Hopefully you enjoyed my previous blog about shoe care, if you missed it you can find it here. This week we are continuing with caring for your quality shoes as we make our way to the part of the shoe that gets the most wear; the sole.
There are many different materials that can be used to produce a shoe sole; leather, rubber, crepe, resin, synthetics and fibreboard to name the most common.
Only two of these materials can be cared for (Leather and Rubber). While others are made to be thrown away or completely replaced if possible, they can still be protected by Topy or Vibram soles.
I am starting with rubber soles, as there aren’t as many care steps available in comparison to leather.
The two main quality rubber soles used in the shoe industry are; Dainite and Vibram (Also look into newer heritage style sole companies like Dr Soles and Role Club). These are made from 100% rubber, the benefits of these are in the non-slip capabilities.
The best example I can personally give is from when I was a roof-tiler. We used to wear Blundstone boots with 100% rubber soles. If it started to rain, we could easily walk across the roof (regardless of how steep the angle was) to the ladder without slipping at all. Then the whole “comfort” revolution came in and they changed to a synthetic cushion compound. We all bought a pair and as soon as it rained, everyone on the roof was sliding off (very dangerous, I know). There was no grip in the rain at all, this is why when you by shoes/boots with inferior versions of these products they also don’t grip.
Caring for your rubber soles is simple, you just wear them. The heat created within the rubber from walking keeps them pliable. This is why when you don’t wear rubber sole shoes from a long-time they go hard, as the “plasticizers” which make rubber soft and flexible bleed out.
There are many ways to care for your leather soles in the form of creams/oils, protective soling, toe plates, hardwearing tanned leather (Oak Bark), resting and rotating.
So where do you start and what is best for your shoes?
Number 1 thing to do, is to rest your shoes for 24hrs after wear. Insert your cedar shoe trees or newspaper, lay them on their side away from direct heat. This will wick away built-up moisture from sweating, rain etc. This will also stop the leather from rotting on the inside-out. I’ve seen many boots and shoes with cracked uppers, worn-out inners and sock-linings due to this. You can wear through a leather sole in 6-12 months if these steps are not followed and this will not be down to faulty leather.
How do I know which protective product to choose for my shoes?
The best way is to wear your shoes every second day for a whole week, in doing this you will see how you wear the soles. Not everyone is the same, some are heavy on their toes, others on their heels and even on their forefoot.
If you can see wear on the toes there are two options; Topy/Vibram protective soling (moderate longevity) or in-laid Lulu/Triumph toe plates (longevity). The toe plates are in-laid to keep a flush/flat surface for you to walk on, if they are raised or put on top it takes away the area of the surface you are walking on, thus raising the slip potential. Having both protective soles and having in-laid toe plates are an option also available. Some are against rubber protective soling due to “old wives tales”, but I assure you they will not ruin or harm the integrity of your shoes.
*Note full rubber soles with a rubber mid-sole can not have in-laid toe plates, if they have a leather mid-sole it is possible*
The protective soling is best if you are hard wearing on your forefoot, walk on slippery or rough surfaces or are getting in and out of a car etc.
- Hard-wearing wearers will be protected from wearing through the leather soling and only need to replace the protective soles.
- The soling adds grip, thus stopping unfortunate accidents and injuries whilst walking to work etc.
- When you are getting in and out of a car, you pivot off the leg that exits first. This twisting motion can wear a hole in the sole of your shoe, whilst the other side still remains hardly worn.
Leather choice, especially “oak bark tanned” options have been known to last longer and wear less. This is due to the tanning process which takes up to 12 months, the end result is a strong yet flexible leather. Brands to look out for are Joh Rendenbach (JR) and Bakers.
Soling oils/creams have mixed reviews, some swear by them, while others say they make the soles more slippery. A quote from reputable shoe care specialists Saphir says “ Sole guard oil will easily protect against water and salt damage, this will extend the life and optimise the support of your feet”. I think this one is more a trial and error type option to use and possibly not for everyone.
Heels are very straight forward and usually what will wear through quicker than the soles. This is due to your heel always being the first contact to the ground in your gait. Heels can be full rubber, full leather or a combination of both called “¼ rubber heels”. Caring for your heels isn’t necessary, they will wear regardless. Some use plastic “blakey” plates but again they can take away your surface grip.
Repairing your soles:
When it comes time to repair your soles there are different options for each leather and rubber, whilst the other types you’ll have to check with a cobbler (not all cobblers are equal or skilled the same). Rubber soles have to be replaced as a whole. Unlike leather, rubber can not be spliced with a half-sole and hold as one solid piece. Leather soles on the other-hand can be replaced with a full or half-sole. This will depend on the condition and wear on the “waist (narrow middle)* of the soles.
*Note; mid-soles don’t always need to be replaced, again depending on the condition.*
If you choose rubber-soled shoes, they can be turned into full leather and visa-versa. It is best to find a quality cobbler with a broad range of capabilities or check to see if your shoemaker offers repairs. Many Herring shoes can be sent back to the manufacturer for a repair so always ask them before seeking a cobbler.
Buying quality shoes/boots with welted or blake stitched soles can be replaced a lot more times than cemented. It is also a lower cost per wear, thus saving you money in the long term, provided you follow a few easy maintenance steps. You will pay more money for a pair of shoes that have a variation of Goodyear welting or Blake stitching, they have been better constructed and can be repaired instead of being thrown away (not to mention they also look a thousand times better than your standard cemented soled shoes).
Look out for the next article in this series were we have a good look at Boot styles for the colder months from the Herring collection.
Until then, buy smart, buy well.