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Is Steve Madden Sustainable? A Look Into the Buzzy Footwear Brand

Everyone seems to be obsessed with Steve Madden right now—but how sustainable is the buzzy footwear brand? Here's a breakdown.

Written by
Angelica Pizza

Steve Madden is known for being a more affordable luxury fashion brand, specializing in footwear and accessories.

Similar to the UGG boot revival, its boots, heels, and even sneakers not only follow today's trends but also start them. The brand's Mary Jane platform heels were even spotted in a recent episode of the hit HBO show Euphoria.

Many fashion brands fall under the fast fashion category, representing unsustainable and unethical practices. And because of this, the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to global warming and climate change.

However, to combat the fashion industry's massive carbon footprint, brands are starting to prioritize the planet—Steve Madden, included. Cool Planet is one of the brand's newest collections, featuring some of its most popular shoes made in a more sustainable manner.

But how eco-friendly is the line, really? And how far is the brand from being truly sustainable? In this guide, we break down everything you should know.

Steve Madden's Cool Planet Collection

Cool Planet is Steve Madden's sustainable shoe line, launched in Spring 2021. According to the website, the shoes are for those who believe in a "world where fashion and sustainability live together."

The shoe line features most of Steve Madden's signature looks. From platform boots to canvas sneakers to slip-on sandals, consumers are bound to find luxury, sustainable footwear they love for affordable prices.

Each pair of shoes comes with a materials highlight, explaining what was used in the production process. And for every pair purchased, Steve Madden planets a tree in partnership with One Tree Planted, a non-profit that's committed to restoration efforts.

The new line's mission is threefold: to use less, reuse more, and be transparent.

Use Less

According to the brand, using less means conserving nonrenewable resources. So to make Cool Planet shoes, Steve Madden avoids using new materials. Instead, the brand uses recycled materials to prevent textile waste and plastic waste from ending up in a landfill.

Shoe outsoles are made using recycled plastic and rubber materials. Shoelaces are also made from recycled materials, including recycled cotton, recycled polyester, or fibers containing recycled plastic bottles.

Cool Planet shoes also use water-based polyurethane, a flexible material that creates less waste and water pollution because it doesn't contain toxic solvents. The shoes even contain an algae foam that's carbon-neutral and decreases the need for petroleum.

Using less also isn't limited to the materials used to make the shoes. It also includes the packaging. The shoeboxes are recyclable and made from 90% post-consumer waste. Overall, using less means conserving water, energy, and raw materials and eliminating the need for harsh chemicals.

Reuse More

According to Steve Madden's 2020 Sustainability Report, the brand is transitioning to more environmentally preferred materials (EPMs). This includes more recycled inputs, less toxic chemicals, less pollution, and less energy. The main aspect of this category is to use more bio-based inputs from plant-based, renewable materials.

Again, Cool Planet aims to salvage waste that would normally get sent to landfills. This includes plastic bottles, memory foam, and synthetic textiles. As previously mentioned, the shoelaces, outsoles, textiles, and packaging are made using recycled materials. And some Cool Planet shoes contain vegan leather made from water-based polyurethane.

However, it's important to note that not all of Steve Madden's shoes feature recycled and vegan materials. Other collections have their own sustainability insights.

Be Transparent

Cool Planet's third mission is to be more transparent. This includes sharing the material contents of each shoe and reporting on Steve Madden's global tree-planting projects. To do this, the company gives a breakdown of the materials used to make each shoe, which you can read about before purchasing.

The company also releases an annual, all-encompassing sustainability report. The report includes the brand's other collections as well, not just Cool Planet. The 2021 Sustainability Report hasn't been released.

Steve Madden and Sustainability

According to the 2020 Sustainability Report, Steve Madden is "expanding [its] efforts to protect and enhance the well-being" of its employees, partners, suppliers, communities, and the planet.

To do this, the company says it's prioritizing safe products and environments for both consumers and employees, democratizing sustainable fashion, engaging in communities, and responding to natural disasters.

Sustainability Goals

By 2025, the company aims to train 100% of designers on sustainable design principles and to make sustainable fashion obtainable using sustainable materials across Steve Madden’s brand portfolio. 100% of the brand's packaging will also be made with recycled or renewable materials, and 100% of its suppliers will be trained in waste reduction.

In this time, Steve Madden's goal is to achieve carbon neutrality across operations, establish a water use baseline, and partner with suppliers that also aim to reduce water usage and support regional solutions in water-stressed communities.

However, by 2025, the brand aims for only 50% of products to be made with environmentally friendly materials—and there's little information on what the other half will be made of. Additionally, most of the brand's goals do not extend beyond 2030, leaving consumers wondering what the company's long-term goals are.

Snapshot: Steps Toward Sustainability

To achieve zero waste, Steve Madden has worked toward a more circular economy, using waste as a resource.

The company was one of three sponsoring brands of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) Shoe Waste Program from November 2019 to November 2020. Within this program, the company reduced total waste to landfills or incineration by 54.6% and saw a 6.7% increase in how much waste was recycled, according to the 2020 Sustainability Report.

Additionally, the company is monitoring greenhouse gas emissions. In 2020, Steve Madden expanded emissions reduction efforts to its supply chain, used more renewable energy, and assisted five factory partners in energy efficiency initiatives. So far, the efforts have reduced carbon emissions by roughly 10,500 metric tons.

To use more EPMs, Cool Planet, Mad Love, Dolce Vita CLEAR, and GREATS product lines have worked with supplies to reduce their environmental impacts. Most of the products within these collections are certified with the Organic Content Standard (OCS) and the Global Recycled Standard (GRS).

Like the shoes, several of Steve Madden's accessories also contain leather; however, to reduce the environmental impact, the company opts for vegan leather when possible. Right now, Dolce Vita CLEAR only has two pairs of shoes that are made with chrome-free leather. And GREATS only has one pair of sneakers made with recycled leather.

The brand also has a REBOOTED collection, a place for consumers to buy and sell used Steve Madden products to keep textiles out of landfills.

To read more about Steve Madden's steps toward sustainability, read the company's full 2020 Sustainability Report and keep an eye out for the 2021 report.

The Takeaway

While Steve Madden is launching more eco-friendly product lines and is making efforts to be more sustainable in most aspects of the supply chain, it's important to note that the fashion industry still has a major impact on the environment. And Steve Madden, along with other fast fashion companies, can do better.

The fashion industry makes up about 10% of all human-made carbon emissions, with about 85% of textiles getting trashed each year. Many fashion brands, including Steve Madden, are opting to use recycled or natural productions to mitigate climate change's impact. But it may not be enough.

Swapping your go-to products for sustainably-made options is a good start to living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. And Cool Planet by Steve Madden may be a better option in comparison to other fast footwear brands.

However, to avoid participating in fast fashion, shop at local or online thrift stores for secondhand pieces. Buying secondhand prevents perfectly good products from getting sent to the landfill, and it doesn't contribute to production pollution.

And to be sure you're only making necessary purchases, check out these 10 questions to ask yourself before going shopping. You may realize you don't actually need new products. Plus, there are plenty of ways to upcycle or revive products (and footwear) you already own. Check out our guide on how to clean shoes and how to recycle shoes.