What should you look for if you want to buy footwear that, with proper care, will last for many years? Here is some basic information regarding sustainable footwear.

Sustainability has two components: what shoes are made of and how they are made. Part 1 includes information to help you determine what materials your shoes are made of. Next let’s talk about the combinations of materials and construction methods that, in my opinion, create the most long-lasting footwear.

The wide varieties of material and construction methods available today make it possible for most people to own multiple pairs of footwear.  It’s likely that not all of your footwear is made of the same materials or made in the same way. The type of shoe you buy will in large part depend on how you plan to use it. You’re probably not going to hike in a dress shoe, and you’re probably not going to dance in a hiking boot.

I see and repair dozens of shoes each week. My experience tells me that there is not one particular material or construction method that is “best” for everybody and for every purpose. Therefore I’ve developed a sort of hierarchy of what to look for when you are trying to buy sustainable footwear. I present this hierarchy as “here’s the rule, but here’s the exception.”

Main guiding principle:

Good Materials + Quality Construction = Good Shoes

This seems obvious, but what does it really mean?  This is where my hierarchy comes in. I’m going to lay down my basic “rules” and then sift through the exceptions to come to some conclusions.

As noted in Part 1, when looking for sustainable footwear it’s best to focus your attention on four major areas:

  1. The upper – The exterior portion of your footwear that is not the sole. In my experience, sometimes the shaft of a boot is not included in this definition and may be a different material.
  2. The lining – this is the part of the shoe that is on the inside of the upper. It touches your skin (or your socks).
  3. The welt – this is the part of a shoe that holds the upper to the sole. Not all shoes have a welt.
  4. The sole – this is the part of the shoe that touches the ground. Sometimes called the “outsole.”

What to look for in shoes when it comes to sustainable:

General Rule

Leather lasts longer than fabric or man-made materials

Exceptions:

Poor quality Leather – leather is a great material for shoes and boots and will usually outlast most other materials. But as we noted in our Field Guide, not all leather is the same. Do some checking about what type of leather you’re getting. Unfortunately, price is not always a good indicator of quality.

Constant wet/dry – leather is not always the best option for certain kinds of conditions. If you’re getting your shoes or boots wet and muddy on a daily basis, they may not last as long as you’d hoped. The mud-moisture-dry cycle can act almost like a saw across the flexing parts of the footwear. Deep and jagged cracks can develop and shorten the life of the footwear.

If you like the feel and fit of leather, but you work or play in a continuously wet and muddy environment it’s best if you can either protect them with an overshoe or be serious about letting them dry out, cleaning the mud off, and then routinely applying a conditioner and waterproofer.

Vegan footwear – I have seen shoes and boots specifically made as vegan footwear that is among the most well-made footwear I’ve come across. The price of this footwear is typically reflective of this superior quality. If you are selecting vinyl footwear because you do not want to use leather, you may want to be sure the highest quality materials and construction methods are being used to ensure longer life of your footwear.

General Rules

A leather lining is best

Fabric is better than vinyl

Exceptions:

Wet Conditions – I actually think a leather lining is best. Leather linings tend to hold up really well. But again, if your footwear is getting wet on a regular basis, a synthetic fabric lining is probably better than leather.

Oftentimes I see a nice leather upper lined with vinyl. The vinyl cracks over time and crumbles away from its backing. It looks and feels terrible. This is an area that you want to be careful about when checking what your shoes are made of. Really check the manufacturer’s details. Sometimes you will read “fully lined leather upper.” This doesn’t necessarily mean the lining is leather.

General Rules

A welt is better than no welt

A stitched welt is better than a cemented welt

A leather welt is better than a rubber or plastic welt

If no welt, look for a midsole

Diagram of shoe - can you find the welt?

Welt – details of how a welt is attached.

When I refer to a welt I am referring to a separate strip of leather, rubber or plastic that is stitched or cemented to the upper to which the sole is then attached. A welt can be stitched or cemented to the upper and the sole.

Another very strong method for constructing shoes is the Blake (or McKay) stitched method. This method results in a slimmer appearance because the sole is stitched directly to the upper from the inside of the shoe.

A midsole is a full-length outer sole which is usually glued to the upper and then stitched either directly to the upper or to the welt. This is also a very good method for constructing footwear. The sole is then cemented and/or stitched to the midsole. The Blake stitch and midsole construction methods are a bit less likely than a welt to keep water from reaching the interior of the shoe.

