Believe it or not, repairable shoes were commonplace in the past but with the advent of mass production and cheaper products, that era gave way to one of mass consumption and the mounds of shoes — clothing and everything else — that find their way to our landfills every year.
This is why it is so important we figure out what to do with old jeans, old socks, old bras, and everything in between like old pillows and old appliances. Because all the things we throw away every year come with a hefty carbon footprint. This is especially problematic since a huge portion of what we throw away can otherwise be repaired, recycled, or donated like what we do with clothing donations. I mean we can even recycle plant pots!
To repair shoes rather than throwing them out is therefore definitely something to consider as we strive for more sustainable lifestyles. And that’s just what we’ll be looking into in this one. We will consider what kind of shoes can be repaired, but also is repairing shoes suitable for the environment, and more. Let’s get into it.
Are shoes reparable?
Repairable shoes are definitely a thing and that’s kind of why cobblers still exist. But with the flood of cheaply made products, planned obsolescence, mindless unsustainable design, and the voluminous consumption patterns many have come to embrace, the repairable shoe has gone out of style and has been replaced with a sea of shoes that are difficult to repair or even recycle.
Where repairs are concerned, shoes are made of several parts like the upper, the sole, the heel, the tongue, and so on. Cobblers can most typically help replace the sole of the shoe (also known as a resole). They can help replace the heel or heel tips on dress shoes or high heels too if they are worn — and start to click-clacking when you walk around — or have simply come loose. Cobblers can also:
- Stretch out shoes that are too tight in specific areas like the toe
- Dye leather shoes into a darker color
- Fix, lengthen or shorten the straps for strappy sandals or shoes
- Add padding to the insole and arch for added comfort
- Weatherize shoes for the winter using rubber soles and/or waterproofing
- Shine shoes
- Repair scuffed or stained leather
- Some cobblers may even be willing to lower the height of boot shafts so that they sit lower on your leg if you are looking to repair boots for a better fit
I didn’t expect this post to be a major shoutout to the local cobbler but here we are and I am so here for it! There is so much they can do to help with our shoes. That said, they are not magicians! Here is a list of some of what they cannot help with:
- Resole sneakers — though they may be able to stick the sole back on temporarily
- Make heels taller — rarely they are able to make them shorter
- Make a shoe smaller
- Lighten dark shoes
- Widen boot shafts any more than ⅜ of an inch
What your cobbler(s) can do for you will depend on the services they offer so be sure to have a look around to see what is available based on your needs.
What kinds of shoes can be repaired?
When it comes to what kinds of shoes can be repaired, unfortunately, higher quality shoes are more likely to be repairable than cheaper shoes. But when considering repairability you really want to focus on what materials are used to make the sole of the shoe. Here, faux leather- or leather-soled dress shoes are the safest bet. The same goes for boots and if you are unsure, look for assistance. To avoid leather or if you are vegan, apple leather or other plant-based leathers work too.
You also want to look out for heels, dress shoes, and boots that are Goodyear welted. Though it typically comes with a higher price tag, this technique is still to do with the sole of the shoe, but also with the assembly of the shoe. Instead of being attached to one another, the sole and the uppers are attached to a separate strip of leather. This not only makes the shoe more water-resistant but also ensures that the sole of the shoe can be replaced throughout its lifetime. A worthy investment that will pay off in the long run if you have the cash for it.
The general idea is to go with soles that are both durable and easily replaceable. If we take sneakers and how they are made, we can see how they don't quite fit these criteria. The plastic soles commonly used in athletic footwear are usually melded to the shoe, making them less durable. And if you consider all of the sneaker designs available out there, you can see that the soles vary greatly – which makes the "easily replaceable" aspect of things pretty difficult.
The best that can possibly be done with most sneakers is a temporary fix using glue — even with higher-end brands. So when buying sneakers, don't count on the cobbler to do any more than that. We would recommend going with brands who offer repairs for their products instead.
That said, taking your favorite kicks to a cobbler is still worth a try. You can at least extend their lifespan, especially if they are on the pricier side. We always recommend repairs here at The Eco Hub.
Now, there are some ground rules/pro-tips to get the most out of repairs. Here’s what you need to know:
- It is recommended that new, unworn, leather-soled shoes (or little worn shoes if you can’t help yourself) be taken to the cobbler to have rubber soles installed. This will prevent the leather sole from wearing but it will also keep water from seeping in – preventing further damage.
- Avoid buying shoes to fix them up. It turns out not to be a good investment overall where repairs can really add up. So unless it is truly a one-of-a-kind piece you can’t live without, you may want to reconsider repairs as an option.
