Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Life for Old Soles

In the winter of 2009, Big Little Sister was gifted a pair of the suede boots that were all the rage then (and are, at least up here, still relatively popular shoe-wear). I got to looking at her boots one day, and I thought, "I bet I can fit those." So, I tried them on, and I could.

After the initial surprise of realizing that my young teen wore the same size shoe as I wear, I decided two things. First, even though I could use a pair, new boots weren't in the picture for me. Between every day expenses, classes for our girls, and outfitting their growing bodies, new anything for me is rarely in the budget. Second was that she needed to outgrow those boots so that she could hand-them-down to me.

She didn't. Two winters later, she still wears the same size shoe, and two winters later, I was still without a pair of boots. Unfortunately, two winters later, she's worn out the soles of the boots that were supposed to be mine, and so, really, no one can wear them.

And she needs a new pair of boots, which she did, indeed, receive.

The problem is that we still have this other pair of boots that, save for the extensive wear-and-tear on the soles are in perfect condition. I mean, no marks, rips, or abrasions on the suede uppers.

The question became, what to do with them, and for many months, they simply occupied a space occupied by all of those shoes that we can't give away and we won't throw away (so wasteful).

At the same time, the sole on my six year old Birkenstock-knock-off clogs is starting to wear thin, especially around the toes, and I find that I'm walking on the leather at the tips and on the corks at the heels.

The shoes are six years old, and I've probably gotten as much (more, perhaps) wear out of them as anyone can expect from a pair of shoes, but these are my favorite (only) pair of winter shoes. I love these shoes - not only because they are incredibly comfortable, but also, because I coveted a pair for a long time, and a loved one heard my wish and gave them to me as a gift.

Besides, other than the sole, they're still in excellent shape, too. The suede is free of unsightly stains, rips and abrasions. I can't just throw them away, when they still have some wear in them.

What to do ...? What to do ...?

The answer, of course, was very simple and came in the form of a man named Ray who has a very unassuming little shop that is housed in a very unassuming little building that is kind of tucked off into a corner on the side of a very busy road along a route that I often travel. I've seen the shop. I pass by it six or seven times a week, but in all these years, I never stopped.

Last week, I did. Boots in hand, I went into his shop, and I asked him, "Can you fix these?"

He said he could, and then, he added, "But you could buy a pair of Bear Claws (another knock-off brand of the same style boot) for less than it would cost you to have me fix them."

"Yes," I agreed, "But this pair isn't Bear Claws, and to buy this pair, not on sale (even though it's a knock-off brand, too), would cost almost twice what you're charging to fix them."

We agreed on a price and a pick-up date, and I left ... but not before whipping the shoe off my foot and asking if he could fix those, also.

He said he could, and it would cost less than a new pair of Birks, and even less than a new pair of Birk knock-offs that weren't on sale ;).

I picked up my boots today, and they were exactly the price he listed on the ticket - no tax, no surcharges, no hidden fees. I gave him cash, took off my shoes, put on my newly-soled boots, and handed him the Birks.

The new soles actually look better than the originals, and he reinforced the toe area that Big Little Sister had worn off with a strip of leather. He told me that the suede used to make the knock-offs is a better quality than the suede they use for the designer brand. I think I'll be able to wear these boots for a few years without needing any repairs ... but even if I need repairs, I know that I can get them fixed for no more than a new pair would cost.

The best, though, is that repairing rather than replacing saves me the aggravation of having to go shopping!

On the way home from the shoe repair place, I started thinking about the future in a lower energy world, where getting new "designer" boots, originals or knock-offs, won't be an option for most people - not only because most of us won't be able to afford them, but also because most of that sort of product is manufactured far from where most of us live and as shipping those products to us becomes more cost prohibitive, we'll find fewer of those products available - at any price.

Having young daughters, who haven't yet entered, but may someday wish to enter the job market, I think a lot about the future of jobs in America. I had a conversation with a relative over the holiday, and, of course, the topic of my daughters' future education came up. The assumption is that my girls, like all good, middle-class, suburban girls, will go to college. In fact, that's the only option most people see.

Driving home today with my new soles, I wondered if there weren't another option. I wondered if Ray, the shoe-repair guy, wouldn't consider hiring a teenaged assistant/apprentice. Then, I wondered, if, perhaps, this apprentice might not find it valuable to visit second hand shops in search of high-end designer boots that had seen better days. And then, I wondered if this entrepreneurial-minded youngster might not take some of his/her gift cash and use it to purchase a few pairs of these boots, spiff them up, and then, resell them.

