My New Favorite Leather Free Shoes

 Not eating meat and cheese wasn’t that hard for me. Switching to all vegan products was slightly difficult, but I did it. The hard part was leather shoes. I loved my leather shoes.
If you have never been, we have real weather in Chicago where I live. It snows (well it used to), it rains, it slushes; it gets very cold and very hot. Like most Chicagoans, I have mostly depended on public transport or cycling to get to where I needed to go. It’s a great city for walking around and exploring.
For most of my adult life, I haven’t had a lot of spare cash. If I needed to buy something, it had to last a long time. Especially shoes. If I bought shoes that were cheap, they hurt my feet (high arches) and they fell apart after a full season. Also, my feet get very cold and I can’t handle that ish.
I always made it a point to buy good quality shoes. Not only because they were good for my feet. They could last for years instead of a few months (thus saving money). It’s worth pointing out that I do not have a million pairs of shoes. I have pretty much only the required shoes. In my mind these include: waterproof winter boots, riding type boots for cool weather, a pair of sexy wedges, moccasins or loafers, quality supportive running shoes, flat sandals, a slip on casual kind of shoe and an ugly pair of warm-snuggly-Ugg-type shoes for when I’m cold/lazy. That doesn’t seem like a lot to me, but maybe I’m wrong. I have known a lot of women who have like, hundreds of shoes- so I always thought I was being conservative. My wardrobe is minimal, which I like.
The shoes were the only thing about being vegan that I couldn’t get on board with. Because I purchased high quality shoes, most of them lasted for many years- outdating my veganism. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of good shoes that still had life in them. Financially that would have been stupid for me, so I held off for as long as possible.
For a while, if I needed to replace a pair of my shoes I bought them on Ebay. In my mind, it was okay to buy leather shoes from individual sellers. The money wasn’t going to the companies that made the shoes and I could still afford to get high quality leather.

Starting to Transition

I have seen a lot of vegan shoe brands online in the past five years. They are getting better, but goddamn were some of those shoes ugly. The more I thought about it, the more I felt uncomfortable with that part of myself. My vanity shouldn’t take precedent over another sentient being’s life. That is not in line with who I am as a person. I also was feeling bad about buying leather, even if it was second hand. I was ready to stop buying leather shoes.
A lot of shoes at stores like Target and Payless are leather free. My first attempt at buying leather free shoes happened at Payless about two or three years ago. They were not up to my standard of cuteness but I bought them anyway. After less than a year, they started falling apart and got a funky smell so I threw them away.

The Cost of Vegan Shoes

 All the vegan shoe brands that I am aware of are very expensive. I’m talking like $100 for a pair of loafers. The only time I will ever spend more than $100 on shoes is for quality boots because, well, I need them to last. I might be able to afford to spend more on a pair of loafers but it usually doesn’t work out in my budget like that. They must be $50 or preferably less.
On the other hand, you have the cheaper leather free shoes from discount stores. During my childhood and up to my late twenties, if you bought shoes at Payless they were almost always under $20. That would be fine. The cost of everything has gone up in the US., so it shouldn’t be surprising that the cheap shitty shoes from target did too. I concede that it’s not surprising but WTF? I go to target and they are selling these shitty shoes from China for $50! Even Payless is way more expensive than it used to be. I refuse to pay $50 or even $30 for shit shoes, even if they are vegan.

Finding Alternatives

It’s been frustrating for a long time. But I have finally started to find some leather free alternatives for my shoes. Having quality running shoes is necessary to avoid injury. I don’t run as much as I used to but I do always need good running shoes. New Balance has lots of vegan shoes. I read about it from this post from No Meat Athlete. I highly recommend that blog, it’s a longtime favorite of mine. I found a pair of New Balance shoes at Marshalls or TJ Maxx for about $35. One down, seven more to go!

When we went to San Diego last month, we spent the day driving all over the place. We ended up going to Imperial Beach. By the time we got there my feet were sweating and I needed to find a new pair of sandals anyway. We stopped at this legit, actual surf shop – the likes of which I had never seen! There were even teen boys working there who sounded just like stereotypical surfers do. They were all like “whoa man, today is gnarly slow”. It was so cool being in a real surf shop and I bought a pair of Sanuks. They are made of recycled yoga mats and are super squishy and comfy. Two down!
 sandals final

Just Fabulous

We have all seen ads for the website Just Fabulous. To me the shoes always looked cheesy and seemed overpriced like the shoes at Payless. At the end of January, there was a sale for first time buyers on Just Fabulous. It was $10 for any pair of shoes. I immediately bought a pair of flat boots just to see how they were. If they sucked, I’d only be out $10 dollars and the boots were leather free. (All of the photos I took for this post are terrible and I apologize)
They were decent! They weren’t that cute but didn’t look that bad either. The quality seems better than a Target or Payless shoe. Also, they weren’t so cheap that they hurt my feet. Just Fab had a sale for Presidents day and all the shoes were 40% off… so I bought a lot of shoes! The ones I was the most excited about were the moccasins and the brown Creepers. I was still grieving over not being able to ever buy Minnetonka moccasins again. Because I’m from the Midwest, I have had a pair of Minnetonka moccasins every year since I was 4. I’m extra excited about the brown shoes. They are knock offs of these Puma Creepers that I have been drooling over for the longest time. I never bought the real ones because of the leather and high price.
Leather Free Shoes
My leather free shoe haul- kitty not included.

