The fashion world is fraught with blame for environmental pollution from chemicals during production to the everlasting post-consumer life of clothes and shoes that fail to degrade in landfills. With this in mind, many shoe companies are looking for ways to source more sustainable materials, but with that comes a lot of greenwashing, making their efforts perhaps seem more comprehensive than they are. Zen Running Club is dashing into the scene with a different mindset — of transparency and building the company from the ground up based on what we now know about the damaging effects of traditional shoe production. 

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A pair of white and orange running shoes.

Zen Running Club was founded by three partners with a history in the fashion industry, Richard Rusling, Andy Farnworth and Dominic Sinnott. These three presented the question, “If the biggest brands were starting out today, what would they do differently?” The answer is, “Pretty much everything.”

Related: Cariuma teams up with Mike Vallely for 100% vegan shoes

Zen Running Club shoes are plant-based and 100% vegan. To leave a small footprint, the ZR 01 shoe is made from sugarcane and tree fibers. 

A person holding a blue totebag that says "Made from good decisions" in pink letters.

“We wondered why, at a time of self-driving cars and commercial space travel, the choice for runners is split between performance, good looks, or respecting the environment. We wanted to prove that we could create shoes that do all this without compromise – made from plants,” said Rusling.

As a shoe company, Zen Running Club caters to those who enjoy the outdoors by working to replace synthetic materials with eco-friendly ones. Toward this mission, its flagship ZR 01 running shoe features a rocker midsole made from sugarcane sourced from Brazil and naturally irrigated by rainwater. It grows quickly and is endlessly renewable. Plus, as a plant, it filters carbon from the air and releases oxygen. The upper is made out of TENCEL™ Lyocell, a fiber that originates as eucalyptus tree wood harvested from sustainably-managed forests. The material is spreading like wildfire throughout the fashion industry as an environmentally-friendly substitute for petroleum and other non-renewable resources. 

A person running on a bridge.

Moving to the outsole, the shoe incorporates FSC-certified natural rubber, and the sock liner is composed of castor bean materials. The company’s products also rely on a mix of natural materials such as organic cotton grown without fertilizers and other chemicals, and cotton recycled from production scraps as well as post-consumer waste. 

While this modern approach to sourcing low-impact materials serves the company’s mission, it is a shoe and apparel company that is equally dedicated to ensuring a quality product for the consumer. Running shoes have an important job in offering the right amount of support and cushion while being lightweight and comfortable. Zen Running Club’s mantra that “running is meditation in motion” propels you forward as you run. Meanwhile, the company is racing toward its goals to achieve 100% plant-based products and meet these standards without compromise for fit, style or the protection of natural resources.  

Two pairs of legs wearing socks and running shoes.

The company defines itself by these ideals stating, “Zen Running Club is on a mission to run a better life. They share their consumer’s spirit and passion for the planet, enjoying nature and sustainable living. Zen Running Club continues to push the boundaries of running shoes and apparel through innovation, style and cutting-edge sustainable technologies. Their aim is to fill a responsible lifestyle with ecological choices and the power to make better decisions.”

A person running up a hill.

In addition to the ZR 01, the company has also released a line of organic cotton t-shirts and crew-length socks with reinforced toe and heel as well as wicking technology. 

Personal Review

Zen Running Club offered to send a sample for review. As a result, I received a pair of the ZR 01 running shoes in the Asphalt/Black/Zen Yellow color combination. Starting with my sample’s arrival, the packaging was all paper-based and recyclable

A box of running gear, including shoes and socks.

Sometimes the small things make the biggest impact, and let me say, this shoebox makes a huge statement. First off, the company motto of “Made from good decisions” is front and center on the lid as well as included as a hashtag on other parts of the box as #madefromgooddecisions. Inside the lid, the artwork stands out.

An empty brown box with black ink designs.

Although not credited, after doing a little research I discovered the artist responsible for the design is James Nunn, a longtime runner and nature enthusiast who says, “The Zen Running Club project was the perfect opportunity to combine my work with my love of the natural world and running in it. I guess because those things are so integral to my life, the concept presented itself very quickly. I focussed (sic) on ways to represent the values of ZRC and the kind of world we want to run in. It was a simple case of depicting the plants that make up the shoe and to build a world out of all of that foliage to make a verdant healthy place where the shoes on our feet don’t harm the world we run in.” The artwork is striking and repeated on the tissue paper inside the box. 

A black and yellow shoe against a plant background.

Moving on to the shoes. They are also striking. I adore the color contrast of the yellow against the dark charcoal grey. I feel obligated to preface this review with an understanding that I’m not a runner. However, I have been wearing them for several days and can speak to many elements. The fit is as expected with plenty of room. The sock-fit upper is soft, flexible and very breathable. The sole offers notable cushioning for a soft and supportive step, and the arch is centered on the inside of each foot.

If you have a high middle arch, you may need an additional insert, but I imagine that depends heavily on your running style. Construction is durable, and the shoelace construction design is unique with a distinctive appeal. In fact, the subtle patterning throughout the upper adds visual contrast. Finger pulls on the tongue and back make it easy to put the shoes on and appear to be attached with quality stitching that’s incorporated into the design. Overall, these great shoes are ultra-lightweight, stylish and comfortable. 

+ Zen Running Club

Images via Zen Running Club and Dawn Hammon