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10 best vegan trainers that tread lightly on the planet

From celebrity collabs to brands that celebrate charitable causes, these are the shoes to know

Amy Sedghi
Wednesday 20 April 2022 18:00
<p>Vegan footwear accounts for 41.3 per cent of the vegan women’s fashion market </p>

Vegan footwear accounts for 41.3 per cent of the vegan women’s fashion market

Once upon a time, veganism was considered a fringe movement – but not anymore. The number of vegans in Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, according to the Vegan Society, while the global vegan women’s fashion market has been valued at almost $400bn (£307bn). Interestingly, vegan footwear accounts for 41.3 per cent of that total.

We’re moments away from Earth Day, celebrated every year on 22 April, which means you may be on the hunt for a more ethical fashion fix. In fact, with growing concerns for the environment and the impact of animal farming on the planet, even those not dedicated to a plant-based diet are exploring alternatives for the fridge, cupboards and even their wardrobes.

By now, most of us are aware of the fashion industry’s harmful part in global carbon emissions, but trainers are an area that can be particularly problematic. A mix of non-environmentally friendly materials, such as nylon and plastic, plus chemical solvents and energy-intensive manufacturing processes, means that the vast number of trainers being produced each year really takes a toll on the planet. There is a link too with cattle farming and deforestation, making leather a contentious material in the billions of pairs of shoes created each year.

Thankfully, a growing number of brands are looking to create trainers that are suitable both for vegans and those trying to reduce their environmental impact. Making use of recycled materials from post-consumer waste, combined with innovative ways of crafting fashion from plant-based materials, such as pineapple, means there are a bunch of exciting and cool ways to get your sneaker fix sustainably.

How we tested

Every pair we reviewed was taken for a spin: on daily walks, city explorations, dashing to get trains and everything in between. Countless miles have been walked (and run) in the shoes, with comfort, design, style, price and durability all considered. Obviously, each of the brand’s eco-credentials was of key importance, and while some brands on the list are entirely vegan, others have a mixed offering.

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The best vegan trainers for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Humans are Vain challenge v2 sustainable panel sneaker: £120, Humansarevain.co.uk
  • Best unisex vegan trainers – Loci x Reed nine: £145, Lociwear.com
  • Best vegan trainers under £100 – Ration.L r-kind trainer Jupiter pink: £70, Rational.co.uk
  • Best luxury option – Stella McCartney women’s Stella #StanSmith Adidas: £235, Stellamccartney.com
  • Best variety of choice – Veja v-10 cwl white matcha: £125, Veja-store.com
  • Best waterproof vegan trainers – 8000 Kicks explorer v2 for women: £106, 8000kicks.com
  • Best canvas vegan trainers – Superga 2750 organic cotton in natural beige: £45.50, Superga.co.uk
  • Best vegan running trainers – WVSport oakes cross running trainers: £97, Wills-vegan-store.co.uk
  • Best for fashion lovers – Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather samo vegan low top sneakers: £90.90, Goodguysdontwearleather.com
  • Best vegan trail trainers – Vivobarefoot x Finisterre primus women’s trail knit: £140, Finisterre.com

Humans are Vain challenge v2 sustainable panel sneaker

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

Having taken the top spot in last year’s review, this pair from Humans are Vain still managed to hugely impress the second time around. Stylish, comfortable and versatile enough to go with a variety of outfits, they were our go-to time after time.

Taking them out of the shoebox, we were struck by the minimalist Scandi-cool vibe of these trainers from the Swedish brand. We weren’t sure of the platform style sole at first glance, but in fact, it’s pretty subtle once you have them on and we grew to love the style. It’s also very in-keeping with the resurgence of Nineties fashion.

Crafted from a matte finish vegan eco-microfiber upper, the breathable material carries the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 class 1 seal, meaning it has passed the most stringent controls to be declared eco-friendly and free of harmful agents to the environment. The heel of these shoes is also made with pineapple leaves which provides extra income to farmers in the Philippines, while recycled PET, recycled rubber, organic cotton and natural corn fibre are also used in the shoe. We loved the insole padding, created from high density recycled cork and foam, which was really comfortable but firm enough to feel protective.

Made ethically in Portugal, the white trainers have a pop of orange colour on the heel, which is a stylish touch that we loved. There’s minimal branding on the shoes, which meant they went with just about everything in our wardrobe: both casual and smart options. We wore these shoes day in, day out and were impressed by how comfortable they were from the initial wear (no need to break these in, thankfully). The brand recommends sizing up if you’re between sizes, which is exactly what we did, and the fit was perfect.

