After reviewing Soludos’ popular Rainbow Wave Sneakers in one of my previous articles, I wanted to look more at one of Soludos’ more ‘sustainable’ collections. After seeing the negative effects of the leather industry that came along with the production process of the Rainbow Wave Sneakers, I decided to focus on Soludos’ Yebo Vegan Sneakers for this review. As I mentioned in my last article, Soludos had a pattern in being much more transparent about the sourcing and manufacturing process for their sustainable collections like their Ashore and Yebo Vegan Sneakers than for their popular sneakers. After comparing the production and sourcing transparency of Soludos’ more popular sneakers with their Yebo Vegan Sneaker, I found that Soludos was much more forthcoming about the sourcing process of the Yebo Vegan Sneakers than shoes like the Rainbow Wave Sneakers. After observing the large differences in transparency, I felt deceived; I almost justified the lack of transparency within the company and unsustainable use of leather in the Rainbow Wave Sneakers with the ‘sustainable’ progress Soludos was creating with their vegan sneakers. The attempt to focus the consumer’s attention on the sustainability within the vegan sneakers takes away from Soludos’ credibility and establishes a feeling of mistrust. The overwhelming transparency seen in the Yebo Vegan Sneakers gives me the impression that Soludos is trying to hide potentially unsustainable practices used in the production of their more popular sneakers. At the moment, Soludos does not seem trustworthy; for them to take a first step towards improving their sustainability, I would like to see them being open with the production and sourcing process of all their sneakers. On a surface level, the Yebo Vegan Sneakers seem like a great sustainable alternative to other shoe brands, but the sustainability and transparency in the Yebo Vegan Sneakers do not match up with the rest of their website. Sustainability and eco-friendly materials is central to the production of Yebo Vegan Sneakers, but it is suspicious that the overall Soludos brand is not as focused on sustainability as the vegan sneakers would insinuate. The vegan sneakers feel greenwashed because if Soludos has the ability and capacity to make sustainable shoes like the Yebo vegan shoes, I question their motives as to why they do not make all of their shoes this sustainable. Thus, the Yebo Vegan sneakers earn an overall low score, as elements of their production process, sourcing, and company motivations feel quite greenwashed.
The vegan sneakers are $139, and the upper part of the shoe is a combination of plant-based leather, “recycled polyester, and organic cotton laces.” The plant-based leather is 47% derived from non-edible corn grown in Italy and mixed with recycled plastic bottles. The choice to use plant-based leather over traditional vegan leather is more sustainable, as traditional vegan leather is often petroleum-based or derived from fossil fuels. Thus, the choice to switch to plant-based leather is commendable, as sourcing from farmers who grow corn for the plant-based leather is a more sustainable option than directly funding the oil industry and all the negative environmental impacts that come with it. The use of non-edible corn also has some benefits, as it is creating a new industry for a more sustainable fabric that will not compete with corn necessary for consumption or livestock production. However, these farms may use excessive water and may cause fertilizer pollution and potential deforestation. Plant-based leather derived from corn is a fairly new material in the textile industry, so Soludos’ attempt to mainstream the material may cultivate more awareness and desire for plant-based leather. As for the lower half of the sneakers, the sole is sourced from Portugal and made from “70% recycled rubber, 20% natural rubber, and 10% cork.” Like the plant-based leather, the concept of recycled and natural rubber is admirable and would earn planets for its circular life cycle, but there are no legitimate ways to confirm Soludos’ true use of recycled rubber until they release more detailed reports. It is difficult to fully believe the sustainable aspects and sourcing of the Yebo Vegan sneakers at the moment, as there are no legitimate certifications or reports that can confirm that Soludos is truly using sustainable plant-based leather. When accounting for Soludos’ company values lacking in sustainability and disappointing transparency with their other products, I feel that Soludos is greenwashing their Yebo Vegan sneakers. I am skeptical about the use of such eco-friendly materials when Soludos has made no effort to be this sustainable for any of their other more popular sneakers, and I am curious as to why they hype up the sustainability of these shoes while there is no acknowledgment of their own environmental impact on their main website. I am hesitant to trust Soludos right now, but I would be more inclined to believe Soludos if they gave more information on their sourcing partners in Italy and Portugal and documented the sustainability of their supply chain. As good as the Yebo Vegan Sneakers may seem from a consumer standpoint, I cannot fully support the purchase of sneakers from Soludos until I see the same eco-friendly values reflected in their other products and overall company goals.
The description on the Yebo Vegan Sneakers webpage details that a factory in Porto, Portugal produces the rubber sole of the shoe. For the upper half of the sneakers made out of plant-based leather, Soludos does not detail how they produce their corn leather, and general production of leather derived from corn is also difficult to find much about, as it is a new material that has not been in the market for much time. After some research though, I found that other plant-based leather companies describe extracting an oil called bio polyol from corn that is mixed with polyurethane, a more sustainable plastic, to form a durable leather. Although some polyurethane is still mixed in with the derived corn oil, the additional bio polyol makes the shoe biodegradable after its use, creating a more sustainable life cycle. Additionally, the choice of plant-based leather over traditional leather greatly reduces the large carbon footprint that traditional leather normally releases. Similarly, recycled rubber utilizes a circular lifecycle and is far more sustainable than producing new rubber for each shoe, as rubber that ends up in landfills pollutes the ecosystem and leeches harmful chemicals into groundwater. However, as I mentioned before, I cannot determine if Soludos is truly using sustainable materials. As for the production process, no information is given about how the factory in Porto assembles the shoes, but there is a photo on their website that depicts a man, surrounded by various machines and tools, using a hammer to create the shoe. It is frustrating to see the lack of transparency and even though information is limited, it seems like the shoes may be both partly handmade and assembled by machines. A downside, however, is the high price of the shoes, $139, making them less accessible to different communities. Another negative impact Soludos may have on the environment is the outsourcing of shoe production. Having the shoes and materials produced in another country and materials sourced from various areas will release high carbon emissions for transporting various materials.
On Soludos’ website, I found that there are workers in factories located in Porto, Portugal, and production staff visit these factories to ensure ethical working standards. As I mentioned in my other article on Soludos’ Rainbow Wave Sneakers, Soludos is not very transparent about exactly who is working in their Portugal factories and what their working conditions are like. However, after some research, I found that Soludos was founded by Nick Brown in 2010, and in an interview with Vogue, Brown talks about choosing and visiting his factory abroad in Spain. The factory in Alicante, Spain, is a family-owned factory that spans four generations that produces Soludos’ espadrilles. For the espadrilles, the workers in Spain use machines to create the soles of the shoes, and the soles are then pressed into metal molds to form the rubber pattern of the sole. From this interview, it seems like Brown works with a family-owned factory with ethical working conditions in Spain for his espadrilles, but I cannot say the same for the workers in Porto, Portugal. Thus, I would like more transparency from Soludos about the workers in Portugal before considering buying their shoes. Another concerning aspect is the treatment of farmers in Italy who grow non-edible corn for producing plant-based leather. There is limited information on the specific company Soludos partners with for sourcing the non-edible corn, and the general agricultural industry is known for its intensive labor processes for harvesting crops and exploitation of farmworkers and laborers.