Trainers. Kicks. Sneakers. Creps. Whatever you call them, I’m certain there are at least one or two pairs of them in your closet. Perhaps you’re wearing some right now. Or if you’re anything like me, your eyes get caught by other people’s shiny white or patterned kicks as they walk down the street (especially if they’re Jordan 1s).
Trainers mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, they’re an accessory that can make or break an outfit. They can be a symbol, a representation of a culture, or a particular time in recent history.
They’re a status symbol if you want them to be. And for others, they’re a necessary shoe for those moments when neither heels, sandals nor brogues will cut it.
Safe to say trainers are here to stay. But, without sounding like a completely new-age millennial, are trainers vegan?
The evolution of vegan trainers
Whatever your relationship with trainers, we’ve come a long, long way over the past decade in the development of ethical trainers. These days you’ll find kicks with as much ethics and sustainability as style.
Gone are the times when your only vegan-friendly trainer options had you choosing between a hideously expensive pair of near-designer shoes or a pair of trainers that were likely pretty hideous to look at.
As plant-based living began to thrive and grow in popularity with a younger audience in the mid-2010s, big brands such as Nike and Adidas spotted the gap in the market for a vegan shoes with style and substance.
The result? Ethical, plant-based kicks with style flooded into manufacturing. We’ve seen huge sell-out collaborations between Stella McCartney and Adidas, who paved the way when it comes to making vegan trainers mainstream.
In 2021, Nike launched a new collection of pineapple-based leather trainers in collaboration with alternative leather brand Pinatex, which they aptly named the Happy Pineapple Collection – arange that shook the vegan sneaker world online.
Fast forward to today and we’re seeing recycled trainers, made using more sustainable, animal-free materials and dyes, pop up onto the market. These include Nike’s Next Nature collection of classic shoes made using more responsible materials, which their website states are “part of Nike’s commitment to help protect the future of sport.”
A good step forward for the company, and an essential collection for any conscious sneakerhead.
Shopping for vegan trainers
When shopping around for trainers, unless the brand is explicit about their use of sustainable materials and vegan-suitability, it can be pretty challenging to decipher if a trainer is vegan-friendly or not.
If you’re a vegan shopper, you’re already likely to be eliminating the use of leather from your wardrobe. By definition, living a vegan lifestyle involves removing animal products from your diet and lifestyle as much as permissible and possible.
And while the use of second-hand leather and buying secondhand non-vegan trainers is a completely personal choice (which you should not be judged for), I’ll be referring to new trainers when discussing their suitability in a vegan lifestyle.
Some trainers are pretty easy to establish as suitable or unsuitable, but let’s break the investigative steps down:
Vegan trainer shopping tips
1. Check for skins
Firstly, you’ve got to look at the materials they’re made from. This will help you to distinguish those made using leather or suede (animal-based skins) versus those made without. If you’re shopping in-store, look for the animal-material symbol (which resembles a cow’s hide) on the shoe’s sticker or box.
This indicates that the trainers are not suitable for vegans and are made using animal skin. If the shoe is made from synthetic non-animal materials, the symbol will be a diamond shape.
The shoes may also be labelled as being made from “synthetic leather”, which means no animal skins have been used to construct the shoe.
2. Determine if the shoe is made using animal-based glues
Unfortunately, some brands still use glues made using animal-derived ingredients such as connective tissue (yep, really!). Further complicating things, many brands don’t explicitly label whether such glues were used in their shoes.
My best advice is to turn to the internet. Have a search online for the shoe’s manufacturer and design name – e.g. “are Nike Air Force 1 vegan?” – chances are someone has already done the hard work for you.
You can also search for whether the brand uses plant-based glues. Many brands have made a switch to plant-derived glues, but I would encourage you to double check online before you buy.
3. Ask the staff
If you’re still unsure, ask a member of staff in the trainer store for their recommendations on vegan trainers. Chances are they’ll be able to point you in the direction of a range of shoes that are certified vegan-friendly.
4. Shop online
I only ever buy my trainers online these days – and for good reason (other than the discounts – promise). When you’re shopping online, you’re often able to log onto a fashion or shoe website and filter your results by “suitable for vegans”.
This is a really handy way of shortlisting your trainers to make sure you only buy a pair that tick the ethical box. There are also plenty of vegan-friendly trainer companies to check out online such as Veja, while high-street stores such as New Look offer certified plant-based trainers for a lower cost.
Check on social media
Another great way of finding ethical trainers is to head over to social media or check out some sustainable living blogs. I highly recommend following The Air Vegan on Instagram (@theairvegan) who highlights hot vegan releases from bigger brands such as Nike and New Balance.
There are also plenty of vegan running and fitness blogs, such as nomeatathlete.com, and you can find a guide to vegan running on our website as well as a roundup of all our favourite brands and news on upcoming releases as they land.
Forget leather and suede, find your next pair of comfy and stylish vegan boots here.
Featured image credit: New Africa via Adobe Stock