Loci x Reed nine

Best: Unisex vegan trainer

Rating: 8/10

Worn by the likes of Mila Kunis and Gwyneth Paltrow, the shoes from this British brand are made with a focus on protecting wildlife: of every pair sold online, 10 per cent of profits go to a variety of wildlife charities. The brand is also dedicated to using recycled and innovative materials in its shoes and thinks of every last detail, from the recycled brass in the eyelets to the bamboo in the lining of its shoes.

Loci’s collaboration with actor and sustainability influencer Nikki Reed has been a huge success, so we were excited to get our hands on a pair from the collection. Making use of earth tones, the range includes both low and high tops. We opted for the Loci x Reed nine and were impressed by the premium and stylish look of the trainers. They were also comfortable to wear fresh out of the box and we loved the cushioned cork insole. Made with 100 per cent recycled materials and a water-resistant upper, these quickly became a staple to throw on and head outdoors in.

Ration.L r-kind trainer Jupiter pink

Best: Vegan trainer under £100

Rating: 7/10

This gender-neutral vegan clothing and footwear brand comes with a remarkable back story. Rushed to hospital at the age of 38, founder Kavita Basi suffered a brain haemorrhage. After a long recovery and working closely with charities, Basi decided she wanted to create a brand producing sustainable products. Ration.L was born, with 5 per cent of profits going to the Brain & Spine Foundation.

Ration.L’s trainer offering is pretty simple: it comprises one key style that comes in 11 different colours. We opted for the trainer in Jupiter pink and loved the subtle shade which we think will work particularly well for spring and summer months. Sustainable and vegan shoe offerings often aren’t cheap but we were pleasantly surprised by the price point of these shoes which come in under the £100 mark.

The upper, made from a certified non-toxic eco PU, gives the shoe a softer feel and we found them less rigid than some of the others we tried. The trainer also makes use of recycled and organic materials in its design. While the trainers were great for casual strolls and hitting the park with friends, we wouldn’t opt for them when it came to more robust walks due to a lack of cushioning.

Stella McCartney women’s Stella #StanSmith Adidas

Best: Luxury vegan trainer

Rating: 8/10

Synonymous with high-end fashion and sustainability, designer Stella McCartney has long shunned the use of leather, furs and feathers in her designs. While McCartney’s collaboration with Adidas and the Stan Smith style doesn’t come cheap, there is a marked difference in price to any other shoe you’d find in the designer’s core collection.

The marrying together of two well-loved style names brings us a classic trainer with a luxe twist. There are lots of nice touches: a set of laser-cut rainbow stars in place of the traditional Adidas stripes, a subtle rainbow Stella McCartney logo on the heels, illustrated portraits of Stan Smith and Stella McCartney on each tongue, plus a set of vibrant rainbow gradient laces.

We loved the rainbow laces (they also come with a set of white ones), which give the trainers a real vibrancy, and found the classic style comfortable to wear. There’s a reason why the Stan Smith shoe from Adidas has long been a favourite: they truly look and feel good. Made from a vegan, leather-free upper and a 100 per cent recycled polyester sock liner, these shoes are certainly an investment, but one that you’re sure to pop on your feet again and again.

Veja v-10 cwl white matcha

Best: Variety of choice

Rating: 9/10

If you haven’t heard of Veja, where have you been? Beloved by models, celebrities and fashionistas alike, the Veja trainer – with its identifiable V logo – is the off-duty shoe of choice. It’s no surprise when the likes of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have been spotted wearing the trainers by this sustainable French brand. Although Veja produces a vegan trainer collection, the brand also creates shoes using chrome-free leather (meaning the tanning process is free of harmful chemicals and uses less water and energy).

The brand also provides a huge amount of detailed information on its website about how its carbon emissions break down across the business (it even shows the CO2e by the style of shoe), plus thorough explanations about the materials it uses. This is great to see and we applaud Veja for freely providing this information in such an easy-to-read format. We also really like the fact that the vast majority of the company’s shipping is done by boat, given that carbon emissions produced by aircraft are a huge problem.

Having started in 2005, Veja has expanded over the years and now – as well as a core men’s, women’s and children’s collection – it also offers running trainers and a vast array of models and colours. We love the fact that it has key classic styles that come in a range of hues, meaning whatever your preference, there is something to take your fancy.

8000 Kicks explorer v2 for women

Best: Waterproof vegan trainer

Rating: 8/10

To say this loves hemp is an understatement. The recycled cardboard box in which the shoes come in is emblazoned with cannabis leaf logos and praise for the hemp fibres its shoes are crafted from. Did you know that hemp needs five times less water than cotton, is pesticide and herbicide-free and is stronger than steel? We sure didn’t, but now know that it makes for a handy and more sustainable trainer, which is great news.