Maybe, once that youngster had completed a two-year apprenticeship program with Ray, s/he might have enough stock to open up a second-hand designer footwear store, where all of the shoes had been resoled ... thus, giving a chance at a new life to both, the shoe and the youth.


  1. You'll have to keep us posted on what comes of that wondering some day. Our family is very interested in apprenticeships and internships - especially for the (current) "tween" who is incredibly creative and crafty, but has limited academic abilities.

  2. Ahhh, great ambitions for entrepreurship! I've kinda wondered myself about how skills like that might fare in the coming economy.

    I've kept from having to resole my Birkenstocks every 6 months by a wonderful --if kinda stinky-- product called Shoe Goo. For $5 you get a tube of gluey stuff that hardens to a rubbery consistency. I wear out mainly the heels, so I put some Shoe Goo on the heel, level it out with an ice cube,leave the shoe upside down overnight, then voila, good for another few months. The only drawback is that it is a little unpleasantly industrial-smelling for a few days, but it saves me $15 per shoe.

  3. I've often wondered when we would finally see the cobblers/shoe repair persons disappear. I know of only two between the NY State line and where I live (both are in those quiet little shops, like yours :)
    It would be wonderful if they could take on apprentices, and also if a young person would be interested in learning the trade. Not many people realize that with a little TLC, good quality shoes can last for many years.
    PS. My mail was especially good today. Your book arrived!

  4. A few years back I had a FAVORITE pair of black boots. They weren't anything special just lace-up ankle boots but I loved them. I had them resoled 3 times and wore them for many, many years. Alas, my very old, one-eyed cat decided they made a nice pee spot....and that was the end of my boots. If it were not for my kitty I know I would still be wearing them. :)
    Thank you for a wonderful blog!

  5. I love the way you think! :)

  6. Hmm, I have 2 shoe repair places in walking distance from my suburban home, so I don't see the shoe repair business as disappearing anytime soon, unlike 4 Bush Farmgirl. I was in one of them just last month with dh's briefcase, which needed some repair to the handle. Dh had hoped we could do it ourselves, but we don't really have the equipment to work with leather here.

    If you hang out on sewing blogs, DIY forums, etc., you'll find that remaking shoes has been quite trendy, although on a "light" scale (more akin to the idea of cutting up old tshirts to make them into something new). What a great idea to start thinking about more depth to the trend -- I think it could be quite popular.

  7. An excellent idea! We have only one cobbler in town. He is able to repair shoes, belts and purses(basically anything made of leather). I've gone to his shop since the 70's. It will be a sad day when he retires.BTW recently read your book, LOVED it!

  8. Ray, my neighbor! I have been to his shop so many times! He is great. He fixed for us about anything. I once saw a horse saddle in his shop! Everytime I brought him an item it comes out better than when I first bought it.

  9. I am very familiar with Ray! I am friends with his daughter :) I've always loved the idea of repairing rather than just tossing otherwise-wonderful shoes.

    I think your ideas for your young ladies is a great one! :) Good luck!

  10. This is timely, as I was thinking, as I put on my beloved dress boots this morning, that it was time to bring them to our buddy Miguel for a "tune-up," and maybe bring my leather jacket, too.

  11. When I was a kid in the 50s my parents took our shoes, after wearing them about 2 months, to the local shoe repair shop for preventive repair. He applied thin heels and/or toes to the areas where it indicated there would be wear. The price was about 1/4 what it would be for regular replacement of heels - I asked my Dad.

    We do have a couple of shoe repair places in town but they advertise as leather repair, 'bring in your purses, belts, clothing' for repairs. When I brought in a purse to have the strap shortened, I asked the owner why he advertised that way. His answer - he found that many people did not want it known that they repaired their shoes rather than buying new. To help that along he always included a top-notch shine to shoes he repaired. Great guy, great work, great prices. Hopefully he can advertise shoe repair in the near future - the economy demands it.

  12. Our shoe guy is one of the things I will miss when we leave this town. We find one at each new place we go. The guy here has been the best so far. Which also reminds me I need to dig out my rain boots and fix the sole with the goo he gave me.

  13. Too funny, I read this today just after dropping my boots off at the shoe repair (they need new heels and new toe taps).

    Growing up middle class, I was always taught to take my shoes to the repair shop as soon as they needed it. This saves a HUGE amount on buying new shoes.

    I have some shoes that are still beautiful and almost as old as my teenager!