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The Truths of Shoes: How to Spot a Quality Pair

Who would know quality shoes better than a shoemaker? We asked our favourite Helsinki based footwear guru Oskari Peltola the questions you have always wanted to (but didn’t dare).

Q: Do expensive shoes inevitably have higher quality?

A: Quite often this is the truth. More expensive shoes are simply made of better materials. In a quality pair, both the upper and lining are real leather. Preferably also the outsole and insole. 

Q: What is the best way to spot a quality pair? 

A: For an ordinary consumer, it is quite a difficult task. Even with 100 euros, it’s quite impossible to find a good pair. I can’t predict a really long life for shoes with this price. 

For example, the Dr. Martens sold these days have such a poor quality outsoles that it breaks in the middle. There’s absolutely no meaning to repair these kind of shoes. Also, the leather used these days is this so-called correct grain, which is pretty much used in all more affordable shoes. The original pairs made in the 1990s didn’t have this problem. They were still made in England. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter where the shoe is made if the materials are crap. The good old Marten’s boots have the made in England designation on the outsole but alone this doesn’t tell anything. The shoes also need to look like they're nearly 30 years old. 

I can’t really emphasize the importance of the materials enough. Even stitched welting won’t guarantee the quality. Of course, there are sure choices like welted English shoes (like Tricker’s) that have been made with the Goodyear welting method. It is the oldest, most labour-intensive, and most durable way to make a shoe. 

To spot a good pair, I recommend examining the material of the insole, the heel and outsole. Leather is always the best possible material. It breathes, is durable and adjusts. And leather shoe can most likely be repaired. In cheaper shoes, the insole, outsole and the heel are usually something synthetic. Or fibre leather.

Q: Interesting. What is fibre leather?

A: Fibre leather, or bonded leather, is made by shredding leather scraps and leather fibre to form a sort of pulp. This "stuff" is then meshed between a fibre cloth and a polyurethane surface, which is then given a leather-like appearance. It looks like leather but unfortunately doesn’t have its quality features. 

Q: When is it too late to repair a shoe?

A: Good shoemakers can do miracles but, like I said, when the outsole is split in half, not much can be done. I’m always deadly honest to my customers. It’s just a waste of their money and my time if the patch won’t last. In general, I do believe that people buy too cheap shoes. But things are getting better. Especially men buy better quality shoes these days. 

Q: Are leather outsoles suitable also for Nordic weather conditions?

A: It’s totally fine to wear shoes with leather outsoles here too, especially in summer. It does rain in southern Europe too, right? Quite often people think the shoe is ruined when the paint of the outsole has been worn out but it’s only a myth. It’s basically impossible to ruin shoes in a day or two. When the leather sole gets worn, it can be repaired. It’s not even inevitable to attach a half sole. If the shoe gets wet, let it dry patiently like a leather glove. A shoe should always be completely dry before wearing. 

Q: Should the leather outsole be protected before use?

A: Leather outsoles do have their own protectives but it is not necessary to protect them. Never use the same protective as for the upper. If you later desire half soles, it might be impossible to glue them because the outsole has become so slippery. 

Q: When should the heel cap be replaced at the latest?

A: No matter what the brand is, the heel caps are made from hard plastic and usually poorly attached. They should be replaced immediately after purchase. We change them to better quality materials, like rubber.

Q: What are your top 3 maintenance tips for shoes?

A: 1. Give your shoes a rest. The best way to​ ​extend​ ​the life of your shoes is​ ​to rotate your shoes. There should be 1-2 days between every use. 2. Before you wear, protect. Always. 3. Simply follow your shoes. Check every once in a while what is happening on the outsoles. And, most importantly, show them to your favourite shoemaker regularly.

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