that have black satin on one side and white patent pleather on the other. The heel is also black satin and is 3.75 inches, with a half-inch platform.
You should also check out Great Green Shoes, which is a shopping blog devoted to animal- and planet-friendly footwear. The shoes are divided into a number of categories for men and women, making for easy browsing, and anyone can send in useful tips. You'll be pleased to see that a lot of the cool finds are available at Amazon or Zappos, so you know you'll get great deals and customer service, as well as a great pair of shoes.
Continuing Shoe Evolution
It's hard to find shoes that don't have at least some impact on sustainability - although hemp comes pretty close - but the more consumers express interest in eco- and animal-friendly shoes, the more designers will improve them, so make your voice heard!