This started as a response to Fake Plastic Fish's post on running. I started getting windy, and figured I should just make my own post.
Shoes. Are their plastic free alternatives? Birkenstock are the closest I can think of, but are not the most practical shoe ever. They are clunky, not waterproof, and useless in winter.
So, since I cannot get away from synthetics in shoes, my motto is buy few, make them last.
I think buying a really good pair and taking care of them is the most important thing we can do. I used to buy cheap shoes and would go through 2-3 sneakers a year, plus a pair of boots and dress shoes. I now buy Merrill's or Keens, which last me several years. I also have the problem that if I wear shoes which are flat or really worn out, I get shooting pains in my legs, so good support is a must.
I have five types of shoes I 'need'.
Daily cool/cold weather shoes:
* edited to add-upon thinking, I could have worn a really good pair of lace up hiking boots and for both winter boots and winter shoes. I did it last year. But LL Bean came out with PURPLE mocs. I was weak. I couldn't help myself. I shall flog myself daily for a week.
My last three pairs were
Merrill Mocs: bought in 2003 in Malibu when teaching at a dog camp. Wore daily year round for 2 1/2 years, then occasionally until the sides tore out.
Merrill light hikers: bought early in 2006, worn for over a year daily, still good other than the back started fraying and bunching from not untying my shoes to take them on and off.
LL Bean Winter shoes-Purple!!!- bought September 2007, worn daily for 4 months, no sign of wear.
Daily summer sandals:
Ok, this is a tough one. I have lost many sandals to the Bull Terror, who once in a blue moon with get lonely, bored AND locked in the sun room and decides to console herself with my shoes. Usually sandals. Usually only one so I have to throw one perfectly good sandal away, and can remember how nice they were. Of course up until this last pair I bought cheap Walmart shoes. This year I paid a lot for my sandals and they are really good shoes, so her royal hienyness and I had a long talk, and she seems to understand how important this is. Now I wouldn't consider sandles a need until I started kayaking. I would go barefoot but this summer my son stepped out of his kayak for a break and landed on a muskrat trap. Luckily he was not hurt(screamed like a banshee though!), but it goes to show that you never know what is on the bottom of a river, and shoes are a good thing. Also, we got out of the kayaks to go to the bathroom and get more ice, and I needed shoes to go in the stores. Keens can get wet repeatedly without damage, so they seemed a good option. They also float, another good feature.
Keen's: bought March of 2007 with my kayak, worn all summer, look brand new.
Winter/barn boots: I live in upstate NY, so I need warm, dry boots. I went through many cheap pairs of boots which were never warm and never lasted until I found these. They are mostly made of plastic, but given how long lasting and totally waterproof they are, I am using less plastic with these over the long haul. My brother Bob said they are not good on cement for 8 hours a day, they will not last. In that case a good pair of work boots is better. I also wear them on the farm and on other farms, so I can wash them with chlorahexadine and they do not care. They also make Arctic Muck's, which are good down to sub zero temps. My friend has a pair, but I like the idea of only having one pair of boots, so I just wear more socks.
*edited to add-in order to meet biosecurity rules for school and possibly a later job, rubber boots were a requirement. I could probably otherwise use a nice pair of laceup workboots or hiking boots and they would cover both winter boots and shoes.
Muck boots: bought in 2005, still like new.
* Edited to add-this seems like a want, and it is, I guess since I don't have to hike. However if you are going to hike, you really want a good pair of boots. I could get away with using a good pair of laceup workboots, but it would be a risk. Hiking mountains means lots of ups, and more importantly downs, which cram your toes into the toes of your shoes. I have worn my hikers as winter shoes, and they worked fine and lasted well.
Merrill high topped hikers: bought 2005, still in excellent condition.
I do have dress sandals which I rarely ever wear and will likely not buy more of. I do not have a job I need to dress up in, so I cannot vouch for dress shoe brands. I would assume, however, that if you buy simple, plainer shoes they would last through fads more often. To me, refusing to buy into fashion is a major way to cut wasteful spending and usage. But then again, farmers don't care what you wear, so I am at an advantage in this pledge. Weddings and funerals I am still on the fence about. I use the one pair of dress sandals for all fancy summer shindigs, and have been lucky no one has died in the winter in a while.
Sandals: can't remember the brand, wooden base and leather uppers, plastic only a thin coating on the bottom and sole, and a pad on the heel. 2 years and they look like new.
I have 5 pairs of shoes, plus two old pair I keep around for painting and the like, but which would be uncomfortable for daily use. Part of taking care of our shoes is wearing older ones for messy activities, which prolongs the life of our new ones. That is it. Upon reflection I could lessen this to 2 or 3 pairs by not replacing the winter shoes and Muck boots and just wearing the hikers. We do not need a closet full of shoes, and shoes do not need to become obsolete because some French guy labeled them out of fashion. I will definately think before buying another pair.
My grandfather used to get his shoes repaired, and at one point filled the sole of his shoes with glue to stretch them further when they got a hole. I could learn a real lesson from him, and he only ever had one pair of shoes.
Buy good, simple shoes which are made for what you need to do, and take care of them. Untie them every time to avoid damaging them. Clean them off when muddy, don't leave them out in the sun or weather. And for Pete's sake, don't leave them around a Bull Terrier!