Repairable Shoes: How to Choose the Right Pair and Our Top Brand Picks

Published on September 2nd, 2023 by Brett Knighton

A man holding a pair of repairable shoes that will be repaired.

How often do you find yourself replacing shoes? It's a thought many of us might overlook. But consider this: over 300 million shoes are discarded annually, and that's just in the United States alone. That's a lot of waste!

Today’s fast fashion shoes typically last only 8-12 months before being discarded. Once thrown away, they have a significant impact on the environment, ending up in landfills and can take anywhere from 40 to 100 years to break down – that's potentially more than a hundred times longer than the duration they were used!

Wouldn’t you prefer comfortable and durable shoes that are designed to be repaired?

What about having the option to own fewer shoes because the ones you buy are made from sustainable materials that promise longevity?

Whether you've come across this article looking for repairable shoes because you're frustrated with the low-quality designs in today's shoe industry or just beginning to understand the value of sustainability, we can all agree it's time for a change.

Here, we will look at what makes a shoe repairable, the most common shoe repairs a cobbler can make, and give you our top repairable shoe brands that focus on creating shoes out of sustainable materials, saving you money in the long run.

What is a Repairable Shoe?

Repairable shoes are made with high-quality materials designed to be repaired rather than thrown away when damaged. They are a sustainable solution to the growing waste problem created by the shoe industry, which is dominated by low-quality footwear.

A diagram of a repairable shoe showing the different components.

Instead of cheap plastics or weak glues, these shoes are mostly made from durable leather, rubber, or rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) that can be reconditioned and cleaned to extend the shoe's lifespan. They're designed to allow easy disassembly and reassembly, enabling cobblers to fix, mend, or refurbish them effectively.

The Anatomy of a Repairable Shoe

  • Sole Layer: Often referred to as the outsole or footwear base, the bottom of the shoe is made from durable materials that can be replaced or repaired. This layer is crucial for traction and durability, ensuring the shoe can withstand various terrains and conditions.
  • Upper Material: The upper part of the shoe, which wraps around the foot, is typically made from durable and sustainable materials. Traditional repairable shoes often use natural materials like leather or canvas. However, with the introduction of materials like rPET, which comes from recycled plastic bottles, there are even more sustainable options available that are both versatile and good for the environment.
  • Heels: The heel is a critical component that can wear down over time, especially in high-heeled shoes or boots. Quality repairable shoes are designed with heels that can be easily replaced or repaired. This ensures that the shoe maintains its original structure and balance, providing comfort and stability to the wearer.
  • Footbeds: The footbed, or inner sole, plays a pivotal role in the shoe's comfort. In many repairable shoes, the footbed can be removed and replaced. This feature allows wearers to refresh the shoe's interior comfort, especially if the footbed has worn down or requires specialized orthopedic insoles.
  • Construction: The method used to attach the sole to the shoe's upper material is crucial. Techniques such as Goodyear welting or Blake stitching make it easier to replace the sole without damaging the upper material.

Compared to conventional shoes, a well-crafted repairable shoe can last significantly longer, often years or even decades, with proper care.

What Types of Shoes Can Be Repaired?

Most people think it's only possible for high-end or formal shoes to be repaired, but that's not true. There are many different types of shoes that can be fixed, but it will ultimately come down to how much damage there is and what material the shoes are made of.

Different types of repairable shoes lined up next to eachother showcasing the different style of shoes that can be repaired.

For example, leather or vegan leather shoes can be repaired due to their durable and long-lasting nature. Some brands even offer repair programs, partnering with local cobblers who specialize in their specific shoe types.

Let's break down which shoes are repairable and how they can get a second chance at life.

