What Makes an Ethical Footwear Brand?

What Makes an Ethical Footwear Brand?

Across all cultures and nations, shoes have long played a significant role in our lives. Today, with so many of us on the planet, the ever-expanding footwear industry is making a tremendous impact on both our environment and the people making these essential pieces of apparel. If you've ever thought about this impact and you're looking for a genuinely ethical footwear company, look no further. We'll review what factors to include in your search, so you can make an informed and conscientious choice.

Fair Pay to Workers

A living wage is supposed to ensure that employees earn an hourly wage or salary that genuinely allows them to afford necessities where they live while working a reasonable workweek. However, the large majority of fashion brands are not paying their workers living wages. In fact, a recent survey by the Clean Clothes Campaign indicated that 93% of brands are not paying living wages. Another report by Fashion Revolution placed that number at 98%, which means just 2 to 7% of garment workers earn living wages.

Finding shoe brands that pay living wages, or even fair wages, can be difficult. This difficulty partly comes from the fact that there is no universally recognized set amount for a living wage. The companies that do offer this, however, are making a difference by empowering communities and striving to lift families out of poverty. If you’re searching for an ethical shoe brand, you should generally look for the following information:

  • Do they pay living wages?
  • How do they ensure their workers receive living wages?
  • Do they tell you how much they pay or how they determine living wages?

Ethical Working Conditions

In addition to low wages, many shoe factory workers are forced to endure excessive working hours, unsafe conditions, violence, and discrimination. For example, garment workers often have to work 10 to 12 hours, or even up to 18 hours a day as deadlines approach. During busier periods, they could even be required to work every day of the week without a day off. Additionally, according to the Global Fund for Women, 68% of women in Cambodia said they felt unsafe at work, about 50% of women in India said they had experienced violence, and a third of women in Vietnam said they had been subjected to physical harassment.

While there is a lot to improve when it comes to building a more equitable future for the shoe and fashion industry, there are many ethical footwear brands available that are passionate about maintaining fair labor practices. In general, these companies aim to adhere to the following:

  • No use of forced or child labor
  • Freedom of association and collective bargaining
  • Payment of a living wage
  • A 48-hour week maximum
  • Safe working conditions
  • No race or gender discrimination


When you look at a shoe brand’s website, can you easily access information on its sustainability initiatives and labor practices? An ethical shoe company will strongly believe that the individuals who craft their shoes are just as important as the individuals who buy them. They make the information about their materials and ethical practices easy for their customers to find. It also means they take pride in the materials used in their products and can take responsibility for any flaws in their supply chains. Just as importantly, it implies they are making an effort to gain knowledge about industry best practices and want to create a safer environment for their employees.

Are Leather Shoes Ethical?

In short, leather shoes can be both sustainable and ethical. However, when shopping for ethical leather shoes, it’s important to choose high-quality pieces, to ensure the item's durability, longevity, and ability to be repaired (as opposed to replaced) over time. The leather also needs to come from a modern tannery that uses clean practices and the shoes should be crafted with a simple design to reduce labor. This simplicity also means fewer materials used, less transportation, and fewer carbon emissions. In addition, the leather shoes should be made in an environment that upholds ethical labor practices.

Invest in a Pair of Ethical Leather Shoes

At Adelante, our shoes are priced fairly at both ends - allowing our artisans to live comfortably in their communities while our customers experience the highest quality at the best possible prices. Our craftsmen also earn more than twice the local wage and receive additional benefits to help them plan for a better future. Our vision is for the artisans’ financial success to positively impact the community and further catalyze economic growth in the area. Invest in a pair of Adelante’s ethical leather shoes to experience quality, connection, and impact.