7 awesome ethical shoe labels you’ll want to be wearing this summer

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Brother Vellies founder Aurora James (Photo: AuroraJames.com)

Our pick of the good-karma kicks.


Saffron Zanzibar Sandal, $315 (Photo: Brother Vellies)

Saffron Zanzibar Sandal, $315 (Photo: Brother Vellies)

1. Brother Vellies

Oh, do we love Brother Vellies. Starting out as a New York pop-up in 2013, Brooklyn-based founder-creative director Aurora James’s self-styled “slow fashion” brand produces what she calls “forever shoes” made ethically and sustainably in Africa, by Africans, in the fairest way do-able. Right now, James runs factories in South Africa, Kenya and Morocco – she pays fair salaries and hires all kinds of people (so, yes, gay; yes, single mothers; yes, elderly-and-able). Everything’s hand made and they only use “kudu” leather – a sustainable-smart by-product of the food industry.

They only use vegetable dyes, too, which is way easier on the environment than chemical colorants. And they’re big on recycling: the soles of the sandals, say, are made from car tires and recycled denim while beads are made from ostrich eggs and straps are buckles and hand-casted from recycled padlocks and keys. What’s that? Yep, our eco-o-metre just exploded, too. Even better, the shoes look amazing. About as far away from the dull, ho-hummery of hippy-treehugger non-fashion you can get – this is sustainable style that makes a statement. And it totally rocks. Get at the store at brothervellies.com


(Photo: Oliberté)

Dakugo Pull-ups, $110 (Photo: Oliberté)

2. Oliberté

Empowerment, transparency, and doing right by all. That’s the MO of this awesome Toronto-based trade-over-aid footwear brand Oliberté. Kind of like Brother Vellies, they produce all their sneaks in Africa to a super-, super-high sustainable-ethical spec. Everything is produced in its Fair Trade-certified factory in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia by well-paid craftisans. Apparently, they had to go through 255 compliance standards to get that certification – including weekly doctor visits for every employee.

The leather they use is free range, hormone free and is sourced locally; natural rubber comes from Kenya and all the machines they use come from Africa. Every pair of shoes is hand made and, get this, they all come with a life-time warrantee – so, yes, better believe they’re going to last a long, long time. Our stand-out favourites have to be the hard-wearing tan Adibos or the Dakugo Pull-ups with a map of Ethiopia on the sole: Made in Africa never looked so, ahem, sure-footed. We like. Hit them up at oliberte.com


Emilio Chukka Boots, $178 (Photo: Nisolo)

Emilio Chukka Boots, $178 (Photo: Nisolo)

3. Nisolo

Just what’s not to love about Nisolo? Founded in 2011 by Patrick Woodyard, the idea was to reboot the struggling shoe-making industry in Peru by creating a mission-driven footwear brand with a pay-fair playbook that paid off for its employees and made high-quality, super-wearable, amazingly crafted, kick-ass kicks. And that’s pretty much the deal at Nisolo: all shoes are hand-made in Trujillo by guys that get paid well above market rates for their super-skilled shoe-making smarts.

But, again, just like Brother Vellies, these aren’t poorly made pity products – this is business, not charity. You pay extra so the people that make your shoes can live with dignity, says Woodyard. And when they can make shoes this tight – well, why they heck shouldn’t they? For ladies, we love the Austin and Mollie Heel. For guys, it has to be the amazing Emilio Chukka boots. Super cool. Get them at nisolo.com


Floral D'Orsay Flats, $79.99 (Photo: Sseko Designs)

Floral D’Orsay Flats, $79.99 (Photo: Sseko Designs)

4. Sseko Designs

These guys make simple, super pretty, summer-ready strap-sandals (sorry guys, girls only) in Uganda. Founded in 2010, the point is to give young women a chance to work in a really male-dominated employment landscape so they can pay their way through school and break the shitty cycle of poverty. So far, they’ve helped 71 women go to university. Cool, right? They also give fair-wage jobs to women trying to get out of the sex trade. But, again, as former journalist-cum-founder Liz Forkin Bohannon points out, this isn’t charity, it’s trade. And it’s not about compromising fashion for compassion: the style smarts more than stack up. Who doesn’t love the Floral D’Orsay Flats for the new SS16 collection? Absolutely. Smitten. Check out the whole line at ssekodesigns.com


La Paz Slip-ons, £50 (Photo: Inkkas)

La Paz Slip-ons, £50 (Photo: Inkkas)

5. Inkkas

It’s pretty simple: this shoe brand’s One Shoe, One Tree project means that, yup, you guessed it, every time you buy a pair of Inkkas, they plant a tree in the Amazon with the help of forest-defending non-profit Trees For The Future. Cool, right? Founded in 2012 by Dan Ben-Nun after a backpacking inspo trip to Latin America, the brand’s all about retro-futurist tribal-esque prints from around the world – Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Africa, all over. Ben-Nun calls it “worldwear” and it’s got a big, big fan base already.

And it’s not hard to see why. All the shoes are hand-made ethically with sustainably sourced rubber. And we love, love, love the Brazil Slip-Ons, Congo African Joggers and the ridiculously lovely and oh-so-present-worthy Desert Nomad High Tops. All things considered, prices are a pretty reasonable. So, no excuses, folks – go save a rainforest at inkkkas.com


(Photo: Ten & Co)

No. 1007, $225 (Photo: Ten & Co)

6. Ten & Co

Damn. How cute are these shoes? Please tell me they’re doing good in some way, too? Yup, they do. OK, so maybe not as much as, say, Brother Vellies, but, still, there’s a baked-in sustainability thing going on here that’s working for us. Founded four years ago, Ten & Co started when Brooklyn designer Tory Noll made a trip to Morocco and, on a whim, got some shoes made in Marrakech out of some recycled-retro rug and, boom, she had a business idea.

Now, all her shoes are made in the same way – upcycled stuff she finds at auctions or souks – handmade by super-skilled cobblers who get paid fairly (in fact, as she told Vogue, the staff actually decide what they get paid – cool, right?) She’s not fussed about making loads of money, either. “I’m not using this company as a jumping-off point to start a sweatshop and increase my margins… My goal is to simply utilise the existing talent and craftsmanship of the men and women of Morocco.” Works for us. Check the store at ten-and-co.com


Veja Arcade Bahia, €99 (Photo: Veja)

Veja Arcade Bahia, €99 (Photo: Veja)

7. Veja

Ten years in the fair-thinking, social-impact fashion biz, these guys are still the pace-setters when it comes to sustainable sneaker style. Sébastien Kopp and Francois Morillion’s people-planet-principled brand is pretty stacked when it comes to sourcing and supply-chain ethics. Agro-ecological cotton comes from Brazil, natural rubber from the Amazon, pollution-lite “eco-tanned” leather – they pay all their suppliers fair prices for everything (they’ve got a bunch of certifications to prove it).

OK, so they’re not super cheap but, crucially, unlike probably a lot of other brands out there, they’re not dicking anyone. And that’s the whole point of Veja: “to prove you can produce differently with a positive impact on planet and people,” so said Monseir Kopp when we spoke to him earlier this year. Oh, and, just like all the brands here, there’s no ethical-ascetical trade-off. These kicks are always, always add-to-basket awesome. Right now, we’re totally into the SS16 Holiday series for girls and the retro-esque, ‘80s-vibe V-10s for guys. Find them at veja-store.com/en

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