Shoes are such an important part of our daily lives that most of us simply take them for granted. From the extremes of the former first lady Imelda Marcos and her vast shoe collection, to a few pairs of comfortable shoes we pad around in, or the funky trainers we workout in, we often overlook the fact that we don’t know much about what our shoes are made from, or even where and how they are made.
Most of us remember shoe fittings from childhood, when every care was taken over our growing feet, and being treated as princes and princesses by the assistants in the shoe store. As adults many of us now fix on a pair or a style we like, mumble our shoe size to the assistant, pay, and are out of the store in no time. Many shoe consumers just become so fixated on a style or a brand that we don’t really consider long-term comfort or the possibility of buying another brand made from a more eco-friendly material.
Shoe Materials and Production
The main materials most shoes are made from these days are a combination of leather and rubber; usually leather uppers and body of the shoe, with rubber soles, or a rubber/plastic mix.
Some of the more comfortable shoes for everyday use on the market these days are made entirely from rubber – sold in a variety of colours, and as popular with children as they are with adults, these enclosed sandal type shoes have a very thick sole that makes them very comfortable, practical and extremely light to wear.
Cork is an extremely light, comfortable and practical material for shoe soles, particularly in sandals. It is hardwearing and durable, and certainly can be grown organically. As with cork grown for the wine and bottling industries, arguments against cork growing and its sustainable use go for and against it.
Leather is the traditional material for all kinds of shoes, which is basically recycling parts of animal skins. Leather is often a by-product of the animal, but it cannot be claimed that the animal was raised organically in order to produce both organic meat and organic leather. Other alternatives include a type of so-called ‘vegetarian’ leather, which is a good, hardwearing artificial style material, and quite expensive.
Our Connection to the Earth
In the hunt for good, organically grown materials and products, we need to consider the wider implications of our connection to the earth that sustains us. Humans have evolved from bare-footed hunters, through to wearing strong leaves and bark on our feet, to now mainly using animal skins (in much processed, unrecognisable forms), or man-made, non-natural materials.
Ultimately, the shoes we choose to wear are our principal connection with the land. Most of us live in cities and our shoes walk only on tarmac or the carpets of our homes, offices, and shopping and entertainment centres. Occasionally we might don plush walking boots for a hike into the country, and perhaps once a year, we might go barefoot for a while at the beach, feeling the minute grains of warm sand slide under the soles of our feet.
So finding organically grown and produced materials to make the shoes that are our connection to the surfaces of the earth is important, and will maintain a feeling of natural, earthed connection to the sustaining planet.