The skilful hands of a cobbler can brilliantly transform a lacklustre pair of brogues, but culturally, repairing has been in decline. The cobbler I had frequented for a half-decade closed amidst the Pandemic, and the cobbler I send my shoes to now had expressed concern over whether he would remain in business as cheap shoes meant that heel replacements and resoling had felt excessive to some people. That said, increasingly we are, some of us are, questioning the linear patterns of production and consumption that have dominated since the 1990s. Often sustainability conversations focus on clothing, but the footwear industry has become a macabre myriad of cause and effect also.
Raising the average number of times a pair of loafers or stilettos are worn is the most direct way to design out waste and pollution and for businesses and customers to capture value. But durability and longevity are a part of the conversation and beyond the intention of this piece, but ultimately, the most sustainable purchase is the one you will wear and care for in a way that they keep their value and can be fed back into the system either in resale or upcycling. I think if you’re choosing to invest in your closet, you’re investing in the planet.
The average shoe takes five days to wear all day until it is moulded to your foot. So beyond the money spent, it takes blisters and time to make them fit your feet. I’ve never owned more than five pairs of shoes at any given point in my life because shoes are where I invest my money. The downside is that there is one pair that is worn too frequently and, therefore, regardless of maintenance, will not last beyond four years. My Acne brogues are getting to this point, and I recently retired my Chelsea boots. Aeons ago, when working in fashion retail, my manager introduced me to Scarpa, I remember using an entire paycheck on a pair of Stuart Weitzman point-toe flats. They were sent to Gemmels to have a rubber sole fitted, and I was told what products I needed to maintain them.
This is my guide to preserving and caring for your footwear, and I hope you find this information useful. I have also included what items you should purchase to give your footwear the home spa treatment.
Maintenance involves reheeling, resoling, a clean and buffing. For shoes worn occasionally, annually, and if you wear a particular pair frequently, every six months. There is some more general advice and then a list of at-home maintenance. Email me if you have any questions.
Put a rubber sole on all your shoes
Unless your life is a carousel of carpets and cars, as soon as you buy expensive shoes with leather soles, have them covered with rubber. Beyond protecting the shoe, you will protect yourself from slipping. High-end designer boots often use the same soles that their shoes do,”a soft, rich-looking sole, which isn’t really meant to be worn as a boot. And that’s not a bad thing. You want a nice, thin sole on a pair of sexy boots, but if you’re going to wear it outside when the weather gets bad, you might as well put a sole on it to give it more wear.” Happily, most cobblers and shoe repair locations will be able to mate your boot with a variety of soles, most of which are designed to blend in with the colour of the leather.
Don’t wear leather in heavy downpours
Once I did this and my soles separated from the upper. And if you do get caught in the elements, avoid the urge to dry them near a heater or expose the leather to heat period. Heat (and sunlight) can crack and damage leather. Let them air out on their own (with a shoe tree) for a couple of days. Dampness and leather soles don’t gel—they can’t take water. I’ll cover suede at a later date, but if you do own suede or velvet, use a lot of Scotchgard.
Don’t wear your shoes every day
Leather needs to breathe. Alternate.
Clean and moisturise with each wear
Hydrate! Leather is skin, it requires constant moisturisation like our skin. Moisturising restores colour and dulls scuffs and blemishes. You’ll need leather cream and wax. I buy Tarrago. The cream is more moisturising than wax, and creates a natural finish. Wax offers slightly better protection and a higher level of shine, but it can be more drying which is why I recommend you begin with a cream and finish with the wax.
First, I start with a horsehair brush (I recently purchased a Japanese shoe brush from Everyday Needs) or a soft rag and just buff up the shoe, wiping off any dust you may have picked up during the day. This will keep any dirt or grime from being ground into the leather as time goes on, saving you from having to deal with staining later on. Then briefly clean the leather, I use Jason Markk. Now with a clean surface, apply the cream and in a circular motion using a cotton cloth. You can also use the brush to work the cream in deeper. Finish off with the wax to recover the shine.
Many sites recommend microfibre cloths but if you are needing to buy a cloth I would avoid microfibre and purchase a Selvyt cloth. Made in England, the cloth is a unique raised cotton, ideal for polishing all types of surfaces, including jewellery, silver, stainless steel, polished wood, optical lenses, computer screens and leather.
It is also worth remembering the longer the point at the toe of the shoe, scuffing becomes an occupational hazard. You need to be mindful and intent with how you walk, but also keep in mind that you will invest more at a cobbler to remove scuffs that at-home care cannot achieve.
Invest in cedar shoe trees
I recall The Sartorialist talking about the importance of shoe trees, though I am yet to purchase any! Leather is porous, so it absorbs moisture and odour, eventually causing it to break down. A shoe tree (it has to be wood, they are usually cedar) absorbs humidity and odour while helping retain the form of the shoe, this also works to prevent creasing. You can extend the life of your shoes dramatically with just this single step alone.
Store your shoes in their dust bags
Dust can work its way into the leather over time, resulting in staining and degradation. Store less frequently worn pairs in a fabric dust bag, this protects them while allowing them to breathe.
Know when to visit a professional
When it comes to repairs, the golden rule is essentially this—anything that happens to the heel is not a major. Heels are fairly easily replaced. If you were lax on preventative measures, the longer you wait, the harder it is to bring the leather back to its natural finish. Think scuffing, water damage, stains, et cetera.
I’ve recently sent a pair of Proenza Schouler mules to have a scuff removed from the toe and a full clean, so I will report back on the level of success. I’ll also share a before and after of my Acne brogues when I send them for repair, I purchased these second-hand off eBay four years ago and have had the heels replaced about the same number of times, the soles repaired twice.
There are staggering statistics that underscore the urgent need to address waste generation, which is among the most critical environmental challenges of our time. So when we invest in high-quality, durable footwear, we not only curtail our individual contribution to landfill, we’re supporting artisans operating in our local service industry and also sending a powerful message to the industry to prioritise sustainability over disposability. If you have a repair story, I would love to hear it; either tag us on Instagram or send me an email.