  1. Dress Shoes: Dress shoes like oxfords, loafers, and derbys, often made with premium materials like leather or suede, are one of the most common shoes that can be repaired.
  2. Boots: Whether they're work boots, hiking boots, snow boots, rain boots, dress boots, or stylish casual boots like Chelsea boots, most are designed to withstand various terrains and weather conditions. Repairable boots have thick bottoms and are strong. They can often be resoled, reheeled, or even re-waterproofed. Components like zippers or buckles can also be changed to make them look fresh.
  3. High Heels: High heels, especially stilettos, are prone to wear and tear at the heel tip due to the pressure concentrated on a small area. While they might seem delicate, many high-heeled shoes can be repaired. This includes replacing worn-out heel tips, fixing broken straps, or reinforcing weakened areas.
  4. Athletic Shoes: Athletic or sports shoes are designed for specific activities, from running to basketball. Over time, their soles can wear down, and cushioning can lose its support. While some sports shoes can be resoled, others might be more challenging due to their complex construction. Higher-end models, especially those designed for specific sports like basketball or tennis, can be refurbished or have certain parts replaced.
  5. Sandals: Sandals, depending on their construction, can be surprisingly repairable. Leather repairable sandals, for instance, can have their straps replaced or repaired. Additionally, worn-out footbeds or soles on quality sandals can often be refurbished, giving them several more years of life.
  6. Loafers, Moccasins, and Slippers: These slip-on shoes, known for their comfort and ease, are often made from soft, flexible materials like leather, suede, or canvas. Typical repairs include stitching up torn seams, replacing insoles for added comfort, and sole replacement.
  7. Custom-made and Artisanal Shoes: Hand-crafted by skilled artisans, these shoes are a blend of art and functionality. Given their bespoke nature, they are often designed with repairability in mind. Every component, from the sole to the stitching, is meticulously crafted, making repairs not just possible but often an integral part of their lifecycle. Owners of these shoes tend to invest in regular maintenance to preserve the craftsmanship.

When it comes to footwear, not all shoes are created equal. Some cheaper shoes are designed for short-term use, while others are built to last and can be repaired multiple times.

Understanding shoe quality and the different kinds of shoes that can be repaired will help you make better purchasing decisions when investing in new sustainable footwear.

10-Year Shoe Cost Analysis: Repairable vs Non-Repairable

When you're choosing your next pair of shoes, it's important to think beyond just how they look. Shoes can be a big investment, and there's a lot to consider if you want to make a smart choice.

With so many options out there, it can be tempting to just pick the ones that look the best. But it's a good idea to understand the long-term costs involved, too. That's where style meets sustainability.

To help you make a good decision, we've created a tool that compares the costs of repairing shoes that can be fixed to those that can't.

This helps you see the expenses involved over a period of 10 years so that you can choose wisely. Whether you prefer shoes that can be repaired or ones that can't, knowing the facts is key to making a smart investment in your footwear.

10-Year Shoe Cost Calculator

We hope this tool offers valuable insights into your next shoe purchase. Making informed decisions can lead to substantial savings over time. Continue reading or skip to our top picks for repairable shoe brands that can lead you to Choose more sustainable footwear.

The Role of Cobblers in Shoe Repair

A cobbler, also known as a shoe repairman, is a person who repairs shoes. This is separate from a cordwainer who makes shoes from new leather. A Cobbler is the professional shoe repairman you would visit if your men's shoes need mending or if you want to refurbish women's shoes to their former elegance.

Cobbler making shoe repairs

They specialize in restoring and improving shoes with tools and techniques that have been around since the 18th century when manufacturing shoes was an art. Interestingly, cobblers were viewed as someone who didn't know enough about shoes to make them during that era.

What Can Cobblers Fix?

Cobblers today offer a wide range of services. They can make all common and extensive shoe repairs, such as resoling, reheeling, re-welting, refurbishing, and replacing hardware like hooks, eyelets, straps, and buckles.

They can also weatherize shoes and are an invaluable resource for repairing scuffs on leather boots if you need help. Additionally, many shoe repair shops can add extra comfort features, from cushioning or arch support to extending the height of boot shafts.

If you have older shoes that have seen better days or want to restore those beloved shoes that hold sentimental value, a cobbler has the skills to make them feel as good as new.

What Can't Cobblers Fix?

Because cobblers use more traditional techniques to fix shoes, they will only usually work on shoes produced in today's fast fashion industry made from leather.