A large amount of information about welts and shoe construction methods is available on the web. I do not explore the fine points of those construction methods in this article. My goal is to discuss what types of shoes are most repairable/sustainable.

After many years of repairing all types of footwear, I conclude that a welt, any welt, is better than no welt if you’re concerned about re-soling. A shoe made with a welt can usually withstand multiple resoles. In addition, worn or broken leather welts can be easily replaced by most cobblers. Many manufacturers offer re-crafting services for welted footwear. This service oftentimes includes replacing the welt. Any time you can replace the original parts, you are talking sustainability.

A lot of quality footwear is made with a welt and a midsole (suspenders and a belt, ha ha). I love this construction method. It makes re-soling very straightforward and provides many options with respect to replacement soles.

Sustainable leather welted boot sustainable (repaired)

Leather welted boot with new soles and heels

A cemented welt is not as strong as a stitched welt. But most cemented leather welts can be re-cemented when they come apart and can be replaced when they crack or break.

Leather welts tend to last longer than plastic and rubber welts. Plastic welts are prone to cracking at the stress points which can cause severe leaking.

Exceptions:

Although welts are preferable, many types of unwelted footwear are well-made and very sustainable. Here are some examples:

Cemented Components – Birkenstock sandals with a leather upper, cork footbed and EVA sole are among the most sustainable footwear on the market. Every piece of these sandals can be either repaired or replaced. I wish I had invented them.  Many types of fine men’s and women’s dress footwear are totally cemented together. Today’s adhesives are pretty amazing. Many of these shoes and boots can be resoled.

Cemented “unit” type soles – Many hiking boots are made with soles that are cemented to the upper. No welt, no stitching of any kind holding the parts together. So long as the boot is made with a full-length lasting board, these soles can be replaced.

Stitchdown or turnout shoe – these shoes and boots look like they have a welt, but they don’t. Good examples of turnout shoes can be seen at conkershoes.com. This is a simple and good way to make a shoe or boot. Danner, Clarks and many other makers of quality shoes and boots use this method on some of their footwear. Stitchdown shoes can usually be resoled if they are stitched to a midsole. If they are stitched directly to a molded sole, it’s unlikely they can be resoled.

General Rules

Leather Soles are comfy, long lasting and can be dressed up or down

“Rubber” Soles are comfy, long lasting, formal or casual

Polyurethane (PU or PUR) Soles = Caution!

Natural Gum Rubber or Plantation Crepe Soles = Caution!

One-Piece Molded Soles = Caution!

Leather soles are extremely comfortable, but will require a breaking in period. They last a long time and can usually be replaced as long as the upper is in good shape. Their tendency to be rather slippery can be remedied by adding a thin rubber outsole over the leather. This thin rubber sole is sometimes known as “cat’s paw,” sole guard, or sole saver. If applied correctly it will preserve the beauty and comfort of the original leather sole while adding grip and protection. When the rubber sole guard wears out it can be removed and replaced without having to disturb the original leather sole.

What we call “rubber” soles today are often a compound of rubber and plastic. Many different materials exist today to meet different demands for durability, abrasion resistance, weight, and comfort depending on the application. You can find rubber soles on everything from dress shoes to lineman’s boots. They perform well; and many can be replaced with high-quality, readily-available replacement soles. Rubber soles win the longevity battle in my opinion, but leather wins on comfort.

Exceptions:

Let me explain why you should be cautious about the last three materials on my list.

Polyurethane Soles – polyurethane is a plastic material which can exist in many forms-some flexible, some rigid. The reason for caution is because soles made of polyurethane will eventually break down, crack, and crumble. This process is a function of the age of the soling material. Usually this process of breaking down begins somewhere around the 5-7 year point.

I have customers nearly every week who bring in shoes with pristine uppers and crumbling PUR soles. I used to just remove the cracked or crumbling part of the sole, if possible, and bond a new sole to the remaining PUR sole. But the original PUR sole will eventually deteriorate and the bond holding the new sole will fail. In my opinion, that’s not a good value for my customer. If the shoes don’t have a midsole or a welt –I can’t repair them.

Regular and hard wear of PUR soles will actually postpone the deterioration process. I usually tell people who have PUR soles to just wear the heck out of them because the soles won’t last forever and they can’t be resoled if they don’t have a midsole or welt.

