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Leather or rubber soles?

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by nordicstyle, Feb 3, 2009.

  1. nh10222

    nh10222 Well-Known Member

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    It's fair enough to say that shoemakers enjoy a financial benefit through charging the same for rubber soles on their high-end products when they actually cost less than the likes of oak bark tanned leather. The thing is, if those shoes are going to be worn in conditions that are not good for leather soles, the buyer will probably be compensated for that initial rip-off and the aesthetic costs with soles that last longer and are generally still very presentable (to the extent that they still look better than most other footwear in the vicinity).

    When I choose rubber, it is always a utilitarian matter. Leather wins hands down when it comes to aesthetics, and I don't think many people question that. It's a utilitarian consideration and a compromise made for practical reasons - for me, because I want to wear nice shoes in conditions outside an office, walk long distances, and cannot easily access factory recrafting services or most traditional shoemakers etc. and find overshoes a hassle to carry unless I am going to work, and in any case impractical for walking any great distance in the wet. I don't like taking leather soles into haunts of the night, public toilets etc. either.

    I've never bothered to use a factory recrafting service before, instead trying my luck with the dearth of local cobblers with mixed results, but I have read about its benefits from people like DWFII. The trouble is, leather soles don't last awfully long when they are actually walked on as opposed to babied in air conditioned offices, and for decent shoes, return airmail + recrafting costs = well over 50% of the price of a new pair of Church Chetwynds delivered to my door. I really wanted to stick to leather for "good" shoes, but eventually decided to try alternatives to address the issue and, despite my reservations, arrived at the Harboro Rubber Company Ltd., of Market Harborough, Leics., and their Dainite product. Dainite as an alternative to the Topy and toe tap method is an ongoing experiment, and so far, I like the results. However, I am by no means a 100% Dainite man.

    I suppose another objection to Dainite would be that while leather soles can have Topys replaced, Dainite is not Topy'd when it eventually does wear down - but can it be?
    I can't recall ever reading anything about it.

    Perhaps the real answer is that it's simply not a good idea to wear luxury shoes in anything other than dry city/office conditions, and I'm trying my best to ignore that salient fact.


    Rest assured, there aren't too many people who seriously get behind rubber soles on here, so far as I can tell.


    In fact, the environment is a matter of concern for me, and the environmental benefit of leather over synthetic products was one of the three benefits I said I could think of in my first post in this thread: Many ways? Perhaps you were being diplomatic there, but I don't think there are many ways in which a good quality leather sole is truly superior to a good quality rubber sole. There are only about three I can think of...

    I later added that after reading your posts I had four benefits on my list. As it stands now, I think I can still say about four, viz.
    (1) superficialities - a well finished leather sole looks great, even with wear, and they sound great,
    (2) comfort - they are comfortable for me under certain conditions,
    (3) environmentally friendly,
    the fourth, wherewith I have no experience but wherefor I have taken your word, that
    - they don't spread like rubber, which helps maintain the structural integrity of Goodyear-welted shoes, and
    a possible fifth,
    - honouring the craft, traditional leatherworking and other political-economic concerns, although as consumers, their choices show that, for whatever reason, many people don't give much consideration to these parts of the equation (which could also easily be said about nos. 1, 3 and 4).

    Then, there are what appear to me as conditional benefits, such as moisture wicking, effectively restricted to high-end shoes with a real leather inner sole and leather, felt or no filler between that and the outer sole; and a thermal permeability benefit, which can keep a foot cooler while walking in cool environments but will not be fully realised while walking on warm or hot ground (as I often find myself doing).
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  2. phxlawstudent

    phxlawstudent Senior member

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    Yes, that is the logical conclusion of what I wrote. I do not disagree with the statement.

    Maybe if the shoes in question were several thousand dollar bespoke shoes, perhaps resoling them in dainite is not a good idea, just in terms of insurance, looks, etc. But, it's not my shoes, I don't really care what people do with their stuff as long as it doesn't impact everyone else.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  3. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Exactly correct. The use of rubber soles on cheap dress shoes is exactly what is clouding the issue. But as you know, leather soles can also be found on cheap, crappy shoes that aren't worth a fraction of their $80 asking price.

    Cheap junk is cheap junk regardless of sole material. Top quality is top quality regardless of sole material.

    It seems so in a purely technical sense to me. But if we are speaking of $500 to $1,200 shoes - say, Carmina, to Gaziano & Girling, does it really make much sense that the difference in cost of the sole material is a significant net benefit to the manufacturer such that it is, in and of itself, a motivating factor in their choice?

    And given that these manufacturers have much more invested in their reputation than puffed up nameless forum blowhards, does it seem likely that they would willingly use a sole material that would have such clear and inevitable negative consequences for their customers?

    Yes, these are largely rhetorical questions - I am certain that you know the answers.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  4. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Thank you phx.
     
  5. nh10222

    nh10222 Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps DWFII would be best placed to respond.