We’ve heard of hemp being used in clothing (it’s been used for thousands of years in fact) but it’s not quite so common to see the material used in trainers. Founder Bernado Carreira, called on his grandmother to help with the development of 8000 Kicks. With her 50 years of experience in textiles and his ambitious ideas, the first waterproof hemp shoe was born.

The explorer design is the brand’s original style and we think it’s a simple yet tidy looking trainer. It comes in eight colourways and features a stain-repellent, splash-proof coating. Of course, we put this to the test and can happily say our shoes stayed dry and looked great. A biofoam sole made from algae and hemp insoles makes these trainers really comfortable and sturdy. The overall creation of the shoes also generates a fraction of the CO2 in the atmosphere that a pair of leather shoes does, according to 8000 Kicks (4.1kg of CO2 vs 100kg of CO2).

Superga 2750 organic cotton in natural beige

Best: Canvas vegan trainers

Rating: 7/10

With summer around the corner, it’s good to have a pair of lighter and breezier trainers ready to go and Italian brand, Superga has got you covered. Its range of canvas shoes is well-loved and even a firm favourite of Kate Middleton.

We tried the brand’s organic cotton trainers in natural beige, a shade which is slightly less high-maintenance than a pure white canvas that inevitably gets grubby way too quickly. The organic collection features a selection of styles all with the signature Superga design (think high-tops, flatforms and plimsoll) and is created with a blend of 60 per cent organic cotton and 40 per cent hemp with a natural cork insole and natural rubber. Those with colour have been dyed using plant-based colours.

These are definitely more of a casual plimsoll style shoe than a sports trainer, but we can see them becoming our shoe of choice once the weather warms up. They may not have the cushioning of some of the other options we tried, but they’re certainly comfortable enough for a city stroll and would be a great option for throwing into a suitcase for any sunny holiday.

WVSport oakes cross running trainers

Best: Vegan running trainers

Rating: 8/10

While there are many running shoe brands out there that may claim to have a vegan offering, if you want to be completely sure you’re shopping in the right place, then Wills Vegan Store is a great option. Its WVSport oakes cross running trainers are sturdy, supportive and snug, not to mention they were developed for marathon world record holder and distance runner, Fiona Oakes. Will’s Vegan Store also donates 10 per cent of proceeds from sales of the shoe to Fiona’s Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary.

The trainers feature an easy to use, elasticated fastening and are particularly good for rugged trail running, thanks to the grippy Vibram rubber soles. The uppers of the trainer are breathable, abrasion and water resistant too. We enjoyed wearing them (and importantly our feet felt supported) on a number of runs in the park and on wooded trails, plus they came in handy for light hiking.

Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather samo vegan low top sneakers

Best: For fashion lovers

Rating: 9/10

Emma Watson is not only a fan of these trainers in particular, but also of the French footwear brand which produces a range of stylish vegan products. Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather offer an absolute treasure trove for fashion lovers looking for chic vegan trainers, boots, brogues and slides. No clunky old-fashioned designs here, thank you.

The brand’s samo vegan low top shoes are a real wardrobe staple that look great thrown together with a floaty dress or paired with a fresh pair of jeans – they’re also a bestseller for the brand. They’re whiter than white, so we’d define them as more of a fashion shoe rather than one you’ll want to traipse through mud in, but it’s good to have options, isn’t it? We loved the design of these, and think the classic, minimalistic design makes them a great option for urban strolls, work and for social engagements.

Vivobarefoot  x Finisterre primus women’s trail knit

Best: Vegan trail trainer

Rating: 8/10

OK, so these are not your traditional trainers in a number of ways. If you’re familiar with Vivobarefoot, then you’ll know that its trainers are based on the shape of the foot rather than a traditional shoe. The thinner sole is designed to make you feel closer to the terrain you’re running on, which some runners will love, while others might not. We found it did take some getting used to, but once you get there, they do offer a unique experience.

The model we tried is from the newly launched Vivobarefoot and Finisterre collaboration that celebrates both of the brands’ love of the outdoors. Both brands are B Corp certified – an accreditation of the highest sustainable and ethical standards – and the design uses recycled polyester. We liked the flecked obsidian black colourway and how lightweight these trainers are – you can roll them up easily so they’re great for any backpacking or bikepacking adventures.

The verdict: Vegan trainers

Gone are the days when looking for a pair of vegan trainers was a task that made your heart sink. Now, brands have been clever, thoughtful and creative, and we’re lucky enough to have stacks of styles to choose from. Humans Are Vain impressed with its challenge v2 sneaker, which is an all-rounder that you won’t regret adding to your wardrobe. We also have a soft spot for Veja, thanks to a range of stylish and comfortable designs, plus its openness when it comes to informing its customers on material sourcing, production and carbon emissions is to be applauded.

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