PU – that’s a kind of fossil-derived plastic, and it’s also the sound you make when you hold your nose because something smells bad. This is not a coincidence.
Far too often, footwear brands offering what they call a “vegan leather” shoe are actually selling polyurethane, trading animal-derived materials like traditional leathers for a plastic-based alternative marketed as progressive on a technicality. And, frankly, that just isn’t good enough. While these brands may liberally play the cruelty-free card because they aren’t benefiting directly from harm done to animals, you still have to ask: can a product that’s actively bad for the environment – actively doing harm to the world in which humans, animals and plants exist – really ever be cruelty free?
And, having asked that question, you kind of have to come to the conclusion that the answer is – surely – no.
Which is why, in putting this list together, we’ve avoided the PU problem wherever possible. In fact, we’ve also ruled out recommending shoes where we can’t verify what the material choices are – something that happens more often than you’d think, with brands as big as Dr. Martens, whose “Felix Rub Off” leather alternative will cop to no more than simply being “synthetic.”
Still, if you’re think these exclusions leave us with precious little choice, you couldn’t be more wrong. The fact is, there are brands out here doing it better – proving that plastics aren’t necessarily a part of the deal. (Or, at least, not a big part of it: there are still, where fruit-based and plant-based alternatives are concerned, parts of the process that use PU coatings for things like added durability. But, really, that isn’t the same as turning out a big chunk of plastic and calling it a Derby.)
So, here it is: the Earth-friendlier footwear we recommend for occasions, for everyday use if you’re scoring high on the dapper scale, and for all those other times when a sneaker just won’t cut it.