Natural Gum Rubber Soles – natural gum rubber, also called plantation crepe, is natural latex from rubber trees that has been coagulated usually into rather coarse-looking sheets that can be used for shoe soling, among other things. The reason I advise caution is that this soling will begin to soften and become very sticky if it comes into contact with any sort of petroleum product. Be careful when pumping gas, or standing at the bus stop, or walking across the street! I once had a customer whose shoes became stuck to his closet floor when his plantation crepe soles got real sticky after he pumped gas. It also can be very slippery in wet and cold weather.

Natural gum rubber (plantation crepe) which undergoes further processing becomes “regular” rubber and is used for all sorts of products, including shoe soles. Rubber shoe soles (also called caoutchouc) do not have the same “negative” qualities as noted above.

A few words about “crepe:” In the shoe industry, Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) is also called “crepe.” This may create some confusion with plantation crepe. They are not the same thing. EVA is a man-made material (the copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate). Plantation crepe is a natural product from rubber trees. EVA is an extremely flexible material with properties similar to rubber but with excellent toughness. Many shoes are made with EVA soles or with EVA as a mid layer and a tough rubber compound material for the outermost sole. It has neither the disintegration qualities of PUR nor the “sticky” qualities of plantation crepe.

One-Piece Molded Soles – these soles usually come in one of two types:

  1. Molded soles that are stitched to the upper. These shoes are often made to look like they have a separate welt, but they don’t. The soles are one molded piece of polyurethane or other material and the stitch holes are molded into the sole. The sole is then stitched to the upper through these holes. The stitching is real, but the welt is not. If the holes wear through or break, the shoe is usually a total loss.
    This shoe has a fake welt and can not be repaired.

    Pristine upper with molded PUR sole that can’t be repaired.

    The sole can’t be restitched or replaced except with an original sole from the manufacturer. Many manufacturers change models quite frequently and the soles are often not available. This type of shoe causes more heartbreak for my customers than any other type of shoe.

  2. Soles bonded directly to the upper with a pseudo-welt which comes up onto the upper and forms a little “cup” that hugs the upper. These pseudo-welts will often have stitching molded right into the soling material to make it look like the sole is stitched. Sometimes the sole will even have molded stitches or real thread on the bottom to make it look like the soles are stitched. They are not stitched, but it gives you an idea about how valuable stitched soles are if manufacturers will go to these lengths to “fake” it.

The reasons for caution with this type of sole are two-fold. First, many, many molded soles are polyurethane (PUR) and we discussed above the problems with these soles eventually disintegrating. If the soles crumble, they can’t be replaced. Second, even if the sole is not PUR and it lasts long enough to simply wear out, it oftentimes cannot be replaced. It would be great if manufacturers made the molded and stitched soles available so that cobblers could replace them. But they typically do not. Many molded soles which may at first appear to have a stitched sole (with re-sole potential) may not be sustainable after all.

Conclusion:

If you sift through all my rules and exceptions you could put some things together to come up with a sustainable shoe. It might look something like this:

Leather upper, leather lining, welt construction, leather sole with rubber protection to meet the pavement. And you’d be about right. That is a very sustainable design.

Except, most of us have varied lives. We walk to work, we go to the beach, we walk in the water, we hike, we work in the garden, we go to the gym, and we go to weddings and funerals. And most of us need a variety of shoes to take us through our lives.

Your shoes have to fit your lifestyle and your budget. My hope is that by learning about some of the benefits and limitations of common materials and construction methods you may be able to find a type of shoe that is a bit more sustainable than some you have worn in the past. Even if you can’t afford the most expensive shoe on the market, you will know what to expect from the shoes you’re buying.

Featured image photographic imagery are derivatives of Rusty crane  by Sarah Sammis, and Along the Road  by Rusty Clark, used under CC BY.

Have you ever wondered what your shoes (or boots) are made of?  I mean all the parts of your shoe:  the top part you see, the inside part that your foot rests on, the part that meets the ground?

Many of my customers are interested in buying footwear that is sustainable. That is, they’d like to invest in footwear that, with proper care and upkeep, will last for many years. MooBuzz is a part of proper care and upkeep, but the goal of this article is to do more than just sell product. I’d like to help you figure out what type of materials to look for if you want to take sustainability into consideration when you make a footwear purchase.

As a cobbler I have a few reasons to be concerned about what your shoes are made of. Primarily, I need to understand the materials I’m working with so that I can determine whether your shoes can be repaired and, if so, how best to repair them. Secondly, I want to know what your shoes are made of so that I can make them look their best when I clean and polish them before giving them back to you.  I’m also concerned about what your shoes are made of because I’d like them to be around for a long time before they end up in a landfill.

