Vibram’s toe shoes skyrocketed in popularity amongst outdoor enthusiasts, but “We Avoid” the brand for its lack of robust ethics and sustainability across the board. And maybe also for the questionable aesthetics.
Vibram isn’t quite toeing the line
If you’re in the running scene, you’ve likely heard of (or even tried) the infamous “toe shoes”, designed to mimic barefoot running. Perhaps the most well-known brand offering “FiveFingers Shoes” is US-based Vibram. Toe shoes are likely poor for your health when running, not to mention aesthetically questionable—but how does Vibram specifically treat people, the planet, and animals in production? How sustainable and ethical is Vibram? Let’s jump in—in better-looking footwear, please.
For a brand that has an entire section of its website dedicated to “the sustainable way to a careful footprint”, Vibram isn’t taking enough steps to tackle its environmental impact. Rated “Not Good Enough” for the planet, the only positive we can see is that Vibram uses some renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact. But when you’re producing hundreds of styles made from unsustainable, plastic-based materials, there’s only so much renewable energy can do.
Vibram does not use eco-friendly materials, and there is no evidence it minimises textile waste. It also doesn’t appear to have a policy to protect biodiversity in its supply chain. There’s a long way to go before Vibram could be called sustainable, but we’re curious to see where its “Sustainable Way” project leads.
Unfortunately, things are only looking worse when it comes to labour conditions, for which the brand gets our lowest score of “Very Poor”.
While Vibram states it has a Code of Conduct, it doesn’t publicly share it, which is a misstep in the era of transparency. There is no evidence it has worker empowerment initiatives such as collective bargaining or rights to make a complaint, nor does it appear to audit its supply chain. Worst of all, we found no sign the brand ensures payment of a living wage to its workers.
Step up for people, Vibram.
Vibram is also “Not Good Enough” for animals. While the brand doesn’t use fur, down, angora, or exotic animal skin, it does use leather and wool without stating sources. We found no evidence of a policy to minimise animal suffering, nor that the brand traces animal products even to the first production stage.
Overall rating: We Avoid
So, how sustainable and ethical is Vibram? Overall, we have rated Vibram our lowest possible score of “We Avoid” to reflect its lack of concrete action across the three key areas of people, the planet, and animals. Vibram could start by being more transparent about its policies and progress, work towards paying a living wage across its supply chain, and consider animal welfare for the animal-based materials in its footwear.
Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.
Okay, we may not have a direct sustainable swap for toe shoes, but these brands create sneakers and running shoes with values and practices worth a spot on your shoe rack.
“Good”, “Great”, and second hand alternatives to Vibram