It's natural to be skeptical of eco-friendly shoes. With other "green" products not being durable, it has to be asked if shoes that bill themselves as vegan can hold up to heavy use in a big city.
I live in a large city where I walk, bike, and take public transit frequently, through all types of wet, muddy, and polluted conditions. This means I require footwear that is not only trendy (because despite my active lifestyle, I do care how I look) but also durable, practical, and sturdy. I’ve been hesitant to try out the new wave of vegan/eco-friendly sneakers — partially because I’m wary of their durability and partially because I don’t love how they look — but Cariuma’s white high-tops caught my eye.
I got a pair — and so did a couple other BestReviews team members — to put these sustainable, high-fashion sneakers to the test. Cariuma makes its name on ethical processes that prioritize the environment and the people involved, from raw materials to production to design. We decided to test their vegan footwear, though the brand also makes sustainable suede and leather shoes.
Here's what we thought after about a month of wear.
Appearance: We all got compliments on these shoes. Many of my friends, who are significantly trendier and more fashionable than I am, complimented me on my white high-tops. Our head of business development (who also opted for the classic white high-top) had a similar experience.
We were both worried about how the white canvas might look after wear in a not-so-clean city, but we've found that they've held up well and aren't looking too dingy. Plus, this is just part of the territory when it comes to white shoes. Since they're canvas, they can be scrubbed as needed with a toothbrush and a tiny bit of detergent in warm water.
While I love the simple look of the white canvas sneaker, Cariuma's boldly colorful options are wildly popular. An example, 5,000 people reportedly signed up for a waitlist for the brand's sold-out IBI knit sneakers between Nov. 2019 and Jan. 28, 2020. Our editorial manager's vibrant green low-tops were also a big hit.
Fit and feel: Right off the bat, I wore my Cariumas on an 11-mile walk across the city through various conditions (uneven/dirty sidewalks, dewy expanses of grass, a sandy and sea-foamy beach). Even being not yet broken in as they were, I didn't develop any blisters or foot discomfort beyond what one would expect after a full day of walking.
We’ve all found them to be comfortable, and increasingly so with each wear. The insole is made of memory foam (like a little mattress for your feet), making it unlike any insole I’ve ever worn, and the difference is noticeable — in a good way.
They seem to be highly water-resistant. I’ve worn them through wet grass and in rain and my feet have stayed cozy and dry. That’s another thing — they’re warm compared to similar canvas and sustainably sneakers but they’re also breathable for hotter days.
The best Cariuma sneakers for fashion-conscious people:
Pantone Classic Blue Canvas: Big fan of 2020's Pantone color of the year and want to be on the cutting edge of what's fashionable? Try these classic blue sneaks featuring the Pantone logo.
Raw Red Knit: The IBI knit sneakers are some of the brand's most popular. What's the big deal? They're the first-ever sneaker made from bamboo charcoal, meaning they're super lightweight, made from a rapidly renewable resource, and they look cool (especially in this bold red).
Yellow Stripe Vintage: These happy yellow sneakers have a classic vintage look reimagined with sustainable materials and durable construction. This pair is made of suede and canvas, so it's not vegan (but it is ethically made).
Triple Black Suede: Ethical and sustainable suede shoes? Count us in. While this pair isn't vegan, the company has a mindful approach to environmental standards, and the black-on-black high-tops will go well with almost anything.
How do they compare to other sneakers? We put them up against Allbirds, the most popular sustainable sneaker, as well as Converse and Superga, which both have a similar look.
Allbirds: The two are very different in appearance and feel — really not even comparable. We only make the comparison because both brands emphasize an eco-conscious approach. In general, Cariumas are better all-weather shoes — the wool shoes by Allbirds tend to run extremely hot, while the tree shoes aren’t insulated enough for the winter. The Cariumas also hold up better in wet conditions. Our editorial manager spilled a significant amount of water directly on them and his feet stayed totally dry. Overall, both brands make extremely comfortable shoes — capable of covering a few miles with minimal discomfort — but they should be deployed strategically, with the Cariumas being more dynamic.
Converse: Cariumas white canvas high-tops ($98) are almost twice as expensive as the classic white Chuck Taylor high-tops from Converse ($55). However, you're paying more for two things: ethically sourced ingredients with sustainable production and superior durability, meaning Cariumas are better for the environment and more functional in adverse weather conditions. If that investment seems worth it to you, opt for the Cariumas, which are also significantly less heavy than the classic Chucks.
Superga: Cariumas have just about the same profile as the European high-fashion Superga canvas sneakers, just with different branding. However, the Supergas — though undeniably trendy — feel heavier and chunkier on the foot, meaning the Cariumas are more practical daily footwear.
Bottom line: Cariuma is a new shoe brand that claims to care about all aspects of their process, prioritizing people and the environment without sacrificing style. If you're looking for new sneakers and you prioritize being an eco-conscious consumer, the brand is worth considering. It does feel good to know that you're treading gently in shoes that are sourced and produced responsibly. Plus, they just look cool.