Modern sneakers, for instance, are one of the most challenging shoes to resole due to their specific construction and the sneakers' materials being made from synthetic compounds. Unless they are specifically made to be repairable sneakers, most cobblers will decline to work on them.

But you can still find someone local who can fix them for you. Look online and research local shoe repair shops in your area. You might be surprised at who you're able to find.

Suppose your shoes are beyond repair due to severe structural damage to their materials, like deep cracks in the soles, damaged uppers, molding, or shoes that have been repaired multiple times and no longer maintain their structural integrity. In that case, it might be time to consider recycling or repurposing them.

Some organizations accept old shoes for recycling, turning them into materials for playgrounds, athletic surfaces, or even new shoes. You can also get creative and find ways to upcycle them into unique crafts or home decor, which we will discuss later.

DIY vs. Professional Shoe Repair: What to Consider

Repairing shoes yourself can save you money, but it can also come with risks. You could worsen the problem or even injure yourself if you're not careful.

Professional repairs are more expensive, but they're safer, and you know the work will be done correctly.

So, should you repair your shoes or have a professional do it?

Well, it all depends on what kind of skills and experience you have. You can do it yourself if it's a simple repair, like polishing a cowboy boot or replacing the laces or insoles on your favorite casual shoes.

You can also replace velcro straps that have lost their stickiness, use strong adhesive glue for soles that are coming off, or sew any loose threads on your shoes.

A cobbler replacing the sole on a shoe.

However, it can get more complicated once you start looking at reheeling or replacing the shoe's sole.

Of course, there is probably a YouTube video out there that you can watch, but these are the essential components of any shoe. You'll want to know what you're doing before attempting to make the more complex repairs.

Here are a few other things to consider when determining whether to DIY or get professional repairs:

The Cost of Repairing Shoes

One of the most common questions people have when considering whether or not to make the repairs themselves is the cost. DIY repairs will be much cheaper than hiring a professional, especially if you have the tools and materials.

However, if you need to buy repair tools or other materials, the cost of the repair may be closer to what you would pay a professional cobbler anyway.

The cost of repairing shoes can vary widely based on several factors, including the type of repair needed, the materials used, and the expertise of the cobbler. Here are some ballpark figures for common types of repairs where I live in North Carolina:

  • Resoling: Depending on the material and complexity, resoling can cost anywhere from $60 for rubber soles to $150 for leather-soled shoes or cowboy boots. This price will also vary depending on if you need a half or full sole.
  • Heel Replacement: Replacing the heel of a shoe will typically range from $20 to $60, with a high heel replacement being on the more expensive end.
  • Minor Repairs: Simple fixes like gluing a loose sole or replacing laces can cost as little as $5 to $15.
  • Zipper Replacement: Replacing a zipper will typically cost $50 or more, depending on the length and quality of the zipper.
  • Stretching: Having shoes professionally stretched for a better fit can cost between $20 and $100, depending on the material and the degree of stretching required.
  • Brand-Specific Repairs: Some brands offer repair services, ranging from $25 to $100, depending on the extent of the repair needed.
  • Polishing and Conditioning: While you can do this yourself, professional services may charge between $10 and $25. Most of the time, any repair made will also include shoe shines.

Consider Your Time

Repairing shoes takes time, especially if you have little experience. Hiring a professional may be the better option if you don't have the time or patience to repair it yourself. Some brands even offer mail-in repair services so you don’t even have to leave your home.

Quality

While doing the repairs yourself can help you learn new skills and give you a sense of accomplishment, a professional cobbler can ensure the repair is of high quality, potentially extending the life of your shoes even further.

Warranty and Aftercare

Some professional cobblers offer a warranty on their repairs, giving you peace of mind. They might also provide aftercare advice, ensuring your shoes last longer post-repair.

Is it Worth it to Resole Shoes?

The decision to resole shoes often comes down to a combination of factors, including the shoe's sentimental value, its original cost, and how much longer you anticipate wearing them, considering the condition of the other components. If you have shoes where only the sole has worn out but everything else on the shoe is still in working condition, they are definitely worth resoling.

Resoling shoes can bring new life into a pair, making them feel fresh out of the box. It's also an environmentally friendly choice that reduces waste by extending your shoes' lifespan instead of throwing them out.

