Goodyear welted shoes as a sustainable consumer choice

A suede loafer is versatile for a Sunday morning walk to the news stand as it is for a stylish evening meal

Considering the recent trend of consumer choice shifting towards sustainable practices, I thought a post was warranted with respect to Goodyear welted footwear, the oldest shoe construction method. Even though it has been around for centuries, its adherents have chosen it for its comfort, longevity and versatility, the last two points, capturing some of the essence of the concept of sustainability.

The comfort advantage stems from the premium materials the construction demands, to withstand the manufacturing process and subsequent wear. Thick leather insoles, a cork paste, leather upper & lining materials mould to the shape of your feet creating a custom fit like no other materials can. Leather being a natural ‘living’ material ensure the shoe remains breathable through the course of the day. At the end of the day, if you use a shoetree to store your shoes, it brings the shoe back to the original shape as these natural ‘live’ materials stretch out to the take the shape of shoetree and with a bit of care, feels fresh and new for your next wear.

This cross section shows the many premium natural materials and complex construction techniques that go into making a Goodyear welted shoe (Disclaimer: Materials seen here are not fully representative of those used in Bridlen shoes as this is a generic shoe photo )

The premium materials used as mentioned above, also give the shoe a much longer life. Of course when I say this, I am assuming, full grain premium aniline leather for the upper, drum dyed crust lining leather for maximum breathability and natural touch/feel and finally compact, highly abrasive resistant vegetable tanned insole and outsole bends that mould well to the feet and give long life. Combine these fine materials with a robust construction technology like goodyear welting, means your pair will last you a good five to seven years with other pairs in rotation or at the very least 2 years of excessive wear. while at the same time, looking better with every wear as the leather takes a naturally patina over time, giving it character and a unique look. Unlike cheaper footwear that are cemented or use poor quality materials that look best when out of the box and deteriorate over time.

A resoling project where we swapped out an old leather sole for a new one

Once your soles are starting to thin and starts to feel a bit papery, you know its time to change the soles. Versatility. After wearing down you leather soles, you can choose to change over to a rubber sole or perhaps double leather soles or simply another set of good quality leather soles. A pair of Goodyear welted shoes can be resoled for a fraction of the cost of a new shoe and it will give it a renewed lease of life for another 2-3 years. This can be done at least a couple of times after which if necessary, the welt can be changed too, extending the life of the shoe for another set of sole changes when needed. This is comparable to keeping the same nice car and simply changing the tyres when needed and after excessive wear, if needed perhaps the wheel rims too. Why would you want to do this? As you break into a pair of Goodyear welted shoes (Read: Breaking into gyw shoes), they take the shape of your feet making them extremely comfortable that you will wish to continue wearing them for as long as possible. Similar to a nice car that you fall in love with, you grow into it!

The other aspect of versality is given the styling of Goodyear welted being mostly classics, they tend never to go out of style of look outdated. It will be possible to style them casually, or formally and with the capsule collection of Goodyear shoes with a few styles, leather and sole types, you will be sorted for a sustainable footwear wardrobe that will allow you to style them with a wide variety of looks over the course of your life.(My capsule collection).

A new pair of oak bark tanned JR soles will last you a long time even with frequent use

And finally a more controversial reason but one that I have reasoned with many(myself first) and found to be true and a satisfactory element of sustainable practices. Leather is made from animal hide that is a byproduct from the demand for meat. Historically, the leather industry itself emerged as an answer to the huge number of skins that were going to land fill after the meat was used for consumption. First pickling technology came around to stop the hides from putrifying, then tanning and finishing technologies to give the hides a wider variety of usability so it can be used for purposes of clothing, upholstery , footwear and much more. The alternative to leather would be to use synthetic materials such as PU that are derivatives of the fossil fuel industry and virgin materials(first usage) and not to mention the excessive use of other natural resources in its manufacturing process such as clean water. Or plant based materials that have not yet proven to be commercially viable due to their low supply and again mostly use of a raw material as a first time of usage, not recycled like leather is. This is in direct comparison to leather hides that are used as a down stream material and when made with sustainability in mind, that most tanneries nowadays adhere to, use minimum water in the manufacturing process, have zero environmental discharge and use natural dyes and pigments and where either absolutely necessary or beneficial to the end product, harmless and non-toxic chemicals. All in all, a very sustainable product taking all things into consideration.

Leathers from Annonay are made in France where the environmental norms are some of the strictest in the world. Leather is a beautiful raw material to make many things be it shoes, hand bags or other good that will look better with time

So there you have it, a case of goodyear welted as smart choice if you are looking to move towards sustainable fashion and help reduce land fill and help the environment. For me This has personally been a very big part of my motivation when I decided to get into the world of goodyear welted shoemaking half a decade ago.

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