On product claims & Certifications (Footwear & Accessories)

How to communicate your sustainable fashion product to the world and make sure you are giving a good message, avoiding greenwashing and showing people that it is possible to have a more sustainable and beautiful product?

Well done, you have worked hard to make your product as sustainable as possible. 

You have found the least impactful materials, but also durable and beautiful ones. 

You have the best practice manufacturers that take care of their employees and their production processes. 

You have set up a localised supply chain and distribution. 

Now, you want to communicate this to the world and make sure you are giving a good message, avoiding greenwashing and showing people that it is possible to have a more sustainable and beautiful product.

How to claim a more "sustainable" product?


First, we need to define the difference between a more sustainable brand and product. In fact, while you are making your on-product claim, you don’t want people to question “What about the rest of the collection?”. Defining the framework of a more sustainable brand is not the same as on a product level. When you want to make a sustainable product claim, you need to make sure that what you declare represents at least the majority of the product.

For mono-material products (shirts, sweaters, trousers, etc., with one material covering at least 90% of the product), the rules out there are more or less defined.

If you are using recycled or organic fibers, you can put a hangtag with GRS/RCS and GOTS certification if you have all of your supply chain certified with Scope and Transaction certificates from the raw material to the brand.

But for complex products like shoes, bags, wallets, outerwear, etc., that have several components, the international guidelines are not so clear, and there is always room for interpretation.

For instance, if you are making a more sustainable shoe, did you ask yourself about the impact of all the 30 to 40 components that it has?

Consider that you have a shoe with an upper made from 60% leather coming from a Leather Working Group certified tannery and 40% recycled PES, and you use organic cotton for the lining, Bio-based insoles, and partially recycled outsoles. What are you going to claim or certify?

Unfortunately, there is no such detailed guideline out there that can tell you in detail what you should do and what you should claim for a more sustainable product. So, you will have to navigate around the existing and upcoming legislation to make sure you are throwing out there a good product and avoiding greenwashing.*

*(be careful, what is okay today may change until your product hits the market!)

We will get into that, but let’s see first what the most common practices are out there from the brands that are more exposed to public opinion, so they need to be more careful about what they say.* 

*This may change by the time you read this article, which was written on October 5th, 2023.


Nike considers a product sustainable when it is made with at least 20% recycled material (Global Recycled Standard certified) by weight. Nike does not publicly declare that it maintains transaction certificates on a product level. This is likely due to trade secrets, complexity, and consumer confusion. However, customers can request transaction certificates by contacting customer service. Nike considers LWG leather to be a sustainable material, and it has a goal of using 100% LWG-certified leather by 2025. However, Nike does not declare a product sustainable when it is made with LWG-certified leather. This is most likely because there is no third-party chain of custody verification for leather standards.


Allbirds does not clearly declare whether or not its shoes are sustainable, but it does indicate the sustainable materials used in its shoes. Allbirds is very specific about the different components of its shoes and why they are more sustainable. It is one of the few companies that has a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for many of its products. Allbirds mostly use GRS (Global Recycled Standard) for recycled materials, RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) for wool, and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood pulp fiber. Allbirds also works with organisations like ZQ Merino Fibre to ensure that its wool meets high standards of farming, land management, and animal welfare. Allbirds does not have transaction certificates for its factories that would guarantee third-party verification throughout the supply chain. However, Allbirds does disclose its supply chain of factories, subcontractors, and some of its suppliers.


Veja does not have any product-level certifications, so it does not collect transaction certificates for finished products. Instead, Veja focuses on certifying its materials and processes through third-party certifications such as LWG, OCS (Organic Cotton Standard), and GRS. Veja does specify the exact composition of its materials and mostly includes the country of origin of its materials and supply chain. There is a lot of information on Veja's website about its sustainability initiatives, but there are also some empty landing pages and missing documents, such as chemical test results and organic cotton labelling.

What certification can you use for your shoes or bags?


If you are using leather in your product, the most recognized certification is the Leather Working Group (LWG). You cannot certify your finished product, but only the material that is coming from a Leather Working Group tannery. There are equivalent certifications in Italy (ICEC) and Brazil (CICB), but they are less popular. In Italy, you also have the "Vera Pelle Italiana Conciata al Vegetale" certification, but it is very restricted to vegetable tanning tanneries. The latest created leather certification is the Sustainable Leather Foundation, which aims to not only certify the tannery with a certain standard but also capture the manufacture of the product and give a more comprehensive view, collecting all the different certification standards into one.

All of these certification schemes do not have physical traceability, but they do have partial chain of custody documentation until the tannery. Therefore, you always need to make sure to build a good traceability system to verify that the factory is really using the leather you specified. None of these certifications go to the farm, but in the best-case scenario, they can get to the slaughterhouse.


If you are using recycled fibers in your product, such as recycled polyester, recycled cotton, and recycled rubber, the most reliable certification you can get is the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). You can also rely on the Recycled Content Standard (RCS), but it is less strict. As mentioned in the previous page, the main brands do not have a transaction certificate for the finished product, due mostly to the complexity of footwear and accessories and the multi-material nature of the products. This is why many footwear brands nowadays prefer to avoid defining a product as sustainable, but rather list the sustainable materials they are using. The transaction certificate certifies that a certain amount of recycled material goes from the lower supply chain player to the higher (for instance, from the yarn to the woven fabric). In the future, this may change, and you may need to have your transaction certificate(1) for the finished product, but it will take some time and may not happen. However, your material supplier must hold a scope certificate(2) (meaning they are certified to produce that specific recycled fiber blend).


For organic cotton, you can use the same logic as above, but with different standards such as GOTS or OCS.


If you are using a biobased material like bio-based PU, Mirum, or Hyphalite and you want to communicate on it, make sure it has USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) certification with the percentage of biobased content. It is the most common certification out there and uses the Beta test to identify the amount of biobased content. In this case, we are even less accurate than above because there is no chain of custody for the material, but just a test on the material, so you have to trust the supplier and the manufacturers that they are really using the right one. To avoid any doubts, you can also make your own test on the finished product so you have some proof of what you are declaring. These types of materials are very new to the market, which is why there is not much regulation and certification out there.


If you have a big project, you can also work with a third-party certification body to align standards and methodology on how you want to certify your product based on your claim. In the end, it is your responsibility to back up your claim with the right documentation to avoid greenwashing.

Additional tips

It is very important to define your product strategy and look into most of the components of the shoes. You may consider only the upper material, which is maybe 20% of the total weight of the shoes, and miss the outsole, which could give you 60% of the weight in one go. Looking into more components of the product will help you avoid answering difficult questions that may come along.


(1) A Transaction Certificate is a document issued by a certification body that verifies that products being sold or shipped from one organization to another conform to a given Standard and may be treated as claimed materials by the receiver.
(2) Companies that have demonstrated the ability to comply with the relevant standard requirements by an approved certification body (CB) will be issued a scope certificate (SC). The SC means that the company is eligible to process the certified products on its list. This does not automatically mean the product you are ordering is certified unless there is a transaction certificate (TC) to accompany it.
Published: 09/01/2024


Nicolò Giusti
Nicolò Giusti
BIO: Nicolò is an innovative and sustainable material specialist working in the fashion industry for more than 15 years. His passion for traditional materials but also for innovative solutions brought him to create the Sustainable Academy, a community that supports students, entrepreneurs and fashion companies to be more sustainable and avoid greenwashing.
"I really believe in the power of collaboration. Sharing and learning is the only way we can get to the next level. Why waste time protecting ourselves when we can use it to improve?"