Dear EarthTalk: I’ve found environmentally friendly shoes for myself, but have had trouble finding similar shoes for my kids. Are they out there?—Dawn Masterson, Augusta, GA
EarthTalk: Kids’ shoes are a quickly expanding market and companies with a green perspective are now jumping into the race with mini versions of everything from flip-flops to slippers to heeled dress shoes. While green kids’ shoes from makers like Simple, which offers organic cotton EcoSneaks with car tire soles, might seem expensive at $40 or more, they are durable enough to get passed around from sibling to sibling. “It is an investment if you’re going to do quality,” says Craig Throne, general manager of footwear at Patagonia.
Two eco-friendly options in kids’ shoes are: Isabooties, which are made with soft, synthetic Ultrasuede; and hemp and recycled rubber sneaks, from Patagonia.
Patagonia has been making climbing gear and outdoor wear for over thirty years, and is committed to using sustainable materials—including recycled polyester and only organic cotton in their clothes. Using hemp and recycled rubber content, the company has created kids’shoes that are rugged and sturdy enough for hiking or climbing, or for simply running around in the back yard.
Of course, packaging plays a big role and in Patagonia’s case that means 100 percent recycled content boxes with soy-based inks and fun graphics that encourage kids to reuse the boxes. “We’re getting kids to participate and be more aware of the outdoor world,” says Throne.
Timberland has launched its own line of sustainable kids’ shoes, too. “Kids today are learning about the environment at a younger and younger age—in many cases, they’re even teaching their parents,” says Lisa DeMarkis, head of Timberland kid’s division. “It’s important to show kids that even small choices can have a positive impact.”
The company strives to use the most environmentally friendly materials when possible—like recycled soda bottles (PET) in linings or meshes, recycled laces and organic cotton canvas—while always making sure that the shoes meet performance goals: “At the end of the day, the shoe has to stand up to kids and their daily adventures,” DeMarkis says. Curious customers can read the “nutritional labels,” which include the amount of renewable energy used in production, right on Timberland’s 100 percent post consumer recycled shoeboxes.
Parents looking to avoid leather in their kids’ shoes, whether for ethical or environmental reasons, have to do a bit of hunting online. While many vegetarian and non-leather clothing sites have yet to add kids’ shoes, KidBean has, including the popular baby shoes called Isabooties, which are made with soft, synthetic Ultrasuede.
For parents of budding dancers, a vegan alternative ballet slipper can be found at the Cynthia King Dance Studio in Brooklyn, New York. The dance instructor and studio owner approached a local shoemaker when she couldn’t find an affordable outlet for vegan slippers, and now provides them to the world at large.