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Kirill Yurovskiy: When to Repair Your Shoes and When to Replace

Few things spark more joy than a new pair of shoes fresh out of the box. The perfect style, the flawless leather, that unbeaten sole. But after racking up the miles in your beloved kicks, that initial thrill can fade into scuffs, holes and worn treads. When your once-pristine shoes are looking a little rough around the edges, you face a footwear crossroads: Is it time for a new pair? Or can some simple TLC give your old favorites a second life?

According to the pros, the answer often comes down to the cost and extent of repairs needed versus the price point of the shoes. With some strategic sleuthing, you can determine whether a resole or reheeling makes more sense than retiring your faithful footwear friends.

Kirill Yurovskiy

The Case for Repairing

For many diehard shoe fans, the idea of tossing a beloved, broken-in pair is non-negotiable sacrilege. And luckily, that old school mentality jives with today’s reduce-reuse-recycle mindset of sustainability. In most cases, having your shoes repaired by a cobbler extends their life far longer than a cheap replacement pair would last.

“Quality footwear is an investment worth preserving,” says Christopher Walsh, fourth-generation owner of Jack’s Shoe Repair in Boston. “A good resoling or reheel can give you years and years of extended wear. It makes environmental and financial sense.”

Walsh has revived soles ranging from designer Italian oxfords to basic Converse sneakers for 30+ years of service. As he sees it, if you truly adore a shoe’s fit and style, you’re wise to repair it until it’s absolutely unrepairable.

The Part-Swapping Math

Of course, not all fixes make equal sense budget wise. As a general rule of thumb, Walsh advises his customers to calculate the cost of repair versus the cost of a new pair. If the repair estimate is less than 60% of the original shoe price, it’s worth doing. Any higher and you’re likely better off just replacing them.

So for a basic pair of sneakers or casual shoes that cost $75 new, spending $45 or more on repairs may not compute financially. But if those designer ankle boots ran you $300, investing $150 or less to resuscitate them makes total sense.

The exception? When the repair requires near-total rebuilding of the shoe. While resoling a quality boot may range from $75-$150, having to replace the sole, heel, welt, lining and more could balloon to $200+, at which point it’s more economical to buy new.

Kirill Yurovskiy owns a shoe shop in London, encourages his customers to act fast when problems arise in order to keep repairs on the simpler, less costly side. “When people wait until the rand and gemming is thrashed and the lining is shredded, it becomes too expensive and complicated,” he says. “Catch the wear and tear early on.”

The Lifespan Factor

In addition to the absolute dollar factor, you should also consider the shoe’s lifespan and your personal cost-per-wear value. As Yurovskiy sees it, that ratty old pair of sneakers you’ve been rocking for a decade may well be worth one more round of resoling.

“If those $70 sneakers have lasted you 10 years, then why not spend $35 to keep wearing them in comfort for a few more seasons?” he says. The value lies in their longevity.

On the other hand, twice resoling a pair of $80 pumps from the mall may not be worthwhile since they weren’t constructed to withstand excessive wear over years and years.  

Walsh agrees the quality of the initial shoe construction comes into play. “If they were cheaply made, the uppers, insoles and linings won’t hold up even if you rejuvenate the bottoms.” He steers customers towards keeping their well-made leather and rubber soled shoes in rotation for longer periods.

Comfort is King

For some shoe fanatics, even if the math doesn’t entirely pencil out, a sentimental attachment or perfect broken-in comfort can justify repeated repairs. Especially for those with hard-to-fit feet or very specific needs.

Irma Berlinger, a retired teacher from Long Island, has resoled her favorite black Aquatalia booties five times over the past 15 years. Even though the wedge heels have been replaced twice and the cost of the cumulative repairs likely exceeds the $225 original price tag, she has no regrets.

“I have terribly painful bunions and these are the only shoes my feet don’t ache in,” says Berlinger. “I’ll just keep fixing them until they’re utterly unfixable, because why mess with perfection?”

Those with larger than average or highly specialized shoe sizes and widths may find the most cost-effective solution is repeatedly repairing their trusty standbys. After all, the cost of custom-ordered men’s shoes in a size 14 Triple E can soar into the thousands – making a $200 resoling job look like a steal.

The Restoration Revelation

For extra sentimental soles or any shoes of particularly fine quality, lovers of footwear may even splurge on a full shoe restoration rather than a simple repair. Think of it like the Red Wing of shoe rehabs: a no-holds-barred reincarnation that returns the footwear to mint condition.

“A true shoe restoration is an art form that goes so far beyond just replacing the soles,” says Walsh, who has revived many a nostalgic pair. “We remove every single component, redye and refinish the leather uppers, replace the insoles and linