ANYONE who has ever worn shoes knows you’ve got to have soul. I mean sole. But it seems modern manufacturers have lost both.
In this age of planned decrepitude, boots just aren’t made for walking any more – well, not far anyway.
Herald reader Stuart Carter brought this to my attention when he wrote in complaining about crappy composite soles on modern shoes.
‘‘We have a new twist to the notion of use ’em or lose ’em – it is the self-destructing sole,’’ he wrote.
‘‘Shoes and boots should come with use-by dates. They ‘wear out’ without being worn at all.
‘‘I’m not precious about it, but they throw up some disappointing issues about our society and industrial system.’’
And I could relate. I had a ‘‘brand’’ pair of work boots, synonymous with toughness, that I expected would last, conservatively, forever. But after a surprisingly short time, I started noticing trails of black crumbs following me wherever I walked.
On closer examination, I noted my boots were moulting. Not long after that they basically vaporised – end of boots.
In this age of planned decrepitude, boots just aren’t made for walking any more – well, not far anyway.SIMON WALKER
Then I noticed it happening with other brands of shoes. When Stuart sent me his letter, I basically started hyperventilating with empathy.
Contrast that experience with an old pair of quality boots.
The other day, we were out on a bush walk and my other half was in her trusty old hiking boots bought literally 27 years ago and still going strong. No problems with moulting there. The issue was halfway through the trek both soles fell off. The soles hadn’t given up – the glue had.
Either way, it was a real problem out in the bush with your soft squishy suburban tootsies. A stick or rock could easily poke into her foot causing injury and forcing the group to consider putting her down.
But not these trusty old shoes.
Upon examination, it was discovered that beneath the soles that had fallen off was another entire rubber base, which the genuine leather uppers had been stitched into. My other half was able to walk on.
‘‘They don’t make ’em like that any more,’’ was the general refrain. The shoes, they meant.
And it was echoed by our trusted boot repairer when I took the boots in for a quote on getting new soles.
With shoes like these, he said, new soles would see them last another 27 years. And at a fraction of the cost of buying replacement boots, due to the quality of the materials. Such a contrast to the composite sole scenario.
The shoe repairer and I got chatting.
I like talking to this guy because, apart from saving me money, it feels like I am getting in touch with a distant era.
He is in my mind the closest thing I will ever get to a cobbler. An ancient trade, right up there with butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Possibly struggling as much as candlestick makers in the modern era.
During this chat, I was fascinated to hear about the life-or-death struggle in which his trade has been engaged over the past 50 years and the confirmation that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This guy is the son of a shoemaker’s son who used to ply his trade in Lebanon.
He told me how back in his father’s day, Italian shoe brands used to farm out their work to the cheapest, yet most reliable tradesmen they could find.
His father used to make the boots and stamp them with his insignia “Made in Italy”, which his father hated because, of course, they had been made in Lebanon.
The stamp was a way for the company to keep tabs on which shoemakers delivered quality and economy.
Same as what happens today with nearly everything. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel reassured by that.
Anyhow, my cobbler reckons that in the past couple of decades, industrial shoemakers realised cobblers such as him were the enemy of the boot industry, because they fixed things, rather than throwing them away.
So they started making ‘‘unrepairable’’ boots made with shoe bases formulated with rubber to be ‘‘unstickable”.
Shoe repairers fought back by discovering a flexible super glue that adhered to the new unstickable rubber.
So the rubber makers struck back by making replacement soles so expensive it pushed the price point between repair and a new pair of shoes towards parity.
This was nearly a death blow for cobblers, he said.
But they survived by diversifying into things such as key cutting, knife sharpening and anything else that turned a buck.
And now, he said, the new attack was composite rubber that dissolved after a certain time, making it impossible to consider sticking a replacement sole on it.
In so many ways, it represents the soul-less nature of business.
I could literally see my cobbler rejoicing at the prospect of rebirthing my wife’s hiking boots, because he could see the craftsmanship and quality that had gone into their creation.
And the fact that he was supposedly the ‘‘bad guy’’ in this story about shoes seemed a suggestion laced with irony.