How to start a sustainable shoe brand

Do you want to start a sustainable shoe brand? If so, you’re not alone. These days, it’s rare for new footwear brands to launch without any sort of sustainability story. How can you make sure that your sustainable shoe brand has the minimal impact on the environment your customers expect? This blog post highlights the areas you will need to consider before launching your sustainable shoe brand.

Design for deconstruction

You might think that your start-up shoe brand’s sustainability story starts when you are selecting materials. Actually, unless your entire shoe is made from biodegradable materials, it makes sense to design your product to be deconstructed. This makes repairs such as resoling, and recycling at end of life easier, but it’s not easy to achieve.

Design for deconstruction means that each different material, component or fibre type needs to be easily separated from the other elements at end of life. Strong glue is used to construct most of the shoes and sneakers currently available to buy, so deconstruction is extremely difficult. There are many hidden components glued into shoes. Even a shoe lace is woven from at least one fibre and attached to aglets/lace ends made from another material.

If you want your shoes to be easily repaired and recycled, you will need to brief your freelance shoe designer accordingly.


Can you justify the energy and resources used to make shoes that only last a matter of months? That’s an important question to consider. Even if they are biodegradable, creating shoes designed for a “disposable” timescale seems wasteful.

Instead, build durability and longevity into your footwear. Research your materials carefully, ideally selecting those that have already been proven to stand up to wear in shoes. Have your manufacturer create prototypes in a few – not too many – materials. Then wear those prototypes on repeat for as long as you can. Analyse the prototypes for signs of wear and select the most durable for production.

If you are using leather for your shoe uppers, consider selling a biodegradable shoe polish like this one alongside your footwear, to help your customers extend the life of their footwear.

Recycled materials

Using waste products from other industries in your shoes is an option I am sure you will investigate. A few pointers on this:

  • Consider whether by using a material made from waste, you are disrupting an existing closed loop industry, see the plastic bottle example in this Guardian article

How to start a sustainable shoe brand - recycle shoes

  • If recycled material is combined with another material to make one of your shoe components, consider how this affects its end of life recyclability
  • Is the recycled material you are considering using more or less biodegradable than the virgin alternative?

Where you’re making them

Creating footwear made from multiple “sustainable” components sourced from around the globe will rack up the transport miles. Instead, consider where you are sourcing your components and manufacturing your sustainable shoes, and where most of your customers will be.

You don’t have to create a global sustainable shoe brand to be successful. Consider what your local market needs and how you can create that product as locally as possible.


Remember to consider packaging, both in terms of materials, and also weight and bulk for transportation. Keeping the weight and volume of your shipped products to a minimum will reduce packaging material usage, and also lower your shipping costs.

How to start a sustainable shoe - shoe box

Also consider whether your packaging is made from recycled and recyclable materials, and if the printing inks are soy- or water-based.

What else?

Starting a sustainable shoe brand is complex, and the points I have detailed are just some of the factors you will need to consider.

I’m sure you have many questions about how your shoe brand can be sustainable from the start.

To join me in my live ‘How to build a sustainable shoe’ masterclass where I interview Micah Heftman from sustainable shoe brand Kengos, simply sign up to The Shoe Community. We look forward to answering your questions!

How to build a sustainable shoe

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