Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Saola Is Making Your New Favorite Leather Shoes. Except They’re Not Made From Leather

Move over, Allbirds. There’s a new sustainable shoe in town.

Let’s be honest. As much as we love the warm, fuzzy factor of President Obama’s favorite sustainable shoe, the weather doesn’t always warrant that level of insulation. Also, scrubbing stains out of wool is no bueno. And it must be said that the glamour of sharing the same kicks as Woody Harrelson and other celebrities has been deflated just a bit since our moms started wearing Allbirds. (Can’t blame ‘em.)

But all of those were reasons why we were thrilled to discover Saola, a new eco-friendly shoe on the market. Like Allbirds, they’re sustainably made from recycled material and renewable resources and are sinfully comfortable on the soles. Plus, these shoes bring a fresh range of styles that round out the shoe closet for all seasons.

Created by a small team of fun-loving outdoor, surf, and footwear industry veterans, Saola’s first mission was to implement as many recycled and bio-based materials as possible. The insoles are built from Bloom Foam, a material made from harvested algae and recycled EVA that cleans lakes of harmful overgrowth, prevents the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, cuts down synthetic use by 20% — oh, and results in heavenly comfort for your feet. (Especially when combined with renewable cork, as you’ll find in many of Saola’s styles.) Saola uppers are made from PET (i.e., recycled plastic bottles and other packaging materials), offering a second life to plastic while reducing landfill trash.

But don’t worry, all this repurposed material doesn’t actually amount to wearing plastic and algae on your feet. The fashion technology for reconstituted PET has come so far that the Saola shoe is indistinguishable from the animal-based textiles they’re meant to imitate. We’ve been sporting Saola kicks around town for a few months now and still forget that they’re not real suede. (Which makes the odd mud splash or coffee spillage a lot less stressful.)


Now that we’ve reviewed the sustainability angle, let’s talk about style. Saola specializes in a sneaker boot profile that features the higher cuff and sturdier construction of a hiking boot, but with the flexibility and comfort of a sneaker. If you’re the type that hates packing your trainers away during the winter, Saola can keep looking summertime-fresh with their line of sustainable kicks. We love theBaikal with its padded ankle, rubber paneled outsole, and “casual Friday” panache that transitions seamlessly to the weekend. If a mid-top is more your speed, the Niseko offers a sleek, minimal silhouette with the high-class patina of leather. Except it’s not leather.


All friendly competition aside, there’s more than enough room for eco-friendly fashion companies to share the market. We love seeing how Saola and its fellow sustainable shoe brands are transforming the market and challenging the old guard to step up its game.

Editors' Recommendations