Summer’s finally here, and you’re ready to hit the beach or the boardwalk with your brand new pair of sandals. Over the holidays, you saw that Birkenstock sandals are skyrocketing in popularity due to their distinct European design and quality craftsmanship. Now you’re searching the Birkenstock website for the perfect pair of sandals to complement your wardrobe. Just when you’re about to add a pair to your cart, you notice a list of materials. Cork, PVC, and…leather? Even sandals are made from animal products?
The fact is, the vegan lifestyle goes way beyond your diet. Shoes, belts, purses, hats, dresses, jackets, and even shirts and pants can all be made from animal products. And like many shoe manufacturers, Birkenstock shoes are crafted from animal-sourced materials like suede, leather, fleece, and wool. The shoes may be fashionable, but if you’re familiar with the leather industry, you know that animals were harmed in the process. Where can you go to find a pair of vegan sandals that are just as stylish but without the history of animal cruelty?
Why Should You Search for a Vegan Alternative for Birkenstocks?
At first glance, non-vegan sandals might not seem particularly cruel. After all, cows aren’t killed specifically for their leather–it’s just an extra step in the butchering process that prevents unnecessary waste. But in fact, the leather industry comes with its own set of baggage. When a dairy cow can no longer produce milk, or a meat-producing cow is ready for slaughter, the animal is taken from the factory farm and brought to the slaughterhouse. The animal is supposed to be killed or stunned, but occasionally the cow is stunned incorrectly, resulting in the animal being skinned alive. While leather is typically seen as a cow by-product, leather can come from various animals including cats, dogs, elephants, zebras, and even lizards. In some countries, hundreds of animals are skinned alive each day to make “fashionable” clothing and handbags.
Even young animals aren’t exempt from the cruelty of the leather industry. Calf leather is particularly valuable due to its softness and durability, resulting in the deaths of millions of young male cows across the globe. The calves are born into lives of suffering, wrenched from their mothers as soon as they’re born to be trapped in crowded, dirty cages. Once the calf is old enough to be slaughtered for veal, the animal is killed and skinned and shipped off to the butcher. In some cases, unborn calves are even cut out of their mothers’ wombs to harvest the expensive calfskin.
The leather industry also has a detrimental effect on the environment. Once harvested, the leather is treated with various chemicals and dyes that pollute the air and water supply. The chemicals also make the leather nearly impossible to biodegrade, meaning it could litter the earth for decades or centuries to come. Essentially, the leather industry kills animals and turns their skin into useless trash that can never break down and return to the earth.
What are Vegan Sandals Made From?
Unlike traditional leather-based sandals, vegan sandals are made from man-made and plant-based materials like plastic, polyester, rubber, cotton, yarn, hemp, and cork. Many vegan brands are also committed to sustainability and harvest their materials through safe, environmentally-friendly methods. Some brands of vegan sandals are even made from 100% recycled materials, so you can enjoy your summer footwear while knowing that you’re doing your part to help the environment.
Wearing a shoe made from recycled water bottles might not sound appealing, but vegan sandals are so soft and comfortable that you won’t even notice the difference. Many vegan sandals like Birkenstocks use synthetic materials that are specifically engineered to replicate the feel of real leather or suede. Other brands use soft materials like cotton and hemp to create a comfortable shoe that feels like it was made specifically for you.
Does Birkenstock Offer a Line of Vegan Sandals?
If you’re committed to the Birkenstock brand, Birkenstock does offer a line of vegan sandals. Their current selection is small, and offers only one or two color variations on several basic designs. Like their traditional leather-based shoes, vegan Birkenstocks offer a footbed made from layers of cork, jute, and latex. The rest of the shoes are crafted from synthetic materials called Birko-Flor and Birkibuc, which mimic the look and feel of real leather. EVA plastic is also used to create a lighter, more breathable shoe.
How Do I Know if my Sandals are Vegan?
Unless you’re an expert in the field of identifying leather and suede, examining the shoes in your closet or in the store can be a challenging task. Fortunately, online shopping has made it easier than ever to make sure that you’re buying a sustainable, vegan product. Most shoe websites list the materials that their products are made from, whether it’s real wood and suede or Birkenstock faux leather. Many websites also offer information about the materials themselves and the methods in which they were harvested. “Vegan” doesn’t automatically mean “sustainable,” so if you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly shoe, do some research on where each company gets their materials.
Additionally, some brands offer exclusively vegan sandals, while others sell a mix of animal-based and synthetic-based products. If you’re committed to the vegan lifestyle, try supporting the brands that sell mainly vegan products. You’re helping them continue their mission of producing safe, environmentally-friendly fashion–and getting something for yourself along the way.
Are Vegan Sandals More Expensive than Traditional Sandals?
Vegan sandals are usually not more expensive than leather sandals. Synthetic materials have been part of the shoe industry for years, so it’s usually not terribly expensive for companies to avoid animal products. Some vegan options are even cheaper than their leather-crafted counterparts. However, vegan options can be more limited, as the majority of sandal manufacturers prefer to work with leather due to its look, feel, and popularity.
Where Can I Find Vegan Sandals?
Ready to spruce up your closet with a set of vegan Birkenstocks of your own? Most shoe manufacturers offer online storefronts with a wide variety of colors, styles, and sizes to choose from. If you’d prefer to try on your shoes before you buy them, you can always visit a shoe store or a department store. But be warned: it can be difficult to search out the vegan shoes among the vast array of leather sandals. Make sure you do your research for making a decision, as you don’t want to come home with something that was skinned off a calf.
If you’re the crafty type, you can even try making your own using a template downloaded from a craft website. Organic materials like hemp, cotton, and cork are all freely available at local craft stores or online websites. You can also purchase a handmade pair of sandals from websites like Etsy. When you buy a pair of vegan shoes directly from the craftsman, you’re not just helping the environment–you’re also helping an artist make a living so they can continue their work. Many artists also offer customization options so you can order a unique pair that’s tailored to your specific lifestyle.