A Philly Company Helped Create What Could Be the World’s Most Eco-Friendly Shoe

The Eco Chukka shoe from United By Blue and Sole is made out of recycled cork, bison fiber, foam from algal blooms, and other sustainable materials — and it's raised close to $500,000 on Kickstarter so far.

eco-friendly shoes

United By Blue has partnered with footwear manufacturer Sole to produce the Eco Chukka, the ultimate in sustainable shoes. / Photograph courtesy United By Blue

Philly is a city where people walk. (In 2017, the last year for which data is available, Walkscore ranked it the fifth most walkable city.) To the grocery store, to the bar, sometimes even to work; wherever Philadelphians are going, we’re putting in a whole lot of steps. And that means we should probably be paying more attention to whether our shoes are as comfortable, durable, and environmentally friendly as they are cute. (Rule No. 1: No heels.)

Thanks to a new partnership between footwear company Sole and Philly-based outdoor apparel brand United By Blue (UBB), you don’t have to choose between style, function, or sustainability when it comes to your kicks. The two organizations have collaborated to produce what they’re calling “the world’s most eco-friendly shoe”: the Sole x United By Blue Jasper Wool Eco Chukka. It combines the cushioning midsoles (the part of your shoe that absorbs impact) made from recycled wine corks that Sole’s famous for with the temperature-regulating bison fibers that UBB has previously woven into everything from socks to gloves to boots. Until now, though, UBB hadn’t worked the bison hair into an all-purpose shoe.

Sole and UBB decided to partner because both companies had received recognition for their innovative practices. That certainly extends to the Eco Chukka. Every part of the shoe is made from an unexpected, Earth-friendly material, whether it’s  the bamboo shoelaces; the merino wool uppers; the footbeds that use foam from algal blooms; or the rice rubber outsoles, those layers on the very bottom of your shoes that actually touch the ground. All of these fabrics combine to make the Eco Chukka lightweight — most shoes weigh at least five pounds, but the Eco Chukka is less than two — packable, moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, and nearly 100 percent biodegradable. (Whew, that’s a lot of trendy words.)


eco-friendly shoes

This infographic breaks down all the sustainable materials in the Eco Chukka shoes. / Image courtesy United By Blue

The downside? This fancy shoe isn’t cheap. When it hits shelves later this year, it’ll cost a cool $150. For comparison, Allbirds’ wool running shoes typically cost $95, Dr. Scholl’s sustainable styles come in at $100, and Toms sneakers top out at $89.95. (Here’s an old but good primer on why eco-friendly apparel and shoes tend to be expensive and another that’s more recent.) But there’s clearly an appetite for it: As of mid-day Wednesday, the Eco Chukka had raised $479,691 on Kickstarter. UBB had initially asked for $30,000.

“There are certainly people who will exclusively buy eco-friendly, fair-trade shoes, and it helps that they’re good-looking,” says Ethan Peck, a PR associate for UBB, when Be Well asked why he thinks the shoe has brought in so much money. “But, apart from it being eco-friendly, I think there’s a uniqueness around having something no one else has. At this point, everybody has Allbirds.”

eco-friendly shoes

The slip-on version of the Eco Chukka. / Photograph courtesy United By Blue

If your sustainable sneakerhead sense is going haywire right now, head to the Eco Chukka’s Kickstarter page, which will be live for just one more day. Options still available for backers range from $115 (one pair) to $285 (three pairs) for the standard style, but you can also fork over $90 for the slip-on version or $195 for one pair in each style, all of which will cost you less than if you’re buying the shoe in stores.

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