In my view, footwear sustainability has two parts: what shoes are made of and how they are made. This article gives the basics on how to figure out what your shoes are made of.  In Part 2: How are my shoes made? we talk about how materials and construction methods combine to make shoes more or less sustainable.

Materials:

The materials your shoes are made of will affect a number of things. Principal among them are:

  • How they look
  • How they feel
  • How they wear (how long they’ll last)

It’s best to focus your attention on four major areas:

  1. The upper – the exterior portion of your footwear that is not the sole. In my experience, sometimes the shaft of a boot is not included in this definition and may be a different material.
  2. The lining – this is the part of the shoe that is on the inside of the upper. It touches your skin (or your socks).
  3. The welt – this is the part of a shoe that holds the upper to the sole. Not all shoes have a welt.
  4. The sole – this is the part of the shoe that touches the ground.

Sometimes manufacturers will give you information about the insole and/or the sock lining in addition to the four areas listed above. Today the terms insole and sock lining are used almost interchangeably and refer to the material inside of the shoe that is directly beneath your foot (your foot rests on it).  Many shoes have removable insoles/sock linings. In some footwear the insole is fixed in place.

Where can you find out what your shoes are made of? It could be in one of the following places:

  • On the shoe box, if you have it.
  • On the bottom of the shoe. Typically shoes that are all leather will have a symbol or wording indicating such on the waist of the shoe-that is, under the arch on the outside of the sole. On some shoes a sticker on the bottom will list the materials.
  • On the inside of the shoe, either on the lateral side near the heel counter or under the tongue. Sometimes, when there isn’t much room at the sides, the materials will be listed inside towards the front of the shoe. You might have to look really hard. Sometimes it’s under the tongue of the shoe and barely visible.
  • On the manufacturer’s website. This can be difficult if the shoes are no longer made, but you can get a general idea of what kinds of materials that manufacturer tends to use. Sometimes you’ll find this information in the “Details” section of the manufacturer’s online description.

Material information is noted in one of two ways – it’s either written out in words or indicated by some standard symbols.

If it’s written out in words it may be on a sticker or label inside the shoe that says something like, “Leather Upper Balance Man-made.” This means that everything other than the upper is made of man-made materials. That includes the lining, insole, and outer sole. Or the label might say “All Man-made Materials.” Wording is fairly straightforward. Not incredibly detailed, but understandable.

The symbols, on the other hand, can be a bit cryptic. Typically they appear in a two-column table with a symbol indicating the part of the shoe on the left and the material on the right. Below the symbols may be some information about style, size, and country of origin.

Example:
Shoe parts symbols - outer sole, insole, upper and shoe lining
Symbols of shoe materials - textile, leather, and other

What does it all mean?

Leather: An animal skin that has been preserved and prepared for use by a chemical treatment called tanning. This can be anything from full-grain leather to a thin suede split. (A useful guide to types of leather)

Textile: A fabric-knit, woven, or nonwoven (e.g., felt)-made with either natural or synthetic materials.

Other Materials: Could be anything, typically man-made and typically not leather.

Soles can be made of a number of different materials. Here are some abbreviations you may encounter:

PU or PUR: Polyurethane

TR or TPR: Thermoplastic Rubber

EVA: Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (also called ‘crepe’)

Now that you know what your shoes are made of, here are some tips on care:

Shoe and Boot Care:

Unless your shoes or boots are brand new, always clean them before treating them with a polish, waterproofer , or other product.

MooBuzz is made for use on smooth leather. If you have a suede or textile shoe you will need to use a water and stain protector (often a spray or dauber-type application) specifically formulated for those materials. Many man-made materials don’t need waterproofing.

If your label says leather, try MooBuzz in an inconspicuous area to see if you like the results. (MooBuzz may darken light-colored leather.) If you like it, treat your whole shoe or boot.

Exceptions: Suede and Nubuck

MooBuzz isn’t intended for use on suede.

Nubuck is leather, similar to suede but the nap is on the grain side. Because the nap is on the grain side, Nubuck is not as fuzzy as suede and can be made to look similar to smooth leather by applying MooBuzz. The result is darker, smoother-looking leather. Over time the Nubuck may go back to its original appearance, but the change can be drastic so be sure before you MooBuzz your Nubuck. Putting MooBuzz on your Nubuck footwear will ensure that it’s conditioned and waterproof and may make it easier to care for in the long run.

