Vegan Sneakers With a Vintage Tinge

Saye makes its M89 sneakers from cactus, corn and mango "leathers."

saye cactus sneakers
Saye

In 2021, boot brands — namely Blundstone and Clarks — proved designers don't need to sacrifice style and quality for sustainability. No longer should footwear made from vegan materials be consider lesser alternatives to those made from traditional leathers. Truthfully, most biomaterials — leathers made from mushrooms, corn or cactus, for example — are indistinguishable from the real thing. They wear, feel and look the same. But, it seemed, at least for a period, while brands worked to prove vegan versions of their titular products were worthwhile, there weren't a ton of exciting vegan shoes available. Spanish footwear brand Saye, fresh off converting from a semi-vegan brand to being wholly animal-free, is working to change that.

The brand, first called Wado, launched on Kickstarter in 2017. They touted a new type of sneaker made from leather but without chromium: "The leather industry poses a serious threat to the health of those who work in tanneries... This is mainly due to the chromium, one of the most harmful existing chemicals, not only for the health of the shoemaker but also for the environment," the launch page read. "In an exercise of innovation and sustainability we have managed to develop leathers without chromium. We use these on the outside and inside of our shoe. Thus, your feet are in contact with a healthier material."

man sitting down wearing saye sneakers with cactus in the background
Saye
saye cactus sneakers
Saye

They promised the shoes were going to be made more sustainably with better materials. But they still used leather, albeit without the aforementioned toxic material. Now, as of November 2021, Saye is 100-percent vegan. (You'll find that the last remaining leather versions are on sale at Madewell and on Saye's own site.) In 2017, biomaterials were scarce, the brand admits. That's why they initially stuck with leather. Bettering the raw materials they had access to, they believed, was the best way forward. And it was — until they could bring their own materials to market.

Now, the Modelo '89 (also called the M89), Saye's signature sneaker, which comes as a high- or low-top, may be made from biodegradable Corn Vegan Napa, a PETA-approved material that's 29-percent corn waste and 71-percent bio-based polyurethane, Cactus Vegan Napa or Mango Fruitleather depending on which version you order. Every style comes finished with a 100-percent bamboo liner, insoles made from recycled polyurethane and outsoles crafted from a blend of natural (30-percent) and synthetic (70-percent) rubbers. Last but not least, although purely for decoration, all editions come with what SAYE calls the La Fuga, their equivalent to Nike's swoosh or adidas' three stripes.

man stretching wearing saye high top garnet sneakers
Saye

The La Fuga is most apparent on the upper of the Model '89 Hi, the model we prefer most. It gives the sneaker a unique, undoubtedly retro look. That being said, while we love what the logo lends to the silhouette, we're less excited by the overt branding visible on both the heel tab and the tongue – plus the outsole, if you count the "Modelo '89" nameplate. Saye's never been shy about updating and upgrading its existing styles, though, so perhaps pairs without big text blocks might be next.

We're not here to complain about these, though. The text blocks are minor issues; a matter of personal preference, if you will. Almost every brand slaps some text or a logo or two on its sneakers. Why should Saye be any different? In every other way, though, they are. The sneakers are comfortable, plenty cool looking and feats of material innovation at the very least. Saye proves that although sustainability is a moving target, there's always room for improvement.

Shop SAYE

Modelo '89 Hi

Modelo '89 Vegan Hi
SAYE sayebrand.com
$14,500.00
Modelo '89 Vegan Hi
SAYE sayebrand.com
$160.00
Modelo '89 Vegan Hi
SAYE sayebrand.com
$188.00
Modelo '89 Vegan Hi
SAYE sayebrand.com
$188.00

Modelo '89 Low

Modelo '89 Vegan
SAYE sayebrand.com
$173.00
Modelo '89 Vegan
SAYE sayebrand.com
$173.00
Modelo '89 Vegan
SAYE sayebrand.com
$173.00
Modelo '89 Vegan Cactus
SAYE sayebrand.com
$15,900.00
Modelo '89 Vegan Mango
SAYE sayebrand.com
$200.00

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