- When choosing shoe pads for added comfort make sure to choose carefully. Gel and latex tend to deteriorate quickly. Consider cork-based insoles or a castor oil-based polyurethane option for an eco-friendly alternative.
- Waterproof your shoes regularly. There are eco-friendly options such as different types of waxes like calendula or beeswax – as well as canned spray options that are also eco-friendly. If you are going to a cobbler ask what kind of products they use or do it yourself.
- If your heels or dress shoes are clicking and clacking when you walk around, that might mean it is time to have the heel tips (or caps) replaced. But asking for quality replacements is key. Make sure to ask for replacements made by trusted brands. They can last up to 5 times longer than lesser options – though it looks like polyurethane is the material of choice here. A little quality goes a long way however so don’t feel too bad if you have to go with a little bit of plastic here and there.
- Take proper care of your shoes. By using the shoe bags that come with them, conditioning the material where it applies, cleaning them as soon as you can when they get dirty, and keeping them away from sun spots or heating vents where stored. All of this will help extend the lifespan of the shoe and reduce the need for repairs and replacements.
- Pick up your own DIY tips! Some things are best left to the pros of course. Namely, anything to do with replacing the sole of the shoe or stretching the shoe. Although have you heard of the ice trick for stretching shoes? People seem to rave about it but I cannot speak to it. That said, smaller jobs like nicks and stains can be resolved using some nifty DIY tricks. Here’s a good tip to consider for removing salt stains in the wintertime: using a rag, dab a solution of one part vinegar and three parts water over affected areas. This will cause the salt to evaporate as the application dries. Please let us know if you have any tips of your own to share!
Is it worth resoeling shoes?
Based on the research, it is worth resoleing shoes where it applies. As previously mentioned, new leather-soled shoes should be taken right to the cobbler after purchase. This extends the lifespan of the shoe.
This also works for older shoes that can be repaired and given a second wind.
Generally speaking, new soles can improve the overall look of the shoe and protect it from further damage, particularly the upper. It also improves its structural integrity as well as how they feel when walking in them.
Asking a trusted cobbler will be best however so if you feel like your shoes could use a little TLC, take them to the cobbler and see what they recommend.
Is repairing shoes good for the environment?
If we opt to repair shoes, we extend their lifespan and keep them out of landfills. We also save money in the long run, especially if we are mindful of our consumption habits. Paired with repairable products from sustainable and slow fashion brands, it all comes together to make a real difference.
So if you are wondering what to do with old shoes, repairs can definitely keep them from heading to the local dump. You can also try selling your old shoes online like you would selling used clothes online. The landfill should never be the first course of action.
If recycling comes to mind here, just like what to do with old used Tupperware and other plastics, it is not a cure-all. Shoes, especially sneakers, can actually be very difficult to recycle. They can be made of up to 15 different materials. And sometimes the useful parts are decorated with metal studs that make them difficult to shred.
Instead, a huge help would be for manufacturers to be more mindful about how they design their products. If they are designed so they can be more easily repaired and recycled, we can extend their lifespan, and ensure that at their end of life, they do not need to wind up in a landfill somewhere because they are too difficult to recycle or not recyclable at all. As you would have it, a similar issue arises with electronics and the way they are designed ,which is one of the drivers behind our e-waste problem.
A final word on repairable shoes
I think many would agree that having just a few good pairs of shoes is not the most popular idea anymore — that is unless you are one of those minimalist and/or eco-conscious person like myself. But that’s how it used to be. People just had a few good pairs of shoes which they repaired until the cobbler couldn’t help anymore.
This resulted in a more environmentally friendly wardrobe made up of durable goods but also in less consumption and less waste. Here too we could really stand to learn from the past.
Alternatively, we can reach for more quality, more mindfully crafted products where possible – turning to repairs as we do with our cars and larger appliances – to keep them in use and out of landfills for as long as possible.
Where repairable or not-so-repairable shoes are worn consider donating them like we do with clothing donations, or finding a suitable recycling center. You might even find a new home for those broken cell phones too!
Remember to check for the donation and recycling guidelines of the facility in question to ensure your things are eligible. Donation-based services are overwhelmed with unusable goods and there is even a proper way to recycle cardboard, so this is very important to be mindful of, even when doing something kind for the planet! If you are looking for a new pair of eco-friendly shoes, do drop by the Brand Directory. You will also find other sustainable fashion essentials, as well as jewelry, home goods, and more.