• Second Opinion Magazine

Taking the Right “Step” with Your Shoes

by Heather Rothbauer Wanish

We all have them. If you’re a woman, chances are that you have many more of them than your male counterparts. We have them for different reasons—some are for comfort, others for running and exercise, and some just for their sheer visual appeal. Shoes. They can be the final accessory to any outfit and the last thing you put on before you leave your home each day. But, what happens when these shoes are no longer needed? Fortunately, there are many programs available that help people buy smarter, recycle shoes, and make a difference.

According to a study published in Consumer Reports, women in the United States own an average of seventeen pairs of shoes but wear only three pairs regularly. The poll also found that women buy about three pairs a year, and, on average, spend $49 per pair. About a third, or 31 percent of those surveyed, said they spent more than $100 on a single pair of shoes. With both time and money invested in your shoes, doesn’t it make sense to think more eco-friendly or go even one step farther, and let your shoes continue on with someone else, even after you have no future use for them?

While our shoe craze probably won’t slow anytime soon, wouldn’t it make more sense to think a bit greener with every purchase?  Well, many manufacturers are supporting this effort. One example is Puma (www.puma.com), which is set to launch a line of recyclable and biodegradable sportswear shoes. You may think recyclable and biodegradable materials equal inferior quality, but Puma has developed a way to ensure its new line is sustainable and lasts for a long time.

Debuting during the spring/summer 2013 season, Puma’s InCycle line will launch with sports shoes and clothing. The new line will utilize recycled materials, including organic cotton and biodegradable polymers to bind fibers and make products last longer. And, the long-term use of the product does not stop there. When a Puma shoe owner decides he or she no longer wants or needs the shoes, the shoes can be fully recycled or reused by the company by placing them in an in-store “Bring Me Back” bin.

According to the Puma website, “We’re taking what would normally be trash and breathing new life into your old sneakers, used T-shirts, and last season’s tote. By taking old clothes and re-using, re-cycling, or re-purposing them, we mitigate the amount of virgin material that would otherwise be used to make new products.”

TOMS (www.toms.com) is another company that has decided to use shoes to make a difference. Founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, the idea behind the company was to show how a company could make a better tomorrow for children around the world. Mycoskie began a program called One for One, which meant that the company matched every pair of TOMS purchased with a new pair of shoes given to a child in need. According to the TOMS website, during its first year in business, TOMS sold 10,000 pairs of shoes. The program quickly grew and in September 2010, the company gave its one-millionth pair of new shoes to a child in need. TOMS continues to promote the program and works with charitable partners who incorporate shoes into various programs including healthcare, education, hygiene, and community development.

TOMS also has another initiative called One Day Without Shoes. The day has events designed to help raise awareness of the lack of footwear for children worldwide. The company hopes that more people who pledging to go barefoot for all or even just part of the day can help spread the word on this issue.

OAT Shoes (www.oatshoes.com) is an organization that strives to provide stylish and lasting shoes along with being eco-friendly. According to the OAT Shoes website, the company’s vision is based upon this premise: “The future of fashion lies in a reconciliation between nature and industry. OAT Shoes strives to lead the way to that future.”

Based upon its vision, OAT Shoes has made sneakers that are completely biodegradable. These shoes go far beyond recycling. Because of their materials, OAT Shoes can be composted or buried in your yard or garden, where they’ll break down. This affords many people the opportunity to combine their love of biodegradable clothing with composting and recycling. And, for those that think completely biodegradable shoes may not be fashionable, think again. The sneakers won second prize at the Green Fashion Awards at Amsterdam International Fashion Week.

And, even if you have a traditional pair of sneakers that are made of non-friendly materials, there are still ways to help others and the environment. If you have sneakers that could be used by someone else, then visit Recycled Runners (www.recycledrunners.com). The organization offers several ways to help take your old shoes without sending them to the landfill. The site features a nationwide network of shoe-donation programs. And, if your shoes have no life left in them, Recycled Runners lists shoe-recycling programs where companies like Nike turn old shoes into material used in sports surfaces like basketball courts, tennis courts, athletic fields, running tracks, and playgrounds.

Finally, always remember to think about your used shoes (and other clothing) as having potential value to others. Always consider donating your items to a local thrift shop to help others that may have a need for them. As the economy continues to struggle, many people are trying to save money and also realize the importance of fully utilizing items, recycling and reusing will become even more important.

The next time you purchase a new pair of shoes, consider the source, materials, company philosophy, and recyclability. There are ways to ensure your shoes are made in a sustainable manner and can be used by others in the future. Educating yourself is one of the most important “steps” you can take in your next shoe search.

Slip into These • Beyond Skin has a range of hot vegan pumps that only look like they’re made from suede; they’re actually derived from recycled plastic bottles! • Hetty Rose clads its dreamy footwear in vintage kimonos that are damaged or otherwise unsalvageable. • Don’t worry—no actual snakes were harmed in making Pauline in Love’s ethically made snakeskin slip-ons. It’s really organic-cotton canvas in disguise. • You’ve heard of flat-pack furniture, but flat-pack shoes? UNU Footwear’s DIY slippers arrive as a single sheet of die-cut recycled leather. Some assembly required, of course. • Who says print is dead? Nike reincarnated old shredded magazines into a range of colorful sneakers.
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