Choosing the Right Shoe Materials

3 minute read

When it comes to crafting high-quality footwear, the materials used play a pivotal role in determining the comfort, durability, and aesthetics of the final product. In this guide, we delve into the world of upper and soling materials, shedding light on their characteristics, applications, and unique features. Whether you're a shoe enthusiast or simply seeking to make an informed purchase, understanding these materials can greatly enhance your appreciation for the art of shoemaking.

Upper Materials:

The upper of a shoe not only defines its style but also influences its functionality. From natural options to innovative synthetics, a wide range of materials cater to diverse needs.

  • Leather: As a byproduct of the food industry, leather is both sustainable and versatile. Its ease of working and maintenance makes it ideal for stitching, sticking, and polishing. Leather offers permeability, allowing the passage of water vapour while maintaining a degree of waterproofness. Its strength, stretch, and elasticity are dependent on the animal source and tanning method. Properly selected leather retains its shape, making it a cornerstone of traditional shoemaking.
  • Cotton and Wool: Although rarely used as sole materials, these natural fibres often find a place as linings due to their moisture-absorbing properties. Typically found in indoor or seasonal footwear like slippers, their ease of workability comes with limited stretch and elasticity. However, they serve well in specific contexts, such as espadrilles.
  • Rubber: Widely used in shoe construction, rubber is a fundamental material for soling. When combined with cotton or wool, it produces waterproof shoes. Vulcanisation enhances rubber's attributes, offering easy workability, repairability, and slip resistance. Rubber's strength, stretch, and high elasticity and plasticity make it an essential component in many footwear designs.
  • PVC (Polyvinylchloride): A synthetic material, PVC boasts a polished appearance often seen in women's shoes. While less easy to work with than leather, it offers durability and resistance to liquid penetration. Its strength and stretch depend on accompanying fabrics, making it an attractive choice for specific styles.
  • Polyurethane (PU): Available as a coating or synthetic poromeric material, PU is durable and versatile. While PU-coated fabrics share some properties with PVC, synthetic poromeric materials offer greater elasticity, plasticity, and stretch. PU's lightness and durability make it a valuable asset in shoemaking.

Soling Materials:

A shoe's sole is its foundation, providing support, stability, and traction. Various soling materials cater to different requirements:

  • PVC (Polyvinylchloride): This thermoplastic material is versatile and durable. Its durability and slip-resistance improve with its softness. PVC is heavier than rubber and leather, making it suitable for high-wear situations. It can be moulded or attached to the shoe.
  • Polyurethane (PU): Reaction-moulded PU offers durability and is suitable for heavier styles. However, its toxic constituents demand careful handling. PU-soled shoes are lightweight, durable, and resistant to cracking. PU soles can be moulded, stuck, or stitched.
  • Thermoplastic Rubber (TR): Molded like PVC, TR is not limited by softness for durability. This makes it versatile for various styles and purposes. TR is lighter than PVC and offers excellent grip.
  • Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU): TPU is tough, crack-resistant, and resistant to water, oil, and acid. Its lightweight and colourfast nature makes it ideal for specific settings.
  • Rubber (Resin and Rubber): Produced through vulcanisation, these materials offer a wide range of soling options. From thin soles for courts to thicker and softer ones for traditional school shoes, they cater to diverse needs.
  • Crepe: A natural product from rubber plantations, crepe is suitable for specific applications due to its limited styling options and shelf life.
  • Leather: A classic choice, leather is relatively easy to work with and repair. It is known for its durability, and its attachment methods include nailing, stitching, or sticking.


In the ever-evolving world of footwear, innovation and invention continue to push boundaries. New materials like Gore-Tex and Sympatex redefine what we expect from our shoes. These fabrics offer durability, breathability, and comfort, providing just a glimpse of what's possible. As the shoe industry advances, embracing new materials and techniques promises exciting and dynamic possibilities. So, whether you're donning leather classics or embracing modern synthetics, understanding the significance of each material adds a layer of appreciation to every step you take.

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