Tomorrow, together

11 Shoe brands we’re loving right now

by | Jun 17, 2020

We’ve been on the lookout for sustainable footwear brands on the South African and international market that combine comfort, sustainability, and social responsibility. We’ve come up with a list of environmentally-savvy and innovative footwear brands with the kind of quality that makes for lifelong feet-friends.

Here are our top footwear brands. We focused mainly on materials used, sustainability of packaging, and social responsibility initiatives. Disclaimer: none of these shoes are 100% sustainable, barefoot offers that.




Durban-based contemporary African footwear brand iFele was founded in 2016. It reinterprets the Zulu ‘imbadada’ (traditional tyre sandals) using modern shoe-making methods and combining leather uppers with thermoplastic rubber soles sourced from a tannery in Wellington, Western Cape. The shoes are hand-decorated with colourful pieces and metal studs inspired by traditional Zulu design.

“The idea of the brand stems from a desire to create a product that represents our beautiful culture honestly and positively to show the rest of the world and ourselves. We explore the idea of an African urban nomad who expresses his culture confidently everywhere he travels. iFele is about us, proud Africans in the urban environment,” says Reggi Xaba, iFele founder and director of Zetu shoes.

  • Cost: R599.00 – R720.00 for regular leather and up to R799 for exotic leathers such as Zebra
  • iFele’s site is currently under construction but you can find them at their parent company, Zetu





Founded in 2004 by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in Zenabwork, Ethiopia, soleRebels is an eco-conscious footwear company making shoes from a combination of recycled, organic and bio-based materials in the most energy-efficient manner possible.

All shoe styles feature soleRebels’ hand-loomed fabric lining and recycled tyre sole for a ‘walk-naked’ level of comfort. In addition, all soleRebels’ laced styles have patented hand-cut laces made from upcycled truck tyre inner tubing which Bethlehem says is “a solution that ties back to our historical recycling ethos of ‘roots, culture, tyres’ and thus shoe laces made from recycled car and truck tyres were born for slip-on-and-off convenience.”

True to their ethos, soleRebels don’t just make sustainable shoes, they employ, train and upskill marginalised groups of people to re-imagine the traditional Ethiopian “selate” and “barabasso” shoe in dynamic, vibrant new fashions.

  • Cost: Mens & Womens Laced Sneakers and Slip-Ons R1,500 – R1,700
  • Visit their website here




South African sneaker brand, Corks was founded by owner Seb Matheson after a friend returned to South Africa from Europe brandishing a cork wallet. Seb got to work and in April last year he established a factory in Durban and distribution offices in Cape Town: “After lots of research and speaking to Portuguese suppliers, I eventually quit my corporate job and started a sneaker company. I wanted to create a shoe that was going to tick a couple of boxes.”

According to Seb, cork is a great natural fibre because it is sustainable, lightweight, water resistant, durable and soft. Corks’ soles are made from TPR rubber (a thermoplastic rubber that has the melting and moulding properties of plastic) and the laces are organic cotton sourced from Asia. Whilst the sole is not currently recycled, Seb says Corks is in the process of developing a fully recycled cork sole using old cork stoppers from wine bottles.

Corks’ packaging is 100% recyclable cardboard box designed to exclude plastic. Each shoe box comes with an extra pair of laces as well as a card, encouraging customers to use the cardboard boxes as a planter.

  • Cost: R1,200 – R1,400
  • Visit their website here





Founded in 2017 on a calculated whim, Jinae Heyns became the co-owner of an ethically-chic shoe brand called Matsidiso. From a marketing background, Jinae approached her mother-in-law who had owned and run a dance factory specialising in ballet and ballroom footwear. At the time it had been struggling.  All Matsidiso’s packaging is plastic-free, materials and production are made in Cape Town, South Africa and the company supports a chain of local suppliers that contribute to the economy.

  • Cost: R1,290.00 – R2,890.00
  • View their website here





Pretoria-based veldskoen company, Sapmok specialises in the quintessential, South African adventure shoe, vellies. Founded by Werner Winterboer in 2015 Sapmok ensures “comfy AF” quality footwear packaged in kraft boxes (a type of environmentally friendly, light-weight paper box made from pine) which are biodegradable and recyclable.

Currently working on a made-to-order system, Sapmok has a vegan range made from Hemp. Hemp is a low-impact material as it has less need for pesticides, herbicides, fertiliser, water, energy and land compared to any other fibres. Leather and laces are locally sourced and manufactured; and soles are made from locally manufactured TPR which is recyclable. TPR refers to thermoplastic rubber which is a lightweight, easy to mould synthetic rubber.

“Sapmok was created to give back to conservation, and this is where our team create projects and ideas to support our dream. Focusing on environmental responsibility as long term goals by sourcing sustainable and recyclable materials to manufacture our products,” says Werner.

  • Cost: R900
  • Visit their website here


Afrikan Passion Designs Sandals



In 2017, Durban-based designer Nombuso Khanyile joined Nisbert Kembo to upcycle discarded tyres from dump sites, garages, and car-repair retailers. Together they create sustainable and environmentally conscious accessories.

Nombuso and Nisbert currently source leather from various stores in Durban but have plans to use vegetable tanned leather – a process in which leather is tanned using plant-based dyes, rather than the harmful chemicals used in conventional tanning.

