5 Sustainable Kids Shoes For School & Play [Reviewed]

My 4-year-old daughter is a very physical kid, who also happens to have extremely strong opinions about her fashion choices. She has always leaned toward dresses (we suspect due to the increased mobility), and favors sandals, ballet flats, or rain boots for her daily footwear. Once she started school, we began an all-out campaign to get her to love athletic shoes, with fair-to-middling results. While she could tell that she was able to run faster and more safely (less falls, less toe stubs, etc) in sneakers, she wasn’t very impressed with the aesthetics.

So when the opportunity came to try out these five sustainable brands, she and I pored over their inventories together, and she chose the colors and styles she liked best. We opted primarily for closed toes, though I did let her choose some sandals, since those are her preference for the weekends. (Like any toddler mom looking to stretch her budget, I also got all the shoes in a bigger size. So if you notice any gapping, it’s because we sized up in the hopes of getting to wear them for longer!)

When you’ve got an only child who grows through their clothes at the speed of light, it can feel even more important to make sustainable choices: we do a lot of thrifting and trades with friends, but once the kids reach pre-K, shoes can get harder to find. Kids are just hard on shoes. So if we’re going to buy new, we want to be sure the brands we choose are as eco-friendly and ethical as possible. Check out these five sustainable brands, all kid-tested and approved by one extremely active 4-year-old.


1. Smallbirds 

Our Picks | Smallbirds Wool Loungers and Smallbirds Wool Runners
Materials | ZQRx Regenerative Merino Wool
Sizes | 5T–3Y
Price Range | $55–$80

Allbirds, a TGT fave for sustainable footwear and athletic clothing, has a super adorable kids line called Smallbirds (I know, right!?). These are the perfect sneaker for any kid that morally objects to socks. Easy to slip on and crafted from the same itch-free ethical and regenerative wool we know and love from the adult styles, these babies were an instant hit with my kid. When I told her they were washable, she made a point of getting them dirty, just so we could test it out. She was delighted when they came through the wash good as new! We especially love how easy they are for her to put on and take off on her own while remaining secure on her feet when she’s running (sockless, obvs) around playing soccer with her dad.


2. Veja Kids

Our Pick | Esplar Chromefree Leather
Materials | Chromium-free leather, rubber and rice waste, sugar cane, organic cotton, recycled polyester
Sizes | European sizes 21–39
Price Range | $64–$127

These were without a doubt the fanciest (and priciest!) of the bunch, but my kid took to them instantly. They are comfortable, supportive, and easy for her to take on and off independently. Made from sustainable recycled materials and leather that is tanned in a process free from chromium and other harsh chemicals that are bad for the environment. These are sneaks that go with absolutely everything, and they make my daughter feel extremely *cool* (peep that cool kid squat below!).

Though they are white and therefore became instantly dirty on their inaugural neighborhood walk, they wipe off super easy with a wet cloth. The interior, made from sugar cane and organic cotton, is so soft that my kid skips the socks (her preferred style). With an over $100 price tag, I had extremely high standards for these shoes, but they delivered on all fronts. We love them so much I feel like I need a matching pair…


3. Rothys

Our Pick | The Kids Sneaker
Materials | Knit from Rothy’s signature thread (spun from plastic water bottles)
Sizes | 10–4
Price Range | $55–$85

Rothys makes all of its shoes from an innovative thread spun from plastic water bottles and marine waste. They prioritize using natural materials as well, like recycled rubber and renewable algae for their footbeds! The ultra-flexible material also makes their shoes washable. Even cooler? Their factory in China is the first to achieve LEED Zero Waste Certification! This means that they’ve reached net zero or net positive status in the categories of carbon, energy, water, or waste.

But my daughter was more interested in the rainbows. The cute terry design offers a fun pop of color and texture to these cute slip-ons. She also discovered that the sturdy toes are good for “practicing ballet,” or giving her mom a heart attack by teetering around on her toes. These are definitely too big for her right now, but I can tell they will be heavy on rotation as soon as she grows into them.


4. Native Shoes

Our Pick | Frankie Sugarlite and Charley Sugarlite
Materials | Bio-based materials, rubber, EVA
Sizes | 2T–6
Price Range | $32–$70

While the most popular Native Shoes kids’ collection among my friends is their best-selling Jefferson style, my child just will not try it. (It’s my fault: I picked up a thrifted knock-off version that gave her blisters once.) She was all about the sandals instead, delighted by the color choices, which she declared “So cute and pretty!” With a sugar-derived sole that is perfect for jumping in puddles and splash parks, these cute sandals are lightweight, hand-washable, and odor-resistant. The hook-and-loop straps are toddler-friendly and the color combos are cheery and bright. While the Frankie style fit her well in the size up, the Charley is a bit big––so we basically have a pair for now and another that is perfect for next summer!


5. Teva

Our Pick | Midform Universal
Materials | REPREVE® polyester yarn, EVA-foam, rubber, recycled plastic
Sizes | Infant–7
Price Range | $26–$75

I have a pair of Tevas that have been with me for nearly twenty years, so I know firsthand how well these shoes withstand the test of hard wear and time. I was so excited to get my daughter some adventure sandals, but she had thoughts of her own! With her preference for clomping around the house in my heels, it was no surprise that my daughter chose the mid-form sandals from Teva. Made from recycled materials, these cute sandals are cushy yet sturdy, with a flexible adjustable strap that she has delighted in fitting herself. While they aren’t exactly the ideal footwear for a hike, they are a much safer alternative to the aforementioned pilfered heels, which have a tendency to twist her tiny ankles and make her fall. She’s been reaching for these when she wants to feel “fancy but in a cool way.” And honestly, they nail it.