Storefront of a shoe repair shop.

For high-quality shoes you had to have and paid a pretty penny for, resoling is often a fraction of the cost of buying a new pair. Especially if you've spent time breaking in your favorite pair of work or fashion shoes that have finally molded to your feet just right.

Resoling will allow you to retain that perfect fit to continue enjoying your comfortable shoes without the pain and discomfort of breaking in a new pair.

But, not all shoes are worth resoling. As mentioned, some shoes, especially those from the fast fashion industry, aren't designed to be resoled.

If the upper material of your shoe is severely damaged or worn out, or if the repair cost approaches the price of a new pair, it might be a better idea to invest in a new set of shoes made out of more sustainable materials.

While resoling is an excellent option for many shoes, it's essential to look at the footwear's overall condition and consider the benefits the repair will provide. Make sure you take into account the shoe's age, quality, and your attachment to them when deciding whether or not they're worth the investment.

What to Do With Non-Repairable or Unused Shoes

While many shoes can be repaired, there will inevitably be instances where a pair is beyond saving. Whether due to extensive damage, wear and tear, or simply the shoe's design, it might be time to consider recycling or repurposing them.

Here are some ideas for what to do with non-repairable or unused shoes:

Donate Them

If you have shoes that don’t fit anymore or a pair that has been collecting dust in a closet at home, consider donating them. Giving away gently-used shoes can make a massive difference to many families. Even though you may not see their value anymore, others will.

Before you donate, ensure the shoes are still wearable, and give them a nice clean. Here are some of the best places you can donate your shoes.

Best Places to Donate Shoes

  1. Goodwill
  2. Salvation Army
  3. If you’re on the East Coast, look for a Planet Aid donation bin
  4. Souls4Soles
  5. Homeless Shelters
  6. Churches *
  7. Community Centers *
  8. Schools *

* Always check ahead of time to ensure these places accept donations.

Recycle Your Old Shoes

For the kind of shoes that have significant damage, look for organizations that will recycle them before tossing them in the trash. Some shoe brands even have recycling programs specifically for their own products. These organizations will repurpose your unwearable shoes, turning them into materials for playgrounds, new shoes, or even patio furniture.

Some of our favorite recycling programs include:

GotSneakers

GotSneakers is a free recycling program that will pay you to recycle shoes. Since their primary focus is collecting reusable athletic sneakers, which are then redirected to secondhand stores, they are the only shoes they will pay for.

The program provides other individuals with affordable footwear options, promoting sustainability and affordability.

But because they also have goals to reduce the amount of shoes that end up in landfills and contribute to a circular economy, they will gladly take all other types of shoes for recycling.

These recycled shoes are then either broken down for their materials or used to convert waste into new energy.

As of today, the program has prevented 75 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and has successfully reused or recycled over 2.5 million pairs of shoes.

Terracycle

Terracycle is a recycling company dedicated to eliminating waste. They will take your hard-to-recycle items and turn them into raw materials that manufacturing companies can use in new products.

With the help of on-site scientists and collaborations with their partners, they are one of the most innovative companies actively working towards a more sustainable future.

For shoes, they've created a zero waste box system. This allows individuals to purchase a box, fill it with unwanted footwear, and return it for recycling.

Despite the box's $142.00 price tag, this service guarantees that your old shoes are either repurposed or recycled, ensuring they don't end up in landfills. You can even get neighbors or friends to help you fill-up the box. It's a straightforward and eco-friendly solution for disposing of non-repairable shoes.

Upcycle Shoes

  • Get Creative: Turn your old shoes into pet toys (remove the small parts first), a unique pot for plants in your garden, or things around your home like a doorstop. You can follow many easy guides online to help you transform them into something new and functional.
  • Composting: Shoes made of natural materials like cotton or hemp can be composted. But before sticking your entire shoe into your compost pile, remove non-organic parts like metal eyelets, plastic or rubber soles, or synthetic liners. This method isn't suitable for synthetic materials, but organic materials will break down in a compost pile over time.
  • Craft Projects: Use old shoes for an arts and crafts day. Use old leather to make small bags, jewelry, or patches. You can also use any cloth from shoes for sewing projects.
  • Shoe Art: If you enjoy creating art, consider using various shoe parts to create an abstract piece worth discussing. You could also paint or bedazzle them to create visually appealing and thought-provoking art.

