‘Eco-Friendly and Sustainable’ Sneaker Purchases Are on the Rise, But Still Account for a Small Part of Overall Sales

While still considered a small part of the overall footwear industry, an increasing number of consumers are making more sustainably-minded shoe purchases, according to new data from Circana.

In its latest report out just in time for Earth Day, the retail analysis firm found that sneakers made with recycled materials generated 16 percent of running and casual sneaker sales in the 12 months ending in February 2024, up from 10 percent the prior year, and 5 percent two years ago. What’s more, dollar sales for this segment grew by almost 70 percent in the period versus the same time a year ago.

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Circana also found that just over one-quarter of U.S. consumers planning to buy footwear in the next six months identify “eco-friendly and sustainable” as an important feature when buying footwear in the future. When asked what “eco-friendly and sustainable” means to them, three-quarters of those respondents said “long-lasting, high-quality products.”

“Eco-conscious consumers understand that sustainability is not just about the materials – it’s also about using products for longer and consuming less overall,” Beth Goldstein, footwear and accessories analyst at Circana, said in a statement.

This new data comes at a time when more footwear companies are investing more in their sustainability efforts. Last year, companies like Puma, Melissa and Caleres all doubled down on their focus on the subject matter.

For Caleres, specifically, the footwear company introduced the “One Planet Standard,” a new designation it will give products that meet or exceed 51 percent of the criteria on its Sustainable Footwear Index.

As of November, Caleres said that approximately 75 percent of its owned products contain at least one “environmentally preferred” material, and nearly 20 percent meet the criteria to earn the One Planet Standard designation.

For Melissa, the Brazilian vegan footwear brand unveiled plans last summer to further invest in its sustainable practices across its product offering, especially its best-selling Possession sandal. Carlos Andre Carvalho, sustainability manager at Melissa parent company Grendene, told FN at the time that these plans include the use of more recycled, post-consumer materials and improving the percentage of biomaterials, such as rice and coconut waste, in its production across all of Melissa’s product range.

But even with these efforts, shoe professionals are still split on whether the overall industry is living up to the increased marketing of sustainable shoes.

According to the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) Shoe Sustainability Progress Report from December, 63 percent of respondents are using more recycled materials than last year, while 68 percent plan to increase the use of recycled materials in upcoming items. When it comes to bio-based materials, 34 percent of respondents said their companies are using more of them than last year, while 53 percent said they plan to increase the use of bio-based materials in coming products, the FDRA found.

But the survey, which asked shoe professionals across the industry to share their opinions and insights on sustainability, found that 79 percent of workers feel their companies are making “meaningful” and “positive” progress towards their sustainability goals. In fact, of those that responded, 60 percent believe that their company’s sustainability strategy is strong.

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