Category Archives: Shoes

Hazardous Chemicals in Footwear

plastskor i hög

There has been a lot of attention given to the use of chemicals used in textile and apparel production in the past.  We have heard of pesticides in cotton farming, dyeing and the finishing treatment of jeans. Many retailers have responded to the pressure from NGOs as well as consumers, and the use of organic cotton has grown exponentially since 2006.

There was only a matter of time before the footwear industry would have to take responsibility for the production of shoes. There are many components in a shoe which have been an excuse many footwear retailers have used to avoid the subject. However, large brands like NIKE and Timberland have showed that it is possible to exclude and replace certain chemicals to make safer products.

On September 14th 2009 the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation published the report ” Chemicals Up Close –  plastic shoes from all over the world” where 27 plastic shoes purchased in 7 different countries were tested for hazardous chemicals such as phthalates, heavy metals and tin organic compounds. There was found traces of all in most of the tested shoes.

The damaging implications of these chemicals are large, both for people and the environment. Cancer, liver failure, skin allergies and burns have been identified among workers who are exposed to large amounts over time.

“The environmental toxins in the shoes can spread to people and to the environment as the shoes become worn. There is also a considerable risk of them affecting the people involved in the manufacture of the shoes, says Mikael Karlsson, President of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation.”

For those that work in the footwear industry it is becoming increasingly important to identify these risks and take action in order to achieve a safer supply chain as well as a eco – safe product. If designers and buyers gain more knowledge about the properties of hazarouds chemicals, they can work together with the supplier to develop a eco -safe product.

You can find the report here.

The report refers to the new EU legislation on chemicals, REACH, where some of the tested chemicals are subject to be banned or restricted.

An October to Remember// Upcoming Events

October will have you wishing you could be in more than one city at the same time.

If you find yourself in Paris, Chicago, Providence, Portland, Hong Kong, London or Seattle this October, be sure to check out these amazing events. Click on the event you are interested in on the Events Calendar and we should link you straight into the events homepage.


Also, if you are near London in Oct. Nov. or Dec., be sure to stay tuned into the London College of Fashion, for Clash! Creative Collisions in Fashion and Science.

Clash! Creative Collisions in Fashion & Science


Last but not least, if you have an upcoming event you think are readers would be interested in, be sure to drop us a line.

Fairtrade Urban Shoes: Canadian Newcomer Oliberté and Veteran Veja

Rovia (mens) Grey Suede4

Thanks to Ethical Style for letting us know about Canadian designer Tal Dehtiar’s new shoe line, Oliberté. Oliberté claims to be the first footwear company to make urban shoes exclusively in Africa – based on Fairtrade principles. The shoes are made from locally sourced materials (leather and rubber) in West Africa (starting in January). Speaking on the issue of poverty in the continent, Dehtiar argues that “the only real way to alleviate poverty on this beautiful continent is to build a middle class that includes fair paying jobs.”

Rovia (mens) Grey Suede5

It will be interesting to see how this line develops. As of yet, there are no real details on the Fairtrade and/or environmental nature of its supply chain (i.e. wages or factory conditions- tanning leather is often associated with pretty nasty chemicals, as well as the harsh glues that may be used in assembly, etc.), as the company is not yet certified Fairtrade. I expect that more information on production will be made available on the website soon: Treehugger has reported that “[t]he company is working in partnership with factories to improve their environmental footprint. As they say: ‘we still have a long way to go, but we will continue to do all we can improve our materials, our production and our shoes.’ Oliberte will be supporting local training in the communities where they work.” Treehugger also reports that Oliberté is “consulting with the tanneries to meet environmental standards.” Thus, stay tuned for updates from this Canadian company.

One urban footwear company that has seemingly managed to maintain it’s foothold in Fairtrade manufacturing is Veja.

Veja Volley


If you aren’t already familiar with Veja, be sure to check them out straight away. Asking the question “Is another world possible?” Veja uses and supports wild latex production in the Amazonia to fight against deforestation:

Veja The GridVeja soles are made of natural latex coming straight from the Amazon Forest in the Chico Mendes reserve. The Amazon is the only place on earth where wild rubber trees are to be found […] Their activity, which does not require putting down any tree, is a great way to preserve the world’s largest forest. Natural rubber is renewable and biodegradable, as opposed to synthetic rubber or plastic, which is produced by using fossil and non-renewable materials. 

