It's odd, given the opprobrium (and damaged sales) following Nineties revelations about the industry. Labour practices in Indonesia and Vietnam, particularly in factories used by Nike, were shown on CBS in 1997 and a sort of consumer revolution happened. That year Nike became the first of two companies to be removed from the Domini 400 Social Index, the biggest US 'ethical index', because of concerns over its international labour standards.Elements have improved dramatically. Nike is now held up as a benchmark for good factory auditing and is involved with the International Labour Organization's (ILO) 'better factories' project in Cambodia. New Balance (www.newbalance.co.uk) produces 85 per cent of its UK-sold shoes from a factory in Cumbria.
A decade on, there are demonstrably clean fashion trainers, such as the Worn Again range (www.terraplana.com) or Converse alternatives (www.fairdealtrading.com), but where is the ethical all-rounder? I thought this industry famously liked a challenge.
Until it arrives, you can hardly run in bare feet - although one of Nike's new shoes emulates barefoot running. It is therefore a question of compromise, depending on which ethical issue is the most important. There are vegan alternatives (www.vegetarian-shoes.co.uk), but synthetics such as ethyl vinyl acetate (often used as a shock absorber) are enormously polluting in manufacture and mean that the shoe will degrade some time around the 12th of never. Look for shoes that have at least substituted toluene, a vicious solvent and volatile organic compound, for water-based solvents. Some brands are looking at biodegradable materials - Mephisto, a US brand (www.mephisto.com), uses a 100 per cent biodegradable latex midsole.
The latter is key. It would be heresy to tell you to keep your running shoes for longer than the recommended six months - even unworn models lose some of their shock-absorbing cushion after 12 to 24 months. And considering that the average pair of running shoes has 76 times more fungi than a toilet bowl (try the Shoe Smell Buster, www.naturalcollection.com), who wants them hanging around?
The big brands and retailers need to offer a take-back service for these toxic wonders. Nike (www.nikebiz.com/reuseashoe) seems to be the only one offering limited recycling in the UK. Your trainers will be ground down for basketball courts (the recyclate is even branded 'Nike grind').
The boycotts might be over, but pollution, labour rights and recyclability are the key questions to ask of brands and retailers. Keeping up the consumer pressure is the only way to keep trainers in perpetual motion.