Recap – care of shoes and boots:

Smooth Leather – MooBuzz (Try it on an inconspicuous area to see if you like how it looks.)

Nubuck – Maybe MooBuzz (MooBuzz will make Nubuck leather look like smooth leather. Try it on an inconspicuous area to see if you like how it looks.)

Suede or Textile – Use a silicone-free water and stain protector made for suede and/or textiles.

Man-made Materials – Wipe with damp cloth.

Featured image photographic image in this illustration is a derivative of Factory  by Daniel Mee, used under CC BY.

Several years ago a customer of mine brought her entire class of second grade students to my shop to learn about leather and how shoes are made and repaired. My assistant and I were a bit concerned that some of the students might become “emotional” when they found out where leather actually comes from. I began my presentation by asking the kids if they’d ever seen leather and if they knew where it comes from. It turned out that not a single student knew where leather came from. Some brave students guessed that leather was a plant, some thought it was fabric, and most had no idea. Some of them looked a little confused when I explained leather’s origins. Although none of them became “emotional” during their trip to the shop, I imagine there may have been some interesting dinner-time conversations at home that evening.

I assume you know what leather is and where it comes from. You might be surprised, however, by what passes for “leather” these days. This Glossary is not an all-inclusive list of types of leather and their relative properties. Rather, like a field guide, it gives you some basic information to help you quickly determine what your footwear and accessories might be made of, why they look they way they look, and to help you figure out how to care for them.

If some information in this Glossary sparks an interest in you – great! Leather is truly an amazing material. You can find tons of information online. If you’re really interested, peruse the websites of companies that actually make leather (e.g., Horween, Hermann Oak Leather®). If you want, you can dive really deep to learn more about the characteristics and uses of leather and its cultural significance throughout time.

I hope that with this guide I can, in some small way, pay homage to the creatures that “give it up” to allow us to have this amazing material, to the people who figured out how to tan it, and to the artisans who make beautiful products and continue a centuries-old craft.

Glossary

Leather: an animal hide (skin) that has been preserved and prepared for use by a chemical treatment called tanning. The majority of leather goods we encounter in the United States are made from cowhide, but leather can be made from any animal with skin (including pig, deer, moose, elk, buffalo, horse, goat, lizard, crocodile, alligator, sheep, kid, lamb, snake, etc.).

Most leather we encounter today is tanned using one of two primary methods: Vegetable Tanning and Chrome Tanning. This is over-simplified, but you know, field guide.

Leather example: vegetable tanned leather

vegetable tanned

Vegetable Tanned Leather: As its name implies, the vegetable tanning process uses various materials derived from tree bark and other vegetable matter to tan the leather. The “tannins” naturally occurring in tree bark and other vegetable matter gives the process of “tanning” its name even though many modern tanning processes do not employ vegetable matter.

This leather is stiff and firm. It can be molded with heat and moisture and will hold its shape. Typically used for items such as saddles, bridles, harness parts, stirrups, straps, belts, shoes, boots, knife sheaths, structured bags and cases among many other items. This type of leather will usually require a “breaking in” period. It uniformly absorbs dyes and responds wonderfully to oils and waxes. It can be embossed and tooled or “stamped.”

Chrome Tanned Leather: The chrome tanning process uses soluble chromium salts to tan the leather.

This type of leather is durable, soft and supple. It can be dyed in an almost infinite variety of colors and will produce uniform and consistent color throughout the hide. Chrome tanned leather is used for garments, upholstery, purses, pouches, bags, moccasins, and many, many other products.

The different tanning methods produce leathers with different properties. In an attempt to produce leather with a wide variety of desirable attributes, leather manufacturers create combination tanned leathers, sort of “hybrid” leathers, that have the properties of both vegetable tanned and chrome tanned leather. Several types of leather use a multi-step process to produce leather with specific characteristics.

Veg Chrome Retanned: This is hide that has been vegetable tanned and then re-tanned with chromium salts. The resulting leather is firm and tough yet flexible.

Chrome Veg Retanned: This is hide that has been chrome tanned and then re-tanned using the vegetable tanning method. The resulting leather is soft and pliable with good strength and toughness.

Chrome Oil Tanned: This is hide that has been chrome tanned and then packed with oils to produce a water and stain resistant leather.