Veja also uses organic cotton, supports family agriculture and local cooperatives and uses ecological leather rather than chrome tanned leather (Veja has defined ecological leather as “chrome-free leather tanned with organic compounds only”). For more up-to date information on the happenings over at Veja, be sure to follow their blog.

Sidebar: Veja has just launched its first line of ethical bags, four years after introducing its trainers.

Veja Projet Numero Deux2

About these bags: organic cotton and leather tanned without chromium.



Source: Ethical Style, Treehugger, Oliberté, The Globe and Mail, PR Web and Veja

Images courtesy of: Oliberté and Veja

Social Alterations is now on Ning!



You can use this space to share and upload curricula ideas, lesson plans, visual aids, research and projects, or to just discuss the current happenings in the industry with respect to social issues and environmental concerns, as well as the latest trends in socially responsible design.




“See” you in the Forum! Oh…and don’t forget to pick up your Social Alterations Badge!


Visit Social Alterations

Social Alterations: Forum

How can education foster sustainable change toward socially responsible fashion and apparel design and manufacturing practices?

Social Alterations Forum

Social Alterations hopes to foster socially responsible fashion design education through aggregating relevant material that will inspire fashion/textile and apparel instructors, researchers, designers and design enthusiasts to get on board with thinking about consequence in the industry.

Sign up to the Social Alterations Forum if you’re interested in sharing and contributing ideas on curriculum, research, projects, materials, design, etc. with this community.

FEI Staff Training and Student Workshops

FEI Staff Training and Student Workshops

Ethics have a high profile in the fashion industry today. Are you equipped, as a tutor or student, with the knowledge and skills to engage with these issues?

Fashioning an Ethical Industry (FEI) runs staff training and student workshops at schools, colleges and universities on themes related to working conditions in garment manufacture. Through our training events we encourage staff and students to critically examine different perspectives on workers’ rights and initiatives to improve conditions.
FEI training combines our extensive knowledge with a participatory educational approach, building on participants’ existing knowledge and experience and using a range of activities and different media such as films, role-play and presentations.


More info: Fashioning an Ethical Industry

Source: FEI

How does “Poison Plastic” translate to “Sustainable Plastic”? Anyone?


And so, as promised, I had sent an email requesting more information on PVC to Melissa (via Arbec Group), Vivienne Westwood and Grendene.


I received an email response from the Arbec Group immediately asking me which environmental and safety concerns I was referring to. A simple Google search might have given them an idea, but none the less, here was my response:


According to this 2005 Greenbiz article, “[h]azardous chemicals are used and released in this commonly used material, the second highest selling plastic in the world. Studies show links between chemicals created and used during the PVC lifecycle and cancer, reproductive and immune system damage, and asthma”.  The article claims that many companies have taken action in eliminating PVC from their products due to health, safety and environmental concerns such as Microsoft, Crabtree and Evelyn, Wal-Mart, HP, Adidas, Aveda, Bath and Body Works, the Body Shop, Gerber, Honda, Ikea, Lego Systems, Nike, Samsung, SC Johnson, Shaw Carpet, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Volkswagen, and Volvo. And of course, MEC as mentioned in the earlier post. The Centre for Health, Environment and Justice even maintains a “PVC: The Poison Plastic” campaign.


I have yet to hear back, but when I do I will post an update.  


So what do we have?

-These shoes are being marketed and sold as sustainable.

-We know that in 2005 companies such as adidas, Nike and Wal-Mart took steps to remove PVC from their products, as a result of the hazardous nature of the material.

-Melissa claims that Grendene is the “holder of exclusive injected thermoplastic”

-According to their website, Melissa has trademarked ‘MELFLEX’ which is “hypoallergenic and 100% safe for your health. It is odourless, neutral and natural”

-The companies involved have yet to comment on the hazardous reputation of PVC in the textile and apparel industry.


Let’s talk briefly on the importance of understanding the lifecycle of a garment. It may be true that the factory producing the PVC for this shoe company maintains “practically zero waste” and that the shoes are easily recyclable in house. The company boasts the sale of 176 million pairs of shoes per year. Surely all of these shoes are not sent back to the original factory in Brazil for proper breakdown.


There are quite a few shocking factors at play here: that a fashion/apparel company could so blatantly market itself as sustainable without feeling the need to support its claim; that the entire lifecycle (particularly post consumer) of the PVC is not taken into consideration when stressing the company’s take on its plastic “ecological manifesto”; and the lack of response for comment on the ‘sustainable nature of PVC’


Greenbiz article is available here

“PVC: The Poison Plastic” campaign is available here