  • Cost: R350 – R550
  • Visit their website here





In March 2018 SAYE launched after a successful ‘kick-starter campaign’ producing 7,000 pairs of sustainable sneakers.

CEO and co-founder, Marta Llaquet says that SAYE was founded on the premise of giving back to the planet while selling quality products. SAYE sneakers are produced in Europe, they plant two trees for each pair of SAYE sneakers sold, and use recycled and organic materials.

The classically designed white sneaker is made from leather collected from offcuts destined for the landfill, organic cotton for the lining and laces, recycled PU (polyurethane) foam for the insole, and the reinforcements are made of recycled wood chips. Polyurethane is durable and increases longevity of the product. All the material comes from European (mostly Portuguese and Spanish) suppliers.

According to SAYE, their laces are made from organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). A product with this label ensures a minimum of 95% of organic fibres.

Pops of colour detail on the shoe are controlled by Silver Leather Working Group (LWG) Rated Tannery. The LWG is an independent group of tanneries and footwear brands that has established a protocol to assess the environmental performance of tanneries, and to promote sustainable and appropriate environmental practices within the leather tanning industry.

SAYE are currently working on their first vegan collection which is set to be launched soon.

  • Cost: R2,553.00
  • Visit their website here





Woolly sneakers anyone? Founders Joey Zwillinger and Tim Brown founded have been producing sneakers from environmentally friendly materials since 2016 and according to the New Zealand-based sustainable sneaker brand sheep outnumber humans about six to one and thanks to their wool, Allbirds’ process uses 60% less energy than materials used in typical synthetic shoes.

Laces are made from recycled plastic bottles, castor bean oil is used to increase the natural content of Allbirds insoles, and their packaging is made from 90% recycled cardboard. <

Over the next year, Allbirds is committing to combining their talents and resources to create the lowest carbon footprint performance shoe ever, with the ultimate goal of a net-zero product.

  • Cost: R1,600.00 – R2,100.00
  • Visit their website here 





Pitched as the “guilt free kick” Hong Kong-based sneaker brand Lacess are made from repurposed leather scraps and post-consumer plastics.

Following your classic white sneaker design with pastel accent colours, the insoles are made from natural cork and recycled rubber. Lacess also reuse and recycle 95% of the water used in their process to keep it a closed-loop system.

With each pair of sneakers sold, Lacess contributes to Compassion First. Compassion First is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission it is to empower human trafficking survivors to rebuild their lives.

  • Cost: R2,300.00
  • Visit their website here





Veja is a French sneaker brand with materials sourced and manufactured largely in Brazil. Veja shoe canvas is made using organic or recycled cotton and wild rubber sourced from the Amazon for their soles. Using recycled plastic bottles to create a technological fabric.
Made in a high standard factory in Brazil.

Veja believes in transparency, organic materials, and fair trade sourcing all the while inspiring minimalist aesthetics and innovative technologies.

  • Cost: R1,650.00 – R2,500.00
  • Visit their website here



Now more sustainable than ever, the new Stan Smith, Forever collection of sneakers is made up of various preferred materials. Using a recycled, PRIMEGREEN upper and a more eco-friendly construction, adidas has taken a big step forward on its sustainability journey. Each sneaker is faithful to its timeless silhouette while drawing inspiration from a different green member across the entire Disney family. Besides the PRIMEGREEN upper 50% of which is made up of #recycled polyester, this fun collection of shoes uses recycled rubber outsoles, 15% recycled Ortholite sock liners and laces composed of recycled polyester and recycled rubber.

  • Cost: From R1499
  • Visit the adidas South Africa website here

Shoe Care


Sneaker LAB

Caring for your sneakers is essential to prolonging their lives and getting more wear out of them. According to homegrown biotech company, Sneaker LAB, proper sneaker care is crucial to the protection of your investment. Today, practicing good hygiene is non-negotiable. By using Sneaker LAB and having clean sneakers you can help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses.

Sneaker LAB has created a biotechnology that can be used on any and all materials made of probiotic bacteria, natural enzymes and no harsh chemicals. Bacteria produce enzymes, the enzymes then break down large particles and the bacteria then digests small particles as food, dirt and grime.

Their products are perfect for quick and effective cleaning for when you’re on the go plus, they have “How-To” videos that demonstrate how to get the best results using Sneaker LAB technology.

Sneaker LAB’s Digital strategist, Matthew Tyler says that they spend a great deal of time analysing how their business can be more environmentally friendly. “Being a proudly South African brand, our emphasis is on uplifting and empowering the country and our people.”

The Sneaker LAB understands its community responsibility and through several social upliftment programmes including the Peninsula School Feeding Association and WeForest, they contribute to feeding South African children at school and planting trees throughout Africa respectively.

“Through our initiatives with PSFA, we help feed 150 children at three schools. It’s important that our next generation are able to learn with a full tummy. Furthermore, in partnership with WeForest, Sneaker LAB has successfully helped plant over 4,000 trees to date,” says Matthew.

  • Sneaker Cleaner and Odor Protector 50ml: R79.00 each
  • Sneaker Cleaner and Odor Protector 125ml: R149.00 each
  • Leather Sneaker Wipes 12 pack: R99.00
  • Visit their website here
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