Have you checked out all the options for cool vintage sneakers lately? There’s never been a better selection of used athletic shoes, and from an environmental standpoint, buying preowned vs. fast fashion is a great way to go.
There are a lot of shoes on Planet Earth, and most of them aren’t being walked around in. According to the Shoe Industry blog, we produce about 20 billion pairs of shoes every year, and a staggering 300 million pairs get thrown away. Leather sneakers and shoes can take up to 40 years to decompose and, as they do, unhealthy chemicals are released into the environment. And chemicals like ethylene vinyl acetate that are commonly used in the soles of shoes can take 1,000 years to decompose.
So, it’s good to:
- Not throw your old sneakers and shoes into the trash
- Donate your used sneakers and shoes
- Sell your used sneakers and shoes
- Buy used sneakers and shoes
- Buy sneakers and shoes made with eco-friendly materials, such as hemp or recycled materials
Because there are so many sneakers and shoes that are already in circulation, you’ve never had better odds of finding the perfect pair to suit your fancy. In fact, I’ve been reading that the used clothing, shoes, and accessories market is going to surpass new goods in the next few years, which makes total sense for our beleaguered planet.
And, if you want to make some extra cash, most of the places where you can buy great vintage sneakers and other used shoes let you sell shoes there too.
To my vegan friends, one note about this post: Many vintage sneakers, like vintage shoes, are not vegan. If you don’t want to wear animal skin, even if it’s in used shoes or accessories, be sure to read the product descriptions or reach out to the sellers directly to verify what the product is made of before you buy.
From an environmental standpoint, it’s good to keep old shoes out of the landfill, so I leave the choice of wearing “used leather” or “never wearing leather” entirely up to you. But because UniGuide is a PETA Approved and 100% vegan site, I will do my best not to include images in this post of sneakers that have leather or suede in them. (If you do see some, it was not my intention. Please message me via my contact page and I’ll remove them. Thanks!)
1. Vintage Nike
Since Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight started Nike in 1964 (at the time, the company was called Blue Ribbon Shoes), countless pairs of Nikes have hit the streets. You can find styles by this iconic brand dating back to the ‘60s and for every decade since.
Side note: If you’re partial to Air Jordans, you can find a bunch on eBay. I just didn’t include any in this post because I couldn’t find any that didn’t have leather in them.
In addition to eBay and Etsy, some great sites have been emerging that have a solid collection of not just vintage sneakers, but other shoes, clothing, and accessories. I’ll include some options for each brand.
How to Recycle Old Nikes and Other Sneakers:
If you have an old pair of Nikes that you want to recycle, or other old shoes, providing they don’t have metal cleats, you can drop them off at any Nike retail store and Nike will recycle them with their Reuse-A-Shoe program, which turns the materials into other products, like running tracks, carpet, and playground padding.
2. Vintage adidas
Another iconic brand, adidas was started even before Nike, back in 1949. It’s pretty hard to find any vintage adidas that are not made with leather, so if you don’t want to wear leather, even if it’s used, I recommend checking out their newer designs from adidas’ collaboration with Parley for the Oceans. While new, these shoes are made with recycled materials – namely recycled ocean plastic. I feature the athletic adidas Parley shoes in my post about shoes made with recycled materials and their sandals in my post about recycled flip flops.
3. Vintage Converse Sneakers
If you think adidas have been around for a while, then you may be surprised that Converse has been here for even longer. Founded in Malden, Massachusetts in 1908, Converse started as a rubber shoe factory, producing winter footwear for men, women, and kids. It wasn’t until 1917 that the company started making shoes for basketball players, and in 1923 they hired basketball player Chuck Taylor to be their spokesperson.
4. Vintage Reebok
You can find some great used Reebok’s on both Etsy and eBay. But if you’re looking for something a bit newer or 100% vegan, check out their eco-friendly athletic shoes that are made with cotton and Susterra® propanediol – a sustainable, corn-based compound that’s used in polyurethanes and polyester resins. I wrote about Reebok’s corn shoes on UniGuide.
Where to buy vintage Reebok:
Started in 1948, Puma is another famous brand that has endured over decades. It’s hard to find Pumas that are vegan, but the company deserves some accolades for implementing sustainability practices in their operations and supply chain.
Founded in 1891 in Sweden, Tretorn is oldest brand I feature in this post. Like Converse, Tretorn has its roots in rubber: It started as tire maker. Eventually becoming the footwear of choice by tennis players all over the world, Tretorn definitely deserves the honor of being called an iconic brand.
7. Used Balenciaga Athletic Shoes
Founded in the Basque Country in Span, Balenciaga is most known as a high-end luxury fashion house. But they do produce some lovely athletic shoes, of which you can find great used ones if you look around a bit.
8. Vintage Gucci Athletic Shoes
Like Balenciaga, Gucci is probably not the first brand you’d think of when someone says “athletic shoes.” But if you like styley sneakers, and some with a little bling, you can find them with Gucci. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find any that don’t have leather in them, so you don’t see them on UniGuide, but if you’re ok with recycling used leather goods, you can find vintage Gucci on these sites:
Saucony is another vintage brand that was founded at the turn of the century, during the Industrial Revolution. The company was started by four businessmen in 1898 near the banks of Saucony Creek in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
Keds is another iconic brand that was born in a rubber factory. In this case, the year was 1916. Keds were the first canvas and rubber sneakers to be mass-marketed to consumers.
The quintessential skate shoe, Vans are relative newcomers to the sneaker world, as the company was started in 1966. But like Tretorn and Keds, Vans also have their roots in a rubber company. Two brothers – Paul and Jim Van Doren – and their partners, Gordon Lee and Serge Delia, made shoes in their rubber company facilities and sold them directly to the public.
12. New Balance
As the name implies, New Balance started as an orthotics company in 1906, creating arch supports and other accessories to help people’s shoes fit more comfortably. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that New Balance began creating athletic shoes.
13. Other Online Marketplaces
In addition to the sources mentioned above to find great vintage sneakers, I wanted to mention the often-overlooked Facebook Marketplace. It can be a source to find great used items, including sneakers and athletic shoes. The other one is Craigslist. Just be cautious of scams and flakes if shopping on Craigslist.
14. Offline: Local Thrifts Stores and Garage Sales
And of course, there is a great big world out there that exists offline! Check Yelp for thrift stores and flea markets in your area, and you can find local garage sales listed on Craigslist. The last time I had a garage sale, I was amazed at how many people I met in my neighborhood. It was really fun and very social. But remember the rule with going to garage sales – you have to get there early to find the best stuff. Have fun!