    Well, charging the same for Dainite as for an expensive oak bark-tanned leather sole does seem a nice little way of skimming a little extra profit. Of course, as DWFII said, rubber soles are a rare find on high-end products - not because they are a rip-off, but because people don't want them, meaning the opportunity to capitalise would also be rare. Rare, but not unheard of, because the "same price for rubber and leather" scenario is one I have recently encountered. While the maker concerned is not necessarily high-end, he makes hand-welted boots and did not offer a discount when I specified Dainite instead of the standard Barker oak bark-tanned leather. However, knowing full-well what happens to those beautiful Barker soles when I crush them under 265 lb for miles on end, I went ahead with the rubber "rip off" anyway.

    Quote: RogerP Haha well, in DWFII's case, apparently he will put rubber soles on his boots, but they won't be adorned with his name, so it's true to say that at least some of the high-end folks will not put their name to rubber-soled products. I respect their right to do so. Of course, the big time manufacturers don't seem to worry about it at all, whether that's because they have full confidence in products like Dainite, or do see it as inferior but simply don't care if a few customers suffer the consequences, I don't know.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  6. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    I'd be interested to know the material cost for a quality pair of soles for an individual pair of shoes. I suspect it is not a significant factor in the overall price of high end RTW shoes, much less bespoke.

    I don't know either, but one explanation does seem more likely to me than the other. Particularly since, if we are to accept what we are being told, it wouldn't be a "few customers" impacted. We're talking untold thousands here. Seems like a poor business model to save a few pennies or pounds on sole material only to have a line of disgruntled customers stretching out the door to complain about the resulting stench, among other things. Even if we are to accept the implicit suggestion that these high end shoe companies care nothing for their product or their customers and are simply trying to maximize profit [an implication which I categorically reject] this would seem a poor means to that end.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  7. nh10222

    nh10222 Well-Known Member

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    I'd like a full breakdown on materials, manufacturing methods and labour for every new pair I buy from now on. Then it could be plastered all over the fora, we could compare notes, judge and bitch. I emailed the bootmaker mentioned above a few hours ago.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  8. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Indeed.
     
  9. nh10222

    nh10222 Well-Known Member

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    Here's a post by Leather man from 2009, on the subject of recrafting and material cost for oak bark-tanned soles, with Church apparently charging the same for recrafting with oak bark-tanned leather soles as cheaper soles, whatever they are called (experts chime in here, if you please).

    Quote: Leather man Maybe the economy of scale comes into play for a large operation like Church.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  10. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    ^^^ Interesting - and thanks for digging that up. But that is 1) retail price - cost to the consumer, for 2) resoling - which embraces both material and labor.

    I am looking for cost to the manufacturer, on average, for material alone on a quality leather sole. Because it is the cost to them that would render the diminished cost of rubber as a significant benefit. Or an insignificant one. I would be shocked indeed if that number was anywhere near the figures posted above.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  11. nh10222

    nh10222 Well-Known Member

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    True, that's only one side of the story and it doesn't reveal much; we have more digging to find the real costs - I doubt we'll find much here.

    This reminds me of a documentary that showed Nike's time and motion figures for manufacturing in their sweatshops, apparently recovered from documents found in a rubbish dump. If I recall correctly, the time taken to perform each operation was calculated to some small fraction of a second, like one thousandth. The pay slips of the factory workers were also obtained. It was ridiculous. Even if Northampton factories use methods like gemming and don't make their employees rich, I doubt they apply Nike's ruthless approach to their production. Of course, some cold-hearted bastards out there would probably say that they should...
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  12. RIDER

    RIDER Senior member

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    Glad to see everyone here is still nuts!

    :)

    Anyway, once you cross the $350-400 barrier, cost of outsoles doesn't really mean much. Under that selling price you search materials to give you the best quality possible for what you need to be on the market for, over that you spend less time considering cost and more time on the end product. I pay around 25 euro per pair for Sestriere outsoles (my leather outsoles generally cost me around 12 euro) and that is considered very high - but my customers like them, as do I. I'm pretty sure we have not crippled anyone, but I will keep an eye on my mailbox for any letters from my attorney.

    Hitting on a few talking points here:

    1 - Anyone telling you that a leather soled shoe will 'breath' better than a rubber soled shoe is simply talking the sale, is misinformed or is a starch traditionalist with a singular point of view.
    2 - There are few industries more toxic than the leather tanning industry......even veg tanned specialists #1 cost is waste disposal and treatment. There are no 'environmental benefits' in choosing leather soles vs. rubber soles.
    3 - Personal body chemistry, type of socks and, to a lesser degree, linings and insoles quality do effect perspiration effects - but not outsoles. (note I am referring to good to better quality shoes here.....once you go to a pvc coated upper, pleather linings, fiberboard insoles, etc., all bets are off).
    4 - While I have a great deal of respect for DW's passion and adherence to tradition, I think it is worth noting that most - if not all - bespoke makers value construction and these traditions above all. And rightfully so, as their clients come to them for that exact reason. DW and I share at least one common client, and he goes to DW for one type of experience and product, and me for another - each of equal value and satisfaction to him. No one maker, no one brand and no one type of footwear and/or components is above all no matter the price referenced. All can fit an economy, a fashion, a function, an environment, etc., and all should be respected for what they are - from the shoe department at Walmart to the most talented, sophisticated Bespoke maker's year long work. Anything else is just arrogance.
     
