Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about.
→ Buy now: Men’s Blundstone vegan boots, $210, blundstone.com; rei.com; zappos.com
→ Buy now: Women’s Blundstone vegan boots, $210, blundstone.com; rei.com; zappos.com
When I travel, I walk everywhere, so I’m always looking for the holy grail of shoes: comfortable, sturdy, and ideally more stylish than what my grandma would wear. Then I found Blundstone boots, the iconic Tasmanian brand that has been shoeing soldiers, farmers, musicians, chefs, and more for 150 years—and me since 2017. I’ve worn the same pair as I’ve traveled all over the world and at home. Those beloved stomps are on their last legs at this point, but I’ve been reluctant to replace them because, well, as a lifelong vegetarian, I still feel bad about buying leather shoes in the first place. In fact, they’re the only leather items I own.
Then recently, Blundstone came out with its first ever vegan boots. I was thrilled, but cautious: Could they really live up to the originals? So for the past two months, I’ve road tested (and muddy trail tested, and slushy second-day New York City snow tested) Blundstone’s new vegan boots and compared them to the original leather version. Here’s what I found:
Thumbs up on design
First things first, they look great. The design is the same as the original Chelsea boots, right down to the signature stitching, soles, and pull tabs. They come in two colors, brown and black, for both men and women (I had the opportunity to test out the brown ones when the company sent me a pair to review); a dark gray in this style and a women’s heeled boot, in black and in brown, will be added in fall/winter 22–23.
“They are exactly the same thing,” Blundstone’s head designer Joe Carfora told me on the phone. “When we scoped the project out a few years ago, [customers] didn’t want anything differently. They loved the Blundstone boot and just wanted a vegan option.”
Carfora explained that they’d actually started thinking about a vegan boot in 2016, but they weren’t happy with the alternatives available at that time. Finally, about 18 months ago, they moved forward with an upper made out of a water-resistant vegan microfiber called onMicro®; a lining made out of breathable, antibacterial, and antimicrobial microfiber called onSteam®; and a removable vegan footbed.
Those aren’t the only vegan components to these boots. Every single material—and every treatment for those materials in production—was investigated as part of the vegan verification process by independent testing lab Eurofin Chem-MAP.
Thumbs up on innovation
Interestingly, a leather replacement wasn’t the sticking point. “Eurofin tested everything and said there were animal traces in the dye we were using in the thread,” Carfora said. “It wasn’t the upper, it wasn’t the construction process, it wasn’t even the glue—the glue was fine. It was the dye! So we had to search for a new supplier.” Not only did they find one, but the company will be working with its supply partners in the long term to transition all its thread to vegan with vegan dyes.
The cruelty-free push dovetails nicely with the brand’s Every Step Better effort to improve its ethical, sustainable, and commercial practices. And since microfiber has its own environmental issues, it’s good to know that Blundstone is thinking about this. (Quick recap: Microfibers are usually made from plastic, which can be damaging to the environment. Still, they are generally agreed to cause less damage than leather—though eco-conscious improvements are being made in that area too. Harper’s Bazaar has a great article on this topic.) As Carfora explained, “We’re obviously looking at sustainability. We’ve now got a whole department that helps us seek out those materials.”
And though Blundstone’s leather boots aren’t going anywhere, the broader thinking about vegan materials is having a wider impact on the company: “Hopefully what we’re seeing from the vegan boot is there might be other options available to us,” Carfora said. “Some of the new projects we’ve got going at the moment are looking at using fully recycled materials, plant-based materials, colors—as supply-wise now more and more options are available.”
Thumbs up on the look
All that product research resulted in a boot that looks a lot like leather. The microfiber is soft and pliable, and has a subtle texture that mimics an organic material. I was originally worried that the boots would have a patent-leatherish glare, like so many of the fake-leather shoes I’ve donned over the years, but they don’t. I opted for the brown boots and they do have a soft sheen, but it’s not plasticky—and the coloring has a warm depth to it that looks very natural.
That said, the microfiber won’t break in the way leather does. “That feature will be a little different,” Carfora told me. “It will wear in but it won’t look like a leather finish. Everyone’s leather boots wear in differently . . . the microfiber will probably be more consistent.”
I admit I’m the teensiest bit sad about this, Blundstone nerd that I am. There’s just an unspoken bond and earned cred when you catch eyes with another Blunnies fan on the subway and see how well worn and loved their boots are. God forbid they think I’m a newbie. But I guess it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. Saving the animals, making the world a better place, and all that.
Thumbs up on comfort
The boots pulled on easily and were immediately comfortable right out of the box. I’ve been wearing them all day, every day for about eight weeks, and my feet remain happy. The synthetic uppers have not pinched or developed any sharp creases as I’ve had other synthetic shoes do.
They’re performing well in a variety of weather too: The uppers are billed as water-resistant (as are their leather counterparts), and my feet have stayed warm and dry in rain, mud, and several NYC slush puddles that were much deeper than I expected. I usually wore midweight wool socks with my leather Blundstones in the winter, and I was expecting that combination to make my feet sweaty in the vegan pair, since “breathable” microfiber isn’t always as airy as it sounds. But even when I wore cheap polyester socks, my feet didn’t overheat, and the footbeds (which are removable) are more breathable and shock-absorbing than the ones in my old leather pair.
Mixed feelings on durability
My only complaint is with the coating of the upper material. The Blundstone website, the press release they sent me, and Carfora himself all made a big point about the vegan boots living up to the durability (their word) that the Blundstone brand is known for. For instance, the website says: “Built to Last: Durable and highly resistant to abrasion.” However, my boots had abrasions after one day. Just from walking around the city, the microfiber had scratched slightly near the big toe area, leaving a collection of chalky lines.
I asked Carfora about this when we spoke and he suggested a polish cream called Nugget. I couldn’t find that brand, but talked to three shoe repairers in my neighborhood who all recommended similar products. After a few easy minutes of dabbing and buffing, the white lines were colored in and therefore less visible, but the micro tears are still there, so there’s room for improvement with this material.
Apart from that, these boots seem true to the Blundstone promise of strength. I’ve had no water seepage; no cracks, holes, or even a loose thread after two months of daily wear; the sole is the same sturdy, heel-protecting material used in standard Blundstones, so I expect to be traipsing around the world in these kicks for several years. Unfortunately, like all Blundstone boots, the soles on these new vegan ones are not replaceable. “The sole is squirted into a mold and onto the actual boot so it’s very hard to rip that part off and replace it with a new one without damaging it,” Carfora explained when I pressed him about it. In my experience, that means your soles are more likely to wear out before the rest of the boots—though that took five years with my leather pair, and Carfora says some customers talk of theirs lasting 18 to 20.
Blundstone did it! It’s exciting to see a brand that’s so committed to leather put so much thought and care into alternative materials and to have that innovation influence the company going forward. It feels like a win not just for Blundstone, but for mindful fashion in general. And while I’m very impressed with how these boots look and feel and am relieved to be able to wear such quality, cruelty-free boots, it’s almost a second thought that they’re vegan, which is maybe the biggest win. Really, they’re just Blundstones. And they’re awesome.