Top Repairable Shoe Brands

When choosing a repairable shoe brand, consider both quality and sustainability. Some companies have made it their mission to offer high-quality shoes that align with sustainable and ethical practices.

In this section, we'll highlight some top brands that provide shoes that can be repaired, focusing on their commitment to quality and sustainability.

Crockett & Jones

Crockett & Jones, founded in Northampton in 1879, is a British shoemaking company renowned for its high-quality, Goodyear-welted, and repairable leather footwear. Their diverse range of men's and women's shoes is united by a design philosophy centered on durability. From elegant formal dress shoes to the rugged charm of their Derby boots, they offer a design for every style.

For those who appreciate more classic styles, their Oxford collection captures the elegance often associated with English shoemakers.

On the more casual end, their loafer collection has grown significantly over the years, representing the most laid-back style available from a Goodyear-welted shoemaker like Crockett & Jones.

With an in-house repairs department, Crockett & Jones expertly restores and maintains their footwear, ensuring each pair enjoys an extended lifespan. The repairability of their shoes establishes their commitment to unmatched quality, which distinguishes them in the footwear industry.

Crockett & Jones Repairable Shoes.
Crockett & Jones Repairable Shoes. Crockett & Jones Repairable Shoes.

Images by Crockett & Jones


EITHER / OR

EITHER / OR is a women's shoe brand emphasizing repairability and sustainability across its entire collection. The owner, Paige, departed from the fast fashion industry to establish a company prioritizing quality and people first.

Emily, a former fast fashion colleague and now business partner, wanted to make an impact on the unsustainable production of shoes. She later joined Paige in her mission to create a women's repairable shoe brand that will put sustainable fashion on the map.

Together, they are dedicated to ethical sourcing and fair wages. They partner with small workshops in Portugal, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico to produce hand-crafted, vegan-tanned leather sandals, flats, and boots.

Designed by women for women, each pair comes with repairable or replaceable leather soles, featuring welt construction that allows for easy repair by any cobbler.

Either/Or Repairable Shoes.
Either/Or Repairable Shoes. Either/Or Repairable Shoes.

Images by EITHER / OR


Vivobarefoot

Vivobarefoot is a brand that believes in the philosophy of natural movement. Their shoes let your feet move naturally and connect with the ground as nature intended.

This company specializes in creating shoes that can be repaired for men, women, and children. They boast one of the largest collections of repairable shoes available, including a wide range of sneakers, loafers, athletic shoes, vegan hiking boots, sandals, and everyday footwear.

Recognizing the environmental impact of footwear waste, VivoBarefoot has taken a proactive stance against the disposable shoe culture. They have introduced a dedicated repairs service, ensuring their shoes can be mended rather than discarded.

However, this repair service is currently only available in the UK. I have contacted them to see if they plan to expand this service into the United States, but I am still waiting to hear back.

Vivobarefoot Repairable Shoes.
Vivobarefoot Repairable Shoes. Vivobarefoot Repairable Shoes.

Images by VivoBarefoot


Baabuk

Baabuk is a brand deeply rooted in the wonders of wool. They take modern styles and mix them with sustainable techniques to create footwear that's both trendy and eco-friendly.

Their collection includes everything from cozy, sustainable slippers and versatile sneakers to a repairable hiking boot made from wool and top-grain Nubuck leather. Each pair showcases the incredible benefits of wool, which keeps your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer and naturally resists odors and bacteria. Beyond the comfort and functionality of their footwear, Baabuk’s shoes are also recyclable and biodegradable.

They offer a repair kit tailored for their wool shoes that allows you to quickly mend scuffs, holes, or cuts. This sustainable approach extends the shoes' life and reduces waste.

Baabuk Repairable Shoes.
Baabuk Repairable Shoes. Baabuk Repairable Shoes.

