One of the advantages of having multiple homes is that you can equip each with items of clothing suitable to each location, and therefore travel with the minimum amount of luggage -
or so I thought!
But, imagine my surprise when on a trip to Istanbul I took a virtually brand new pair of sandals from the wardrobe and found the soles disintegrating within a few minutes of walking. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the shoes not held up well when I got into the car. They only stated to disintegrate when I strolled from the car park through the arrivals lounge at Ataturk International Airport, to meet my daughter who was in-bound from London.
My feet feel funny, I thought, and looking round I found a trail of black breadcrumb-like rubber marking my route. Within minutes the heel dropped from one sole, and moments later the entire sole cracked on the other foot.
Everyone was looking at me.
Naturally I thought this a freak occurrence, and bought some new footwear at an airport store post-haste.
Fast forward a few days and I’m off to visit Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in another pair of two year old rarely used shoes. Just as we started to approach the entrance once again I felt that now familiar crumbling of the soles beneath my feet. Yes, there was a tell-tale trail down the street!
Another new pair of shoes later I find myself at the cobblers. ‘Oh’, he informed me, ‘All shoes do that. You have to wear them, or they will fall apart.’
Now, I must say, that I think there’s something rather peculiar about the idea of shoes that disintegrate when they’re not being worn, and like to fall apart when stored at room temperature in a dry cupboards. After all my leather-soled shoes from earlier times never crack, or disintegrate in the same conditions. Of course, they slip like hell, especially on ice, but no matter – my head might require vinegar and brown paper but the soles of my feet will be adequately protected!
Fast forward a year and I’m off to talk business with the mayor of our local municipality. It’s going to be a sensitive meeting. I had to fight, and use lots of influence to arrange this appointment. I’m the first person to officially visit him after his re-election, and unbeknown to me, after someone attempted to obliterate him and his family in a rain of automatic gunfire over the weekend. He does not look happy, and when I look behind me I note that my feet have left a trail of black debris across the red carpet leading into his office. The heel of one of the most formal shoes that I had available at the beach house has separated itself from the sole, and is proudly attracting his attention from an expensive looking kilim before his desk.
The mayor did not invite me to be seated, and in the circumstances I can’t blame him.
So why do the synthetic soles on contemporary shoes disintegrate when they are not used?
Apparently shoes with a molded polyurethane (PU) sole is prone to a form of deterioration called “hydrolysis”, especially in coastal, humid areas, when not worn. But when you wear them pressure on the soles squeezes out the moisture, which would otherwise insidiously break apart the foam-like structure. So it’s possible for a pair of unworn or barely worn shoes to disintegrate. It’s probably best not to purchase last year’s fashion, or if you must have them re-soled and heeled at once as a precaution!
I guess PU disintegration is good for ecology, and also shoe manufacturers. The moral though, if you are into shoes then best buy some with leather soles, or limit the size of your collection.