Blick in den Store von Sneakers Unplugged mit zwei Verkäuferinnen am Tresen
Fair fashion for your feet: At Sneakers Unplugged you'll find sneakers that are big on style - and sustainability! Photo: Sneakers Unplugged

Europe’s first sustainable sneaker store – right here in Cologne!

Sustainable yet stylish: Sneakers Unplugged in Cologne city centre is the first store in Europe to only stock environmentally friendly sneakers.

Sneakers have long since become acceptable footwear but there’s a downside too. More than possibly any other fashion item, they’ve become a symbol of our fast fashion society. Awareness of the problem is increasing though and people have started looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to Adidas, Nike and co. But finding truly sustainable sneakers with all the style of the major streetwear brands is no easy task.

Sneakers Unplugged to the rescue

That was Christian Ohm’s thought too, having identified this gap in the market with his wife, Reya, in April 2020. “We were looking for sustainable sneakers ourselves but couldn’t find anywhere that sold them,” Christian explains. And that’s how the idea for Sneakers Unplugged, a store for sustainable sneakers, was born.

Das Inhaberpaar von Sneakers Unplugged: Christian (links) und Reya Ohm (rechts)
Christian and Reya came up with the idea of opening a sustainable sneaker store during the first wave of Covid and wasted no time turning it into reality. Photo: Sneakers Unplugged

A passionate sneaker collector, Christian was working in the automotive sector at the time but lost his job as a result of the Covid pandemic. “It was a turning point in my life,” he says, “and I saw it as an opportunity to fulfil my dream of having my own store.”

Sustainable but stylish with it

In August 2020, Christian and Reya set up an online shop. Their idea was to sell only sustainable and fairly produced shoes that were at least as fashionable and hip as standard sneakers despite their environmentally friendly credentials.

The online shop was soon joined by a number of pop-up stores in locations such as Cologne’s Südstadt district. As Christian remembers, “The pop-ups were so popular with the locals that we soon realised we needed a permanent store.” The day came in April 2021 with the opening of Sneakers Unplugged right in the middle of Cologne city centre – Europe’s first store for sustainable sneakers according to Christian and Reya.

Schuh von Flamingos's Life bei Sneakers Unplugged
Shopping with a good conscience: these sneakers get top marks for sustainability, design, styling and quality. Photo: Sneakers Unplugged

Sneakers Unplugged now stocks 13 different brands, with prices ranging from 99 to 189 euros so what you’d normally pay for conventional sneakers. Veja, Flamingo’s Life, MoEa or CLAE, whatever the label, you can see straight away that they have all the style it takes to appeal to a broad customer base as alternatives to the big-name sneaker brands.

Footwear from plant waste

But style isn’t the only factor that decides whether a pair of sneakers makes it onto Sneakers Unplugged’s shelves – there are strict sustainability criteria too. “We make sure the entire supply chain is sustainable,” says Christian, adding that the materials used to make the sneakers are the most important aspect. 80% of the Sneakers Unplugged range is vegan, made from maize, cactus, apple peel, grape pulp or sugarcane. The soles are made of bamboo, cork, natural rubber or organic cotton.

Schaufenster von Sneakers Unplugged Store in Köln von außen
Europe’s first store for sustainable sneakers – right in the middle of Cologne city centre. Photo: Sneakers Unplugged

That’s not to say that Sneakers Unplugged only sells vegan products – the winter collection includes leather boots too. The crucial point though is that the leather comes from Europe and not from Brazil, where rainforests have to make way for leather production. Christian points out, “If you look after the boots properly, they last a long time, making them more sustainable than quite a few of the vegan products.”

Sustainable shipping 

Another facet of sustainability is fair working conditions. “A large number of our labels use certified Fairtrade production facilities in Europe,” Christian explains, which means he’s able to guarantee fair pay and working hours. And, of course, the products don’t have to travel as far.

Schuhregal bei Sneakers Unplugged mit verschiedenen Sneakern und Taschen
The Sneakers Unplugged range also includes sustainably produced bags made from lorry tarpaulin. Photo: Sneakers Unplugged

The sustainable sneaker concept is proving a success. Last year, Christian and Reya were able to open two further stores in Münster and Düsseldorf. And the environmental approach continues online too. Customers who order online receive their sneakers in plastic-free boxes made of sustainable grass paper and sealed with environmentally friendly, silicone-free tape.

Sneakers Unplugged, Alte Wallgasse 5, 50672 Cologne; opening hours: Monday – Wednesday: 12-6.30pm, Thursday: 12-7pm; Friday and Saturday: 11-7pm

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