Even a humble slip-on, like in the photo above, has a lot of components. When some parts of a shoe are eco-friendly and some are decidedly not, what does that make the finished product? I want to hear from you guys!
The folks at Unstitched Utilities recently sent me a pair of their very cute slip-on shoes to try out. I’m always on the lookout for nice-looking, comfy vegan shoes, so I was very excited to learn about these shoes. The PR folks pitched them as eco-friendly, so I was hoping that the Tyvek uppers would be made fro recycled materials, since virgin plastic is basically the opposite of eco-friendly. Color me disappointed.
Recycled vs. Recyclable
It turns out there was a little bit of confusion about recycled versus recyclable. They sound similar, but when you’re talking sustainability, which the folks at Unstitched Utilities are, they’re very different things.
Recycled refers to something made from materials that would have otherwise been landfill-bound. Recyclable means that once that product outlives its usefulness, you can recycle its. It’s better than landfilling, but recyclable Tyvek means that these shoes are made from virgin plastic and all of the impacts that go along with it.
Unstitched Utilities: Eco-Friendlier Processes
The shoes do have some good, eco-friendly qualities:
- They use water-based glues.
- The company uses soy-based dyes with vegetable and flower pigments – much better than synthetic dyes.
- The outsole is rubber 20 percent recycled – I’m glad they contain some recycled content!
- Tyvek is recyclable, and if shoes are returned to the company at customer expense, they will either be re-purposed or broken down to recyclable parts the rest disposed of responsibly.
Repurposing is great, and I was very happy to hear about the glues and dyes they’re using. Water- and plant-based glues and dyes are better for workers and for the environment.
What is Tyvek?
During our recycled/recyclable confusion, I did a little bit of research on what Tyvek – the material that makes up the bulk of the shoe – actually is.
Tyvek is a plastic developed by the folks at DuPont. Plastic is pretty inherently unsustainable and eco-unfriendly, from creation to disposal. It’s great that it’s recyclable, but I’m not sure that alone makes it a sustainable material. Is any petroleum product really sustainable?
Weighing the Facts
Anything you purchase new is going to have an impact, and it’s especially hard to find truly eco-friendly shoes. Between the glue to hold it together, dyes, and material for the soles, upper, and lining, there are a lot of materials involved in a pair of shoes. I think that the folks at Unstitched Utilities did a great job of addressing some common practices in the shoe industry that are troublesome by choosing more environmentally responsible glues and dyes, and the 20 percent recycled soles are a good start too.
The lining and laces for these shoes are 100% cotton, which I know gets a lot of press as a green material, but conventional cotton is actually pretty terrible for the environment. It’s extremely pesticide-heavy, and genetically modified cotton has destroyed the livelihoods for many cotton farmers in India. Since most of the conventional cotton on the market is genetically modified, that means any time you buy cotton – whether it’s a new top or lining a pair of shoes – you’re supporting Monsanto, pollution, and biodiversity loss.
The Tyvek uppers are recyclable, and I can’t decide if that’s not enough for me, or if I’m just disappointed because I was expecting shoes made from recycled Tyvek.
There are a lot of factors that go into making a shoe, and like I said, no shoe is going to be totally sustainable. It really comes down to what’s important to you, so I’m turning to you guys! What do you think about these shoes? Do you consider them a sustainable choice? Jeff over at our sister site sustainablog shared his thoughts on these shoes, as well. Check out his discussion of Tyvek and sustainability!