Images by Baabuk


Alfa Outdoor

Alfa Outdoor, a Norwegian footwear company, crafts high-quality shoes for both men and women, drawing inspiration from Norway's rugged terrain. Their collection ranges from hiking boots and casual shoes to ski boots, winter boots, and even children's boots, built for longevity.

They utilize a blend of repairable GORE-TEX and blue-sign-approved textiles for their upper materials and use reliable Vibram for their soles to ensure quality and durability. Their Impact GTX hiking boot is the world's first fully repairable GORE-TEX touring shoe. It's designed so that every boot component can be repaired and/or replaced.

Even though Alfaoutdoor labels most of their shoes as "maintenance-free," they also emphasize the importance of basic shoe care. They provide easy care guides for drying, cleaning, and storing their boots after a hiking trip.

With their commitment to durability and innovative design, Alfaoutdoor is a premier repairable shoe brand.

Alfa Outdoor Repairable Shoes.
Alfa Outdoor's Impact A/P/S GTX M - Repairable hiking boot. Alfa Outdoor Repairable Shoes.

Images by Alfa Outdoor


Sabah

Sabah is a distinctive shoe brand that has carved a niche for itself in the footwear industry. Originating from a traditional Turkish slipper design, Sabah has modernized this classic, blending tradition with contemporary style.

Sabah is committed to producing high-quality shoes that are comfortable and long-lasting. They carefully select the leather used in their shoes to ensure the best possible quality and use replaceable rubber soles to extend the life of each shoe.

With partnerships with shoe repair specialists in the US and UK, Sabah ensures convenient repair services for customers. Their versatile and repairable slip-on shoes, available for women, men, and children, are perfect for any occasion, maximizing their wearability and value.

Sabah Repairable Shoes.
Sabah Repairable Shoes. Sabah Repairable Shoes.

Images by Sabah


Goral

Goral has been crafting shoes passionately for over 80 years, right from the heart of Sheffield, UK. They're not just about making shoes but about making them last. Every design undergoes rigorous testing and uses only the best materials from trusted European tanneries.

But they know shoes will wear out, so they stand by them with a lifetime repair guarantee. They'll fix or replace your pair if there's a manufacturing issue. And if it's just the wear and tear of everyday life? They've also got a repair service for that, sometimes even for a small fee.

Their REBUILD+ service will also let you send in your old Goral shoes for a complete makeover. One of the secrets behind their durable shoes is the Blake Stitch construction, which allows the entire shoe to be rebuilt.

Whether you're looking for repairable running shoes or hybrids, Goral ensures that each pair is crafted to last, making it a top choice for those who value style and sustainability.

Goral Repairable Shoes.
Goral Repairable Shoes. Goral Repairable Shoes.

Images by Goral


Final Thoughts

Adding a pair of repairable shoes to your wardrobe is another way to add more sustainability to your lifestyle. Think back and reflect on how many shoes you've had to replace in the past 2-5 years.

Now, think about how much money you could have saved if you had just invested in repairable shoes from one of the top brands mentioned above. That shoe from 5 years ago could still be looking brand new today, providing the same comfort and stylish look you bought it for in the first place.

Use this article as a reference and consider going the repairable route the next time you're in the market for a new pair of shoes. Look at the construction closely, consider the materials they're made of, and lean towards brands that make it easy to repair and extend the life of the shoes. Share this guide with your friends so they also know what to look for.

Every repairable shoe chosen over a disposable one reduces the strain on our environment and landfills. It's a small step, but when multiplied by the choices of millions of consumers worldwide, it can lead to significant positive change.



About the Author

Brett Knighton, Owner of GreenLifeResource.com

Brett Knighton

I am the proud owner of GreenLifeResource.com, a platform dedicated to promoting sustainable living and environmental consciousness. My journey towards sustainability was inspired by my daughter's love for nature and being outdoors. Through her, I realized the importance of preserving the environment not just for her, but for all children. Today, I share my knowledge and experiences, hoping to inspire others to join me in making more environmentally-friendly choices. My goal is to bring families and friends closer together through shared respect and care for our planet.

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