The Search for Comfortable Shoes
(This post topic reminded of this clip from Parks & Rec)
Before beginning seminary, I worked in the service and manufacturing industries for nearly ten years. From retail to food service to the factory floor, every job required hours of standing and walking. And I put many different styles and brands of shoes to the test. It’s actually really hard to find sustainable, comfortable work shoes that aren’t casual sneakers.
Here’s a quick list of where I worked: Blockbuster, Hobby Lobby, coffee shop, screen printing factory, and thrift shop.
The factory job was the very worst in regard to finding comfortable shoes because human beings are not meant to stand in one place for eight hours, and most shoes simply aren’t made for that kind of impact.
At the thrift shop, I could pretty much wear whatever I wanted, so I wore a couple varieties of comfy boots in the winter and Birkenstocks through the warmer months.
When I worked a hospital chaplain intern in 2020, I had a new dilemma, because sneakers were off limits. I needed to find “nice” shoes that could bear miles of walking every day. I ended up wearing Allbirds slip-ons. But if I had them at the time, I would have gone with Ponto (both below).
If you work in a service industry or blue collar job and don’t have industry or company-specific requirements, these suggestions are for you. But some brands selected offer office-appropriate items, as well.
I prioritized shoes that are attractive and somewhat versatile. I also focused on closed-toe shoes since they’re often a requirement or recommendation for safety reasons.
7 Companies That Make Sustainable & Comfortable Shoes for Service Workers
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These are my top choice for shoes that are truly supportive and comfortable. I purchased a pair of Allbirds’ wool Mizzle high tops after I sprained my foot in January because they offered the flexibility – including a removable insole – necessary for my swollen and wrapped foot, and the support helped me keep my right foot and ankle healthy as I hobbled along on crutches.
I recommend their tree line if you’re prone to hot feet or simply for warmer months of the year. If you work in an environment that calls for business casual, you could probably get away with the skipper or lounger style in one of the monochrome options.
Mentioning here because, despite the issue regarding unionizing workers, Everlane’s Tread line is comfortable and service-worker approved. Plus, they’re made with recycled fibers, leather from a Gold-certified factory, and are 100% carbon neutral due to offsets.
The clean, low profile aesthetic of their newer Court Sneaker also bridges the gap between athleisure and business casual, making them a versatile option for service workers.
(I am mentioning Everlane in lieu of Veja because I have not found Veja shoes to be comfortable.)
Nisolo shoes are made with quality craftsmanship and soft leather. Though they don’t offer a lot of arch support, the classic construction of their products ensures that shoes mold to your feet, offering custom support with time.
Plus, they have several options (for women and men) that are a bit more office appropriate if you have a more formal dress code.
The most comfortable sandals in the world are the soft footbed Arizona style, but if you can’t wear sandals to work, you could try a closed-toe option.
Birkenstock’s regular width is actually wide, so make sure to choose the narrow fit if you don’t need wide.
While Keds doesn’t make sustainability claims, I believe they’re worth a mention for their classic look and comfort. They have a good reputation among service industry workers I’ve spoken with, and that means that they’re worth considering.
I wore a pair of Keds high tops to death at my coffee shop job, and felt both cool and polished. Some Keds styles are also washable, and all can be spot cleaned.
Camper is one of my all time favorite brands in terms of creativity and comfort, so I was pleasantly surprised to see detailed factory information, high labor standards, and an investment in safe materials and sustainable energy on their Social Responsibility page.
Camper’s selection is very diverse, with styles ranging from formal to athletic. I own and love a pair of soft leather flats (shown above – clickable below) and some cool sandals, both of which I have worn to work.
Made with recycled leather, sustainable tencel, and bio-based materials, Ponto Footwear offers a shoe that it dressy enough for a more formal workplace, but has the comfort of sneakers. Read my full review here.
What are your go-to work shoes?
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.
Thursday 7th of May 2020
I work in a hospital and when I first started last year in the records department I could not believe how tired my feet were, and used marvel at my colleagues in the 'fashion' shoes! There can be a lot of walking in the dept. I wore my sneakers with cushioned insoles for the first 4 months, when winter came I used wear my boots and change to sneakers when I got to work, and slowly slowly I forgot and hey presto, my feet seem to have gotten used to it and I will wear most of my own shoes. I do find all birds fantastic tho, as I love the flexibility of the sole.
Thursday 7th of May 2020
That's good to hear! I wore a wide variety of shoes at my thrift shop job, but I also had the opportunity to sit for about half the day, so it was tolerable. I am going to see what works from my closet before making a new purchased.