Leather comes in different “grades.”

Full Grain Leather: A tanned hide, with the hair removed, whose surface, i.e., top layer, has not been buffed or otherwise corrected. This leather can be vegetable tanned or chrome tanned and can come in a wide variety of thicknesses. This is top notch leather and will hold up to wear and will age very well.

Top Grain Leather: A tanned hide that has had blemishes (barbed wire scratches, stretch marks, etc.) removed by sanding and resurfacing. It can be chrome or vegetable tanned. This leather can be tough but will not age well because the surface of the leather has been damaged.

Genuine Leather: A tanned hide which has had the top grain split off (see also “split”, below) and then a new surface created. Sometimes a finish will be applied to, or embossed on, the surface to make the split look like full grain leather. Can be chrome or vegetable tanned. If used for shoes soles this leather will act as a sponge and will not last very long.

Split: a tanned hide that has had the grain removed or “split” off. Much of the “suede” used in footwear and accessories has had the top grain removed resulting in a thin, weak, leather that looks like suede on both sides. Can be chrome or vegetable tanned.

Suede: a tanned animal hide with the flesh side (not the grain side) buffed to a nap. True suede will have a smooth or “full grain” leather on one side. Usually chrome tanned.

Nubuck: a tanned animal hide which has been buffed to a nap on the top grain side with oil to produce a matte, suede-like appearance. Nubuck typically does not have as full a nap as suede and can be “burnished” and made to look like smooth leather with wear or with the application of oil and wax. Chrome tanned.

Pull-up Leather: This is leather that has been combination tanned (chrome and vegetable) and then packed with greases, oils and waxes. When the leather is bent or pulled the oils and waxes temporarily move away from the crease in the leather and create variations in color. It can have a sort of “rough hewn” appearance with surface scratches appearing quite easily. Because of the high oil content in the leather these scratches can be buffed out with little trouble.

Chromexcel® Leather: Chromexcel is an excellent example of ‘pull-up” leather. It’s a combination tanned leather and is made only by Horween Leather Co. in Chicago. They have been making excellent leathers since the early 1900s. Here is an excellent explanation of the process Horween Leather Co. uses to make Chromexel and written by Nick Horween.

Shell Cordovan: This is leather made from the flat muscle (or shell) that is found just under the skin on the rump of a horse (or any equine, actually). It has amazing resistance to creasing because it does not really have a “grain” and will develop amazing patina over time. Items made from shell cordovan (shoes, belts, wallets, watch bands) will last multiple lifetimes with proper care. The supply of shell cordovan is very limited and the tanning process labor intensive. This makes shell cordovan some of the most expensive leather in the world and well worth the price. In addition to its Chromexcel® , Horween Leather Co. in Chicago has been making shell cordovan since 1905.

Christian Louboutin patent black toe shoe

patent leather

Patent Leather: Leather that has been highly finished with a deep lustrous, almost enamel, appearance. It can be chrome or vegetable tanned. Although true patent leather can still be found, much of the “patent leather” footwear made today is vinyl.

Embossed Leather: Usually a “split” leather to which a surface has been applied or a blemished hide that has been sanded and embossed to look either like Full Grain leather or an exotic hide such as alligator, ostrich, etc. Typically lacks the strength and durability of Full Grain or even Top Grain leather.

Coated Leather: This is usually split-hide leather that has been coated with another material, usually polyurethane. It is a way for manufacturers to use substandard leather and make it look like leather and get a higher price than if it were a completely man-made material.

Bonded Leather: Sometimes called “reconstituted” leather, it is a manufactured material including some proportion of shredded leather bonded to polyurethane and embossed or painted to look like leather. It is sometimes also just called vinyl. This material is used to make upholstered furniture, shoes, bags, purses and many other products.

Here is the schedule we share with our customers to ensure that the shoes they want to wear are ready when they want to wear them.

Since we’re in Wisconsin where we experience all four seasons we have divided this checklist into Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Going over your shoes and accessories before the season begins ensures that they’ll be ready when you reach for them.

Get ready for summer in spring. Prepare for autumn in summer

Get Ready for Summer in March, April, and May

Check over summer shoes and sandals.

  • Cleaning/conditioning
  • Heels/soles
  • Elastic/buckles/Velcro

Birkenstocks! Hiking Boots!

Take anything that needs repair to your local cobbler in March to make sure that it will be ready when summer rolls around.

