What do Vegans Wear on their Feet?


The vegan runner who lines up next to me at the start of the weekly Park Run doesn’t even wear running shoes; he runs in bare feet and those feet look like something that would grace one of Tolkien’s hobbits. This got me thinking:

“What do vegans wear on their feet?”

It transpires that they wear quite a lot on their feet and I must admit that some of it looks quite smart. If Google is to be trusted then you can get shoes that, superficially, are almost indistinguishable from leather ones and they can even be polished to a reasonable shine (with the appropriate range of vegan cleaners and polishes, of course). Apparently if you’re a vegan soldier then the army has it covered in the shape of vegan combat boots.

“Get those vegan boots on son, at the double. Now go kill the enemy, take care no animals are caught in the crossfire.”

Vegan shoes do cost a fortune compared with leather shoes. Veganism in not a cheap option. The reasons for the expense are that there is low demand, and the materials are ‘innovative’. The manufacturers claim that the workers making them are fairly paid and a slice of your cash goes to some charity or other concerned with animal welfare. So vegan shoes are really just an expensive virtue signal worn on your feet.

Having forked out more of your hard earned vegan pounds for a pair of vegan shoes they then prove not to be as durable as leather ones so it’s back to the vegan shoe shop before you can say “chai latte with almond milk” for another pair. And speaking of vegan pounds needed to buy the shoes with, it turns out they are not vegan; vegans just can’t seem to catch a break.

Vegan shoes don’t have that distinctive smell of leather, which is another of those smells that takes me back to my childhood. As I was growing up, when it became apparent to my mother that I could no longer walk in the shoes I had without risking serious deformity, I would be taken to the local cobbler for a new pair. Like so many shops from my childhood, this was another of those small shops with a bell that went ‘ding’, rows of polished shoes on racks and a smell that I can recall even now some fifty years later; a unique mixture of leather, polish and rubber. The cobbler, a larger than life man with a Jimmy Edwards moustache, would measure my feet both for length and width and then a world of possibilities opened up as boxes of shoes were fetched from the back of the shop. Inevitably, I ended up with something much cheaper than I really wanted but I do recall getting a rather fine pair of shoes known as Clarks Wayfinders which had animal prints on the sole and a compass secreted inside one of the heels. These were advertised on our grainy monochrome TV as good outdoor shoes. You would always know what kind of animal you were tracking—just compare with your own footprint in the mud—and you would never get lost. The animal tracks lasted about a week, and I never used that compass, but what an exemplary incident of powerful early advertising.

I still love leather shoes and own several pairs. My Russell and Bromleys (I have owned two pairs for nearly twenty years) have been favourably commented on twice when emerging from the security scanner at airports and they still look as good as new. My army issue officer’s brogues were my pride and joy during my brief spell in HM armed forces and I had the toecaps polished to perfection. In fact, I still wore them occasionally thirty years later; they were only retired from active duty when we downsized, when my wife gave them the thumbs down. I cannot imagine becoming similarly attached to a pair of vegan shoes.

And on the debit side for vegan shoes there’s more. The materials from which they are made such as PVC are not as breathable as leather. This means that those expensive mobile virtue signals at the end of your legs will smell like a French fromagerie in no time at all. If announcing to all and sundry—as surely you will have done—that you are vegan has not already cleared a room, take off your shoes and that ought to do the trick. Did I mention PVC? Indeed, I did. So finally for that most sustainable and self-righteous of communities it also appears that the manufacture of vegan shoes is not sustainable, using as it does a range of petrochemicals and other products to ensure that no trace of a living creature is present. As a result, vegan shoes cannot be recycled. It turns out that, when it comes to making shoes, there is nothing more sustainable than Cows, few things less sustainable than Crocs.

Roger Watson is a Registered Nurse and Editor-in-Chief of Nurse Education in Practice.