The dangers of the clothing industry are well known to me. Chemical dyes, cramped working conditions, long hours, poor ventilation, safety code violations, depression, child labor, poor medical and vocational resources. But I have to admit I haven’t devoted nearly as much mental energy to the shoe industry, even though I’m a self proclaimed shoe-aholic.
I’ve always believed that the shoes make or break the outfit and I’ve had an eye for the unique and slightly weird since I was young. Even though I’ve switched to ethical shopping with a focus on buying less overall, I have a hard time resisting a high quality, beautiful pair of shoes. They make me feel good about myself.
Shoes are also important from a health perspective. As I learned from speaking with the founder of local shoe company, OESH, the way a footbed is made has a profound effect on joint and whole body health (Did you know that most shoe lasts are developed off of the male foot even though a woman’s gait is distinctly different due to our broader hips? Not cool).
Shoes make us feel confident, make us taller, and help us take on physically challenging tasks. But, like most other things created by humans, the shoe industry has a dark underbelly.
A few introductory facts:
Global shoe manufacturing is a $195 billion dollar industry
The global footwear industry employs over 5 million people, with 87% of manufacturing done in Asia.
Only 2% of the final price of goods goes toward the factory worker’s wage, even though assembly can take as many as 360 steps per shoe.
Shoe waste will reach 1.2 million tons, but only 5% of shoes and shoe parts are recycled.
Despite it being the 4th most toxic pollutant in the world, 85% of leather is tanned with Chromium. (Source)
In many ways, the shoe industry parallels the garment industry, both in terms of labor conditions and pollution. Yet the use of Chromium in leather processing – not to mention the massive amount of livestock that are killed to to maintain the industry’s demands (though most leather is a byproduct of the meat industry) – contributes to greater ecological damage on a per-item basis. It’s time we take notice.
The Better Shoes Foundation aims to do just that.
The Better Shoes Foundation was founded by sustainable shoe company, Po-Zu in celebration of their 10 year anniversary. The website has an open source format in order to provide collaborative and up-to-the-minute information about the industry as a whole, from design to materials sourcing to consumption to post-consumer life. Get an overview of the industry or dig a little deeper. There are links, resources, handouts, infographics, and a brand directory to help consumers and suppliers join up and make more sustainable choices.
Though the Better Shoes Foundation is primarily concerned with being a resource to suppliers, they offer fairly thorough resources for consumers:
The Brands page specifically celebrates companies that have prioritized ethics and sustainability from day one. I immediately noticed a few of my favorites, like Nisolo and Oliberte and several I’d never heard of, like Conker Shoes and D’Arçé. The list conveniently divides vegan and non-vegan options so you can shop according to your specific standards easily.
The For Consumers page provides a directory of apps and guides – like Good On You – that break down the ethical standards of specific companies.
In an industry and a world that tends to favor opaqueness over transparency, I’m impressed with the breadth and depth of information made available through the Better Shoes Foundation.
As I’ve said before, I’m of the opinion that staying educated and being well-informed is part of the fun of being a conscious consumer. I could literally spend hours reading up on every part of the shoe making process. In fact, I will.
This post was not monetarily sponsored, but I was gifted a pair of shoes from Po-Zu as a part of this collaboration. That being said, I wouldn’t have heard about the Better Shoes Foundation otherwise, so I’m glad I got the chance to work with them.