Reflections on Shoes

In my Facebook ad feed yesterday I found an ad for a company called Rothy that makes women’s shoes and handbags out of recycled bottles and ocean trash. (Sometimes that “personalized” Facebook ad feed really hits the mark, as much as people like to revile it!) The shoes sell for around US$125.

I read through some of the several hundred comments. A lot of the commenters were complaining about the price. People in the USA are used to being able to get a pair of shoes for $20 or $30.

It struck me that being able to buy a pair of shoes for just two or three hours’ wages (or, if you are white-collar professional, perhaps a mere half-hour or even a quarter-hour’s wages!) is probably a historic and geographic anomaly. Throughout history and across the globe, people probably spent several days’ pay on a pair of shoes, if they could afford them at all.

I wonder how many pairs of $20-30 shoes end up in landfill, not only because they break or wear out but also because they are priced cheaply, so people don’t think as hard about throwing them away.

For me it seems reasonable to pay a day or two’s wages for a pair of shoes. But then again, I expect the shoes to last. My main pair of shoes right now are a pair of Xero canvas boots I bought for $90 last summer, and hope to have for several years. They are the most comfortable close-toed shoes I have ever owned. Generally I do not buy new shoes. If I didn’t have to wear shoes, if I could go barefoot all the time, I probably would. My other main pair of shoes is a pair of flip-flops which were handed down to me. And I have a pair of black wedge-heeled Crocs, also hand-me-downs from a friend. (Those are my “dress-up” shoes.)

According to an article I found at, the average USAmerican man owns 12 pairs of shoes; for women it’s 27 pairs.

Though I only have five pairs of shoes right now (two of which I never wear and should donate), I have not always been a shoe minimalist. For about 10-15 years, starting in the early 1990s when I lived in Tokyo, I had about 30 pairs of shoes, most of them platform shoes of various kinds. The neon-green vinyl boots and the brown velvet embroidered boots were my two favorite pairs. I also had a pair of gold glitter-encrusted platform shoes that I called my “Elton John Museum Shoes.” But I really could only hobble a few yards in those 7-inch steep-pitched heels, and only by leaning on a friend’s shoulder or holding his/her hand. So those beauties mostly just sat on a high display shelf that I built specially for them.

At the time I bought and owned this flotilla of ornamental footwear, I wasn’t particularly thinking about their footprint (no pun intended). I cared about the environment and set out to conserve in many many areas of my life, but shoes were not one of them. And, I firmly believe that it is possible for a person to have an indulgence of this kind and still be an eco activist. (If I were ever to get bitten by the shoe bug again, this time around I’d just buy them at thrift stores. The selection can be huge and the prices are as low as $2 or $5!)

For some years, my go-to shoes were a pair of Minnetonka moccasin boots, tan suede. I bought them at the Cline’s Corners truck stop in 2007, on my bicycle trip from Austin to Santa Fe. A few times over the years, I re-stitched small areas where seams split in the uppers, and I was able to hang onto those boots til 2018 when the soles wore holes in them. Actually I still have those boots. If I can’t get the soles replaced I will use the leather! A stunning bargain those boots were, at about $70. I walked countless miles in them.

How about you? How many pairs of shoes do you have, and how many do you wear regularly? What do you think is a fair price to pay for shoes? Would you spend a few days’ pay on a pair of shoes if they were super versatile and would last for years?

I remain interested in shoes, and am passionate about fashion in general. I’m particularly keen on street fashion and DIY “edited” thrift/vintage clothes. I’m also interested in finding out more about Rothy, which spins a thread from used plastic bottles to make its shoes. The company claims to have upcycled over 50 million plastic bottles so far.

Back in 2011 I did a portrait of those beloved Minnetonka mocs. It was one of the pieces in my first art show. A friend bought the original. I gave my Mom a print, and that print came back to me after she passed in 2017. Posting a photo of it for you now.

Further Exploration:

What a fun link I found just now!! Got a broken pair of flip-flops? Here’s a Pinterest page of ways to upcycle those old soles into custom sandals! You can make new straps by crocheting, braiding old t-shirts, etc.