Shoe Ingredients – What are the materials that make up our footwear?


People who know food know that every dish, no matter how simple, starts with great ingredients. A tomato sauce made with straight–from-the-garden tomatoes will always taste better than one from unripe tomatoes. Always. I know this because I’m a long time gardener. In fact, for a period of three years I lived almost entirely from the bounty of my half-acre garden.

I believe the same is true in footwear, it starts with quality ingredients. Unfortunately, like most fast-food chains, most mass-produced footwear is made with an emphasis on speed and efficiency in mind, not quality or longevity. And, like fast-food, which fails to equip us with the nutrients we need, mass-produced shoes fail at equipping us with what we should get from our shoes. Safe, secure protection for our feet, that is solid yet breathable and comfortable. The fact that the shoes will last should be a given. When we put on our shoes we shouldn’t wonder whether or not they are going to wear out today.  

The following are the ingredients of Standard Handmade boots and shoes:

Oil-tanned 5-6oz, full-grain leather from a cow – This is used for the upper and is the most obvious part of the shoe. We offer light brown, dark brown, and black in the same oil-tanned leather.  We used this particular leather for its strength and flexibility as well as its incredible water resistance capabilities. It will last forever. We only use the leather from the shoulder and the butt of the animal because the grain is tighter and has less stretch. We do not use the belly for any of our shoes. More on oil-tanned leather here.

Extra, personal note on this leather: I have chosen this leather as our flagship leather because I like that it can be used for both boots and shoes. You’ll find that unlike a pair of work boots – my boots will feel comfortable immediately. Also, unlike a pair of dress shoes – my shoes will not feel too-thin when you walk or have extremely pronounced wrinkles in the vamp if you neglect to place a shoe tree inside.

4oz suede lining from a cow – This is the lining inside of the shoes to add comfort and hide some of the guts of the shoes. We choose the leather for its softness and relative thickness. Most manufacturers veer from leather for the lining because, well, leather is expensive compared to cotton, polyester, or canvas. We feel, however, that there is no comparison for comfort and longevity in a leather lining for a shoe.

Also, and this is a new experience for me since I recently bought a pair of mass-produced shoes (something I haven’t done in years, except for my beach shoes), I have found that leather absorbs odor much better than any other shoe material. Though I haven’t tried wool, and will not because I live in Houston. I don’t need anything to help make my feet hotter.

5-6oz veg tan leather from a cow – This is the leather that is used between the upper and the lining in the toe box. This leather gives more strength to the toe so that it does not flatten out over time. Most manufacturers use fiberglass or rubber here. Again, because it is cheap and easy. And again there is nothing more comfortable or as durable as leather, over time. Also, the shoes, in my opinion, appear more fluid, or more smooth, which also for me, make them look more beautiful.

7-8oz veg tan leather from a cow – This is the leather that is used in between the upper and lining in the heel of the shoe, or the counter.  It adds strength and a fitted area for your heel to sit comfortably. This is one of the most important areas of comfort for your shoes. Your heel has to fit well into your shoes, yet not feel like it’s getting squeezed.

The 5-7oz veg tan is also used in the sole as an extra layer. Once the midsole is stitched to the upper and insole I glue this leather on to hide and protect the stitching so that it doesn’t get worn out from you daily walking.

9-10oz veg tan leather from a cow – This is soling leather. If you can find a mass produced boot with a full leather sole, I would be very surprised. Everyone has moved to rubber. I prefer leather again for its comfort over time. It will mold to your feet, and the more layers of leather you can have the better. I use the bend, or the butt of the hide for the outsole because it is thicker and stronger that the other areas. I use the belly of the hide for the insole because it is softer than the rest of the hide. Both the insole and outsole are made with 9-10oz veg tan.

Note about rubber sole components: Rubber is great for grip and longevity against concrete. I even prefer the softer rubbers being made now for a pair of work boots because they offer relatively good comfort with great longevity over concrete. Just remember that rubber cannot take the shape of your foot – your foot will always take the shape of the rubber.

When choosing a new pair of work boots see if you can find some with a leather insole as well as a leather midsole – this will help in the long run when the outsole is entirely rubber.

Leather veg tan welt – The welt is a long strip of leather (think a strap with notches on one side) that binds the upper to the sole. We do not use rubber welting as it becomes brittle over time and cracks. We source our welting from Barbour Welting, and have never had any issues with strength. I used to make it in-house but the amount of labor involved vs. the price to buy it is a no-brainer.


All in all SIX different types of leather go into the boots and shoes that I make. It used to be seven but I have found that the 5-7oz leather for the midsole works just as well as the 7-8oz leather, so I’ve stopped purchasing it – it’s a little harder to find anyway.


Non leather ingredients:

Rubber heels and half soles – I use rubber just on the very bottom of the sole, only where it meets concrete. The heels I use are a quarter of an inch thick and make up the bottom third of the heel – the rest is leather. The half soles I use are a sixteenth of an inch thick and are almost unnoticeable. They are both made by Goodyear – the same rubber that gets your tires to last for fifty thousand miles.

The great thing about using this rubber, not only to help with concrete impact, is the fact that the once the rubber has worn down it can be easily replace without the need for a full resole. You can save at least $100 this way – and, you don’t have to break in a new sole.

Steel Shank – I use steel shanks in the sole to add support in the waist of the shoes. The shank prevents the area in the waist from flattening to the ground, thus upholding the shape of the shoe.

Natural Cork – Cork is used to fill in the spaces where the insole meets the outsole. The cork ensures there are no gaps between the insole and outsole. It is also soft and ads some cushioning to the sole. If you’ve ever had a pair of shoes that made a squishy sound when you walked, it is from moisture getting moisture in a dead air space inside the sole. I eliminate that space and add comfort at the same time.


Other than thread (Maine Thread Company) and glue (Barge Cement) those are all of the ingredients of my shoes.

All said and done, a pair of shoes requires as much leather as a large tote (12 square feet) and about 4 times the labor.

Thanks for reading.

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