In 1995, Adidas announced a new hemp sneaker called the Chronic. The name quickly ignited the wrath of U.S. drug czar Lee Brown, and Adidas decided to play it safe and call it the Hemp sneaker instead. As fate would have it, the media attention generated by Brown’s attacks created a major buzz and produced what an Adidas spokesperson described as “a tremendous level of interest in these shoes that goes way beyond what we expected.”
Deja Shoe, Deep E Co. and other hemp shoe brands existed in the ’90s — e.g., see Ipath’s cleverly named Grasshopper skate shoe below — but the controversy over the original Chronic name helped bring mainstream awareness to hemp shoes. All these years later, Adidas continues to release hemp versions of Samba, Gazelle and other shoe lines, and it even uses “hemp” as a color profile in certain products as opposed to traditional color names like green or olive.
Other brands followed suit getting into the hemp shoe game. For example, Nike released the Dunk Low Pro SB in 2004, and then dropped a new version on April 20 in 2016. The iconic footwear brand released the limited-edition Hemp Air Zoom Type in the U.K. in 2020, followed by a hemp-covered Air Force 1 collaboration with Stüssy. Highlighting their popularity, these hemp kicks sell out fast.
Established brands like Vans and TOMS also make hemp shoes, but several smaller companies continue to emerge. Deckers Brands (the parent company of UGG) produces a wide line of hemp kicks under its Sanuk label, while the entrepreneur who sold Lotus Designs to Patagonia followed with Astral Designs, which makes a wide range of hemp shoes. Other companies in the market include Vivobarefoot, Nomadic State of Mind, Germany’s virblatt and the borderline-creepy Vibram with individual toe holders.
Likewise, several independent brands can be found on Etsy selling women’s Oxfords, knitted boots, slippers, redwoods and even a whole line of shoes and other items made in Ukraine with locally grown crops. Speaking of Europe, Prague-based Bohempia sells several shoe designs as well as other items like hoodies, socks and belts.
Highlighting the excitement around hemp shoes, a startup called DopeKicks launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2019 in hopes of raising $10,000 to make the world’s first waterproof hemp shoe. The company, which changed its name to 8000Kicks, raised nearly $250,000, and its shoes are available now. (Coincidentally, the name wasn’t the only thing that changed: “waterproof” became “splash friendly and water repellent.”)
This report suggests the global hemp-fiber industry will see “huge gains” over the next five years, and shoe companies represent one of many industries helping fuel hemp’s dynamic rebirth.