Clean, condition, and waterproof your shoes and sandals as needed.

Check on your outdoor gear, too.

Prepare for Autumn in June, July, and August

Check over fall shoes and boots.

  • Cleaning/conditioning
  • Heels/soles
  • Elastic/buckles/Velcro
  • Zippers

Take anything that needs repair to your local cobbler in June to make sure you’re ready when the leaves turn. Fall tends to be one of the busiest times for cobblers and rush jobs may not be possible.

Clean, condition, and waterproof your shoes and boots as needed.

Check over book and lunch bags for back to school season.


Brace for winter in autumn. Think spring in winter.

Brace for Winter in September, October, and November

Check over winter boots and parkas.

  • Cleaning/conditioning
  • Waterproofing
  • Grippy soles
  • Zippers

Take anything that needs repair to your local cobbler in September to make sure that it will be ready when the snow starts flying.

Be sure to apply waterproofer!

Think Spring in December, January, and February

Check over spring shoes and rain jackets.

  • Cleaning/conditioning
  • Waterproofing
  • Heels/soles
  • Zippers

Take anything that needs repair to your local cobbler in December to make sure that it will be ready for the thaw.

Spring can get soggy. No time for holes in your soles.

Keep an eye on everyday things like work shoes and bags to make sure you catch damage before it gets really bad. It helps if you don’t have to bring in all of your shoes for repair at once.

It’s good to get in the habit of taking items in for repair as soon as possible. It’s easy to forget the damage only to find your favorite things unusable just when you need them.

Or at least until you’re sick of them.

(The following instructions are for smoother leather only, not for suede or Nubuck.)

how to clean boot graphic

Best Practice!
Before MooBuzzing, remove laces and gently brush dirt & grit from your leather shoes or boots.

Clean

Starting with clean, dry boots is key. Rubbing dirt and grime into your leather is bad.  Remove the laces if you want – we usually do. That way you can be sure no grit remains under the laces and you can get MooBuzz under there.

Even if your boots are brand new it’s important to wipe them down with a soft cloth to remove any dust or grit.

If you’re boots aren’t so new – just wipe them down with a clean damp cloth.

If they’re filthy – brush off as much of the dirt as possible before you wash them. Make sure to get in the nooks and crannies like between the upper and the welt and down under the lace stays if your boots lace up.

Got as much dirt off as possible? Good. Now you’re ready to wash.

I recommend washing your boots with a saddle soap or other mild cleaner. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Never submerge your boots in water while cleaning – always bring the water up to the boots. We do this with a soft, natural bristle brush.

soaking in a tub - no, tub holding water to apply to boot with sponge? - yes!

Best Practice!
Never submerge your leather. Always bring water to boot or shoes with a brush or cloth.

Dry

Whether you’ve just finished washing your boots or you got caught in the rain – allow your boots to dry thoroughly. Pat them down with an old towel if they are dripping wet.

Leather drying rules to follow: lots of air, no heat.

Don’t put wet leather near a fire or in an oven to dry. Heat causes excessive dryness which leads to cracking. Heat can also loosen adhesives and shrink some types of soling. Water combined with extreme heat can cause permanent shrinkage and hardening.

fan - yes, campfire, no

Best Practice!
Using lots of air to dry your leather is good. Do not put boots or shoes in an oven or near fire or heat.

Worst case – think boiled leather armor.

Patience is key.

** If you’ve cleaned your boots and they dry with a crystalline white line or ‘halo’ around the bottom, you may need to remove salt stains from your leather.

New boots need waterproofing - apply in circular motion

Best Practice!
Massage MooBuzz into your leather using a circular motion.

Condition and Waterproof

If you’re going to use a glove or a cloth, get that ready. Bare hands – also ok.

Grab your tin of MooBuzz and twist off the top. Scoop out a small amount and massage it into your boots using a circular motion. Repeat until you have covered the entire boot. Pay special attention to the seams and welt. MooBuzz your stacked leather heel or heel wrap and even the edge of your leather sole.

Let the MooBuzz soak into the leather for at least 20 minutes and wipe off any excess.

If you see any white haze – especially in tight spots like seams – don’t worry. That’s just a little excess MooBuzz. It will disappear in the final rubdown.

Finishing Touches

Give your boots a final buffing with a horse hair brush or a clean, soft cloth for a beautiful hand rubbed finish.

Replace your laces.

Your boots are protected. Get on with your life.

