A vegan man’s quandary.
This article was originally published on my blog on March 2016. Things have changed since.
There are lots of vegan shoe options. Just take a look on Google Shopping, Amazon and more. The problem? They’re mostly women’s shoes, and most of the men’s shoes are simply not in my size — US 6.5 men’s. Before we look at the options, let’s do a little math. And yes, I have small feet. No, I don’t have problems with balance.
This calculator suggests that I only share my shoe size with only 1% of the population. The sample size is small here, and I suspect the real number is a little higher, but let’s use this number. More empirically, many shoe makers only make sizes down to 7 in their usual leather ranges, and 6.5 is the realm of boys’ sizes.
Having said that, I’ve owned some very long-lasting pairs of leather shoes and still have a pair of excellent court shoes for tennis.
Leather is extremely durable, and as a material it’s hard to beat. The problem of course is that not only does it come from cows, with all the vegan sentiment that brings, but leather production is extraordinarily polluting.
The working assumption here of course is that faux materials are much better for the environment than leather — and given the huge environment impact of cattle, I believe this is true — if the result lasts as long — more on that in a moment.
According to this undated article, there are 1 million vegans in the United States (I could use the the larger 7.3 million vegetarian number instead), with 41% of those, or 410,000 being men. Now, if we take the earlier number, there’s only about 4,000 vegan men in the United States with my shoe size!
Where to Look?
Every time I bring this matter up with people, they always respond “have you tried X”?. Well, yes. I have — this is not very helpful advice, since the person so ready to respond probably hasn’t really looked. In any case, let’s go shopping. I’m looking for shoes which are explicitly marked vegan or vegetarian. There are definitely shoes which are vegan, but not marked as such, but there’s no good way to search for those.
So let’s try:
Only two real results. The rather garish Tigers and Five Tens. I did actually order the Tigers at one point, but they proved to be very cheaply made, and clearly not worth wearing — returned.
A little better. The Tigers again, and also Vans. Yes, many Vans shoes are vegan — and I’ve owned a few pairs. The problem? They’re flat skate shoes and don’t offer fantastic support. The heels also wear down very quick (My odometer claims I do about 10,000 steps every day).
I did once find a great pair of dress shoes on eBay, but that was a one-off, and I was only able to wear them a couple of times before they fell apart after a few years.
Hooray! We’re doing a bit better. These are my current shoes. But they only make sneakers, and I want dress shoes too. They are comfortable — however, they simply don’t last long — they wear out (particularly the heel) after 5–6 months. In fact, the wear is so bad that the current pair is actually a replacement they gave them after I complained. Very nice of them, but untenable.
In a last-ditch attempt to find something a little dressier before my current pair wears out, I found a Fila pair. But immediately upon putting them on, it was clear they weren’t well made — the inner heel on the right was cut wrong, and I was stepping on the edge. And when I went to return them after a few weeks, I also noticed the heel was coming loose — failed again.
Nice! Lots of fancy vegan shoes, and in smaller sizes. The problem? No half sizes. Oh well.
So, after all this drama — a few things are clear — there’s very few vegan shoes in my size. Moreover, most of the ones that do exist are cheaply made. Most of these shoes are around $60 — you’d pay about the same for traditional.
The theory goes that if you pay twice as much for shoes, they’ll last more than twice as long. The problem is that I really have no such option. I’d definitely pay up for a custom pair — if I knew where to find them.
As an aside, and after quite a lot of looking, I found this rather awesome wallet make of cork. Keep looking I guess. Or perhaps take up cross-dressing.