  13. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Ron - that post is so full of win - thank you. Seriously.
     
    1 person likes this.
  14. cptjeff

    cptjeff Senior member

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    Are you implying that the petroleum industry doesn't have any environmental effects worth noting? Because you're choosing oil or leather. Tanning may involve some nasty stuff, I don't know enough to comment (though google is turning up PETA links when I search, which makes me think those claims are grossly exxagerated, because anything that PETA uses as a talking point usually is), but you have to compare to the alternative. And petrochemicals can get pretty nasty too.
     
  15. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    You know folks, everything that is being said to undermine my few initial remarks flies in the face of commonsense.

    Primitive man had little if any athlete's foot or fungal foot infections. Today primitive peoples still have very little incidence of such diseases.

    Now I hate to do this but truth to tell I am not a physician nor yet a Google Guru so I am forced to quote...trusting the sources:

    From http://emedicine.medscape.com

    Now what does occlusive mean? Well...slight divergence for clarity:
    Granted all footwear is to some degree ocullsive but footwear that cannot breathe, that prevents the possibility of breathing in some degree is going to be more occlusive than footwear that is constructed of materials and with techniques that deliberately seeks, as much as possible, to minimize occlusion.

    Obviously these fellows and their parents and grandparents had been wearing leather shoes for some centuries without significant problems. The difference? Rubber and other synthetics were not in common usage in the footwear industry prior to the turn of the 20th century.

    What causes fungal foot infections?

    As I stated quite clearly for those who were still awake, such problems as I outlined are not going to afflict everyone. I think I used the words"genetic make-up"...

    How do you treat or get rid of fungal foot infections?

    All the above quotes are from the same source with the exception of the definition provided for the word "occlude"

    This next quote is from the book Fungal Disease in Britain and the United States1850-2000:Mycoses and Modernity(Science, Technology and Medicine in Modern History.

    Significantly rubber outsoles didn't really gain any market share until well into the 20th century when by-products of the petro-chemical industry became available. Coincidence? Perhaps, but reasonably, logically, objectively, a contributing factor.

    Additional tidbits I found which support my thesis::

    As regards foot odor:

    As regards the tanning industry: J & F. J. Baker & Co. LTD has been in the same location for...what?...200 years? They haven't yet had to scrape off all the topsoil to make the proximate countryside livable nor has the run-off from any such tannery destroyed whole eco-systems the way that the shrimp fishery in Louisiana has been destroyed by Dow Chemical and sibs. Not to mention BP in the Gulf, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

    BTW, in all of my remarks I have emphasized...as in the last quote above...that rubber soled shoe only create a "greater likelihood" of the problems I outlined. Not a certainty. Once again, for the sleepyheads, however--it's a game of russian roulette. Have at it....there is no shoe police (yet).

    In passing...there are folks...objectively ignorant folks...posting here that make this discussion very like arguing with a teenager. And arguing with a teenager is like mud-wrestling with a pig--you soon come to realize that the pig likes it.

    --
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  16. RIDER

    RIDER Senior member

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    No, not at all......more saying that neither product - nor much of anything connected to the leather industry - is 'green' so choosing leather soles over rubber soles for ecological reasons would be without much merit.
     
  17. cptjeff

    cptjeff Senior member

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    Got ya. I do appreciate the fact that leather is renewable, though. You make a new cow in about two years, where it takes about 2 million years to turn a dead cow into oil.
     
  18. Svenn

    Svenn Senior member

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    DW, anyone who's been on this forum a while knows how valuable your input is; you really can just ignore the aggressive posters and none of us would mind.

    It would really suck if we lost DW as a poster like we did Vox and many others, just because people want to debate every little proposition he makes. If there's disagreement fine, but no need for ad hominem attacks.

    As for my input, I've observed rubber having an advantage in terms of shock absorption, especially in boots with thick heels. Maybe the bespoke leather boots I've had made weren't done right, but they always feel like I'm slamming my foot into concrete when I walk in them.
     
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  19. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Yeah, I know...and sometimes I do. But I also realize that a forum that is this large is kind of like a ghetto neighborhood...if you're gonna walk down the street sometimes you've got to give back as good as you get or you'll get run off. And I've had run-ins with some of these folk before...sometimes...to my shame (probably, maybe)...I end up taking a real dislike to them.

    Thank you for that. I think that's why people like Janne and Jan Petter no longer post here. I admit it makes me tired sometimes. It's like a friend of mine (head shoemaker at Colonial Williamsburg) said--it's like trying to dilute the salt in the ocean one teaspoon at a time.

    And that's your choice. I've never experienced the slamming effect in my own shoes or boots but leather is admittedly firmer than rubber.

    "Every form of refuge has a price."
     
  20. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Or another interpretation - you like the arguing because you cannot stand to be questioned and won't tolerate a contrary view. You have a desperate need to be acknowledged as the final word on any shoe-related subject and get your panties most righteously wadded if someone has the temerity to point out that what you're saying doesn't really add up. And it sure doesn't.

    If that strikes you as "aggressive", well, you must live a very soft life.
     
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