Working as a management consultant with zero fashion experience, I didn’t set out to be a shoe designer or even work in the fashion industry. However, in 2018 I came up with an idea I couldn’t get out of my head and have spent the last 4 years building a sustainable brand around it. It started when I moved to Amsterdam and began working from home. Spending a lot more time in my apartment, I tried to build good habits — namely not sitting all day — and realized that every day I was choosing between wearing comfortable outdoor sneakers or ugly, unsupportive slippers to be comfortable on my feet at home. After searching for months and not finding any slippers that had a hint of style with actual foot support, I decided to create them. And Dooeys was born.
I knew I wanted to design something that looked different from traditional slippers. So, I invented what I call the slipshoe® — the perfect combination between a cozy slipper and a stylish yet supportive shoe. As I began researching materials, I quickly learned how harmful an impact the fashion industry has on the planet — contributing 10% of global carbon emissions. I knew from that moment that a core part of the Dooeys brand would be a commitment to sustainability.
Through this experience, I learned how to build a sustainable business. And I also picked up a lot of great resources and tips that I use in my personal life on how to shop sustainably and what to look for in brands.
Choosing Plant-Based & Recycled Materials
I recognized if I wanted to create sustainable slippers with an elevated design, I would have to avoid the traditional materials you see in most slippers on the market today. These include felt, virgin polyester, and materials made from animals, such as suede, wool, shearling, and leather.
I spent a year and a half sourcing and testing high-quality, sustainable materials. The result is the slipshoes you see today — stylish and supportive designs made using only plant-based and recycled materials (100% vegan). We use a beautiful bio-based leather made from apples, sneaker-like soles made with sugarcane EVA, lining made from recycled plastic, and arch-supporting insoles made from cork and recycled foam.
These materials reduce the CO2 impact by minimizing waste and replacing environmentally harmful substances with bio-based alternatives. For example, the apple leather we use is made from apple skins and cores that the apple juice industry would otherwise discard as waste. Ground into a powder, the skins and cores are used to make beautiful, yet durable vegan leather. This has a significantly lower environmental impact than the process of producing real animal leather — not to mention it’s cruelty-free.
As for the sugarcane EVA we use for our soles, the sugarcane replaces petroleum-based material found in normal EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), so we’re able to achieve the same softness and flexibility of the EVA you’d find in a pair of sneakers but in a more sustainable way. Plus, raw sugarcane is a renewable resource that actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing CO2 in the atmosphere.
Tip #1: When shopping for clothing online, check the website for details about the materials the brand uses in its products
Look for materials made from natural, plant-based, or recycled fibers or organic materials. Some great materials to keep an eye out for organic cotton, hemp, lyocell/Tencel, plant-based leather (cactus, apple, pineapple, mushroom, etc.), recycled polyester, cork, and recycled rubber. You should be able to find this information on the product page or a How They’re Made, Materials, or Sustainability page. If the brand isn’t transparent about its materials and processes, it’s likely not a great choice.
Building a Business Around Sustainability
Sustainability goes further than what a product is made of. It’s the packaging, who makes your products, where they’re manufactured, how you transport them, and so much more. At Dooeys, we take the time and use the resources to do things the right way. So, not only do we make our product from all recycled materials but we are also committed to carbon neutral shipping, which means that our product produces a net zero amount of carbon dioxide. Our packaging is made from recycled cardboard and recycled paper and our shoe box is also the shipping box.
Tip #2: Understand what packaging the brand uses and how it’s shipped
This is usually highlighted on the product page. If not, you can do a quick Google image or video search for the product name and include “unboxing” to see what the packaging looks like. A brand that avoids a box within a shipping box and chooses recycled — and recyclable — materials is the way to go. Look for phrases like “carbon neutral” to see if the brand offsets emissions. You can also look for callouts like “1% for the Planet” or an About page to see if the brand gives back in some way.
The Ethical Impact
Manufacturing ethically was a natural extension of our brand. Going beyond the sustainability impact, being socially responsible was very important as well. For us, that means we ethically manufacture our slippers in small batches in northern Portugal, instead of going the cheaper route and finding a low-cost solution where labor exploitation or forced labor is running rampant. It was important to us that our product be handcrafted by workers making a living wage and that we would make a positive impact on the community surrounding the facility.
Additionally, we strive to always choose the lowest impact form of transportation to our warehouse in the U.S., we offset the carbon emissions of shipping every order, and we give back to environmental organizations throughout the year. We’re not perfect, but we’re always trying to be better to reduce our impact on the environment.
Tip #3: Find out where the product is made and who makes it
Make sure the workers earn a fair wage and work in a safe and healthy environment. It’s not a good sign if it’s difficult to find where a product is made on a brand’s website.
Easy Ways To Shop Sustainably
Shopping sustainably isn’t hard, but it is important to adjust your mindset. It can be easy to fall into the budget traps from fast fashion prices but we need to shift our outlook and realize the value of investing in high-quality pieces that we’ll love for years to come. If you’re interested in sustainable shopping but don’t really want to research every brand individually, there are many marketplaces and directories that cater to the conscious consumer. These websites have vetted these brands for their commitment to sustainability and ethical production. So, they’ve done the work for you, making it simple to shop sustainably.
Tip #4: Shop from marketplaces that focus on sustainable products and ethical manufacturing
Some marketplaces to consider include Made Trade, Verishop, and OurGoodBrands.
About the Author
Jordan Clark is the founder of Dooeys — a brand reimagining slippers for modern home life in a stylish and sustainable way.