How a shoe gets from Point A to Point B is important. Thanks to globalisation, production and purchase can now occur on opposite sides of the planet. We’ve summarised how transportation could be improved to promote sustainable and ethical business practices across the footwear industry.
Globalisation has led to a movement of manufacturing overseas. An increasing demand for low-cost clothing puts pressure on manufacturers to reduce their costs to meet the demands of big retailers. Generally speaking, this is done by outsourcing manufacturing to other countries where there are lower health & safety considerations e.g. exposure to harmful chemicals, long hours of repetitive motion, and structural neglect of factory buildings. (We covered the lack of H&S here when discussing the problems with manufacture.)
For this reason, Asia is the popular choice when outsourcing manufacture; 88% of global footwear production happens in this continent.  Due to this, Asian countries like China have a low average export price of $4.44 per pair of shoes. This is in comparison to European countries who are able to command much higher average export prices of $50.92 (Italy) or $31.88 (Portugal). 
Higher prices can indicate fair and humane operations - and there are more than a few examples around the globe.
Even though Asia is the largest shoe producer, other continents like Europe are still involved in footwear manufacture. Italy, Spain and Portugal are key players who have maintained their reputation despite outsourcing to Asia becoming mainstream.
The European part of the footwear industry directly employs 280,000  people of the 5.3 million industry members . But this proportion is decreasing: “the number of companies and employment in the footwear sector has been declining in the past decades due to manufacturing moving to economies with lower labour costs.” 
Supporting local economies is important for various reason - namely minimising carbon footprint - so we thought it would be useful to map the production location of various sustainable shoe brands around the globe.
How a product is wrapped up for the customer is also key. The main purpose of packaging is to protect the contents from damage between factory and user. There is however, some room for improvement:
Material selection needs considering
Are traditional cardboard shoe boxes the best option? Or do better alternatives exist?
Yes, we like to keep a hold of shoe boxes and repurpose them for storage - but many sit forgotten at the back of our wardrobes. Wouldn’t it be better to use less energy intensive methods, like take-back schemes or materials that naturally biodegrade?
Also, silica gel sachets are often used inside shoe boxes and might contain cobalt dichloride, which is a known carcinogen.
Unnecessary quantities of materials are used
Shoes often come stuffed and wrapped in newspaper, before being placed inside the cardboard shoe box, with additional paper providing the customer with information on the brand and the product. Depending on how the shoe was bought, there may be a plastic bag or padded envelope too.
What proportion of these materials are actually required? Does it serve a worthwhile purpose that justifies spending time, money and energy?
These questions and answers need evaluating. Tools and exercises like MODE Tracker or the LiDS wheel help assess different aspects of a product's lifespan. PUMA's clever little bag scheme created a reduction of 20 million megajoules of electricity, 1 million liters of water, 500,000 liters of diesel fuel, and 8,500 tons of paper per year. Not only are those environmentally sustainable changes, but economic too.
- Use our list of sustainable / ethical brands as a starting point and a benchmark for brand transparency, and aim to improve upon them.
- Spread the word about sustainable / ethical business practices through social media, for example, by jumping on the Fashion Revolution bandwagon and connecting with like-minded brands.
- Take a look at a few sustainable design strategies and implement them in your packaging. This could be through reducing the quantity of cardboard used, eliminating unnecessary paper and / or minimising the amount of printed information. Have you heard about Po-Zu’s compostable shoe box?
- Calculate the carbon footprint for your product and make changes to reduce it.