Another Problem

As much as I’m happy to have found leather free shoes that seem okay, I still struggle with the fact that they were most likely made in a sweatshop.  Yep, all the shoes from Just Fab are from China- a fact that doesn’t surprise me. However, if you check out the labels of your shoes and clothes they are all most likely made in a third world country in a sweatshop. Even expensive brands outsource their labor outside of the US to make your clothes.

I don’t like the fact that the shoes I bought probably aren’t going to last as long as my leather shoes. Not just because it’s annoying to replace them. It’s because the shoes are just future garbage. Unlike my high quality leather boots, you can’t take them to the shoe repair store and have them reheeled or cleaned up. Unless they are in good shape, even donation shops will throw them away. Unfortunately, the public recycling programs aren’t equipped to deal with clothes and shoes either. In America, people throw away so much clothes that there is an estimated 11 million tons in our landfills each year.

Not only does disposable fashion make lots of garbage, it’s production is not sustainable either. Creating clothes in far away lands and importing them here takes a lot of fossil fuels. These countries do not have the same rules that protect the environment from industrial pollution that our country does. They don’t have the same protection for their workers. As our climate temperature rises, sustainable materials like cotton become harder and harder to grow. It’s one part of a very vicious cycle.

What is the Best Decision?

For those reasons, I don’t feel like hero for not buying leather. It doesn’t feel good to choose another option that’s also shitty and bad for the environment. That’s another reason why I felt so confident about buying second hand leather shoes- recycling is incredibly important and most people don’t do it. I think that animal agriculture the is more threatening issue, though it’s hard to downplay how damaging throw-away culture is. Now that I’m vegan, it does feel wrong to be wearing someone else’s skin.

It’s hard when you have a limited budget. You want to do the right thing but you may not have the means to do it. I truthfully can’t afford to buy USA crafted vegan shoes every time I buy shoes. If I can afford it, it’s very hard to find. I have been finding a lot of cool handmade shoes on Etsy, some of which are actually affordable. I will be tapping into that resource as much as possible when I can.

What Can you do?

The best we can do is try to spread the word about these problems. The more consumers want sustainable clothing, the more companies will be forced to change. In our consumer culture, you actually have more power than you think. Companies need to make money off of you to survive.

The popularity of veganism increases tremendously every year, thanks mostly to social media. Every part of our consumer culture is incredibly complicated. If we can talk about these issues and do our best to make sustainable choices in our lives, we can make a difference.

Our consumer culture is so overwhelmingly problematic and complicated that it’s hard to even write about. It’s not easy to try to pull yourself out of the system. I do think it’s worth it to at least try to make the world a better place.

I’m thinking about buying a serger sewing machine so I can learn how to make my own t-shirts and yoga pants. We only donate clothes and never throw any clothes in the garbage at home. I have been saving old towels and using them as dish rags and Swiffer pads. It may seem that little changes are too small- but if we all did them they would have an impact.

Quality & Price

I haven’t worn most of my new shoes yet because it’s still cold here. They feel decent and I’ll have enough for a good rotation. With the discount, the shoes were each $15-$23. I have never bought that many shoes at once at the same time. All the shoes and my boots ended up being less than $130. I have Dr. Scholl’s arch support inserts for all them (because I’m cool like that) so they should all be supportive.

My Last Leather Shoes

I do still have a few pairs of leather shoes in my closet. One pair I am keeping for sentimental reasons. I bought them in my mid twenties and they just remind me of that time in my life. I probably won’t wear them but I want to stash them with my old raver pants for my future children to see one day.
I have to keep my waterproof Sorel winter boots and my waterproof Vans until I can find suitable replacements. The boots are 100% waterproof and I’ve had them for 6 years. Again, I can’t underscore how important it is to have waterproof shoes where I live. At this point, I haven’t found a great alternative. I do solemnly swear that I will get rid of both when I can replace them with a vegan option. If you have any suggestions for waterproof vegan shoes please let me know!

Real Vegan Shoes

Someday, I will invest in high quality vegan shoes. Now that I have replaced and fulfilled all my needs, I will be able to save money for that. Again, any recommendations would be great! New types of materials that mimic leather come out and the industry advances every year. I am interested in Mushroom Leather but so far have not seen any shoes made from the material yet. I’m glad I got over my vanity but I hope that these shoes hold up in the long run. Either way, I’m proud of myself for overcoming (mostly) that last hurdle. Is this something you have struggled with too? Do you think it’s ethical to buy second hand leather as a vegan?

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