Before you apply MooBuzz…

Make sure your leather is clean and dry.  See our Blog Post:  “Condition and Waterproof to Make your Leather Boots and Shoes Last Forever”  for instructions on how to clean your shoes and boots.

Rubbing anything into the grit of dirty leather is just like rubbing your leather with sandpaper.

Not. Good.

how to clean boot graphic

Best Practice!
Before MooBuzzing, remove laces and gently brush dirt & grit from your leather shoes or boots.

Once your leather is dry and free of grit…

Apply MooBuzz using your hands or a soft cloth.

If you have sensitive skin you may want to use latex or nitrile gloves. In fact, just wearing gloves works great and more MooBuzz gets directly into your leather instead of being absorbed by your skin or a cloth.

Whether you use your hands, gloves, or a cloth, massage MooBuzz into the leather using a circular motion. The warmth of your hands and the friction of rubbing will melt the oil and wax mixture and help it move into the leather.

Less is more here:

New boots need waterproofing - apply in circular motion

Best Practice!
Massage MooBuzz into your leather using a circular motion.

You are not frosting a cake. Several thin coats are better than one thick coat.

(We mention this because some of our loved ones treat MooBuzzing like frosting a cake.  It just wastes precious MooBuzz. )

Buzzed.

Allow MooBuzz to absorb into the leather for at least 20 minutes.

Wipe off any excess.

Give your leather a final buffing with a clean, soft cloth for a beautiful hand-rubbed look.

Love your leather. Show it off.

Is all Neatsfoot Oil the same?

No.

There are two kinds of Neatsfoot Oil you are likely to encounter.

1 Neatsfoot Oil Compound

Often called Prime Neatsfoot Oil Compound or just Prime Neatsfoot Oil.

These products rarely list their ingredients.

Neatsfoot Oil Compound contains other ingredients to extend the oil. These additives may include petroleum derivatives or synthetic oils.

The added oils can cause leather to become brittle as it ages and may cause stitching to decay.

Petroleum additives can break down the glue bond on many types of footwear.

Another drawback is the vaguely chemical smell left on your leather and your hands after using one of these products.

closed tin made with 100% neatsfoot oil no petroleum

2Pure Neatsfoot Oil

No additives.

Pure Neatsfoot Oil is non-drying and will not cause leather to become brittle.

MooBuzz is made with 100% PURE Neatsfoot Oil.

Love your leather. Don’t use petroleum additives or artificial oils.

 

Why will you love MooBuzz?

Because you love your leather.

MooBuzz Conditions: restores moisture, leaving leather smooth and supple.

MooBuzz Waterproofs: protects from water and salt, preventing stains and scars.

Adding Neatsfoot Oil to Beeswax creates a paste that melts at the temperature of your body – making it great for applying by hand.

Put this stuff on your leather – it’ll give your moo a great buzz.
dreamy sketchy drawing of a cow with bee wings MooBuzz that's us

What’s a MooBuzz anyway?

A MooBuzz is a magical creature; part cow, part bee…

Just kidding.

Kind of.

MooBuzz is an all-natural, conditioner and waterproofer for smooth leather.

Made with just two ingredients:

Neatsfoot Oil (which comes from cows)

Beeswax (which comes from, yes, bees)

Our recipe contains no toxic chemicals which means it’s safe for you, your leather, and the environment.

Neatsfoot Oil (Moo) + Beeswax (Buzz) = MooBuzz

MooBuzz makes it easy to love your leather.

Okay, what’s a Neatsfoot?

“Neat” is an Old English word for domesticated cattle. Neatsfoot Oil is derived from the shin bones and feet of cattle.

100% neatsfoot oil is the best and that's what is in MooBuzz
We use only 100% pure Neatsfoot Oil to make MooBuzz.

Pure Neatsfoot Oil is pretty cool stuff. Unlike most animal fats, it is liquid at room temperature. This property allows Neatsfoot Oil to deeply penetrate leather fibers to soften and preserve. And, Neatsfoot Oil doesn’t stiffen up when the temperature plummets.

Bonus: Pure Neatsfoot Oil is non-drying and will not cause leather to become brittle.

Why use Beeswax?

It does not dissolve in water and remains very plastic at low temperatures. In fact, it is much more plastic than most plant waxes at similar temperatures.

These characteristics allow Beeswax to stay pliable when applied to leather and then subjected to cold and wet conditions.

It’s an amazing natural material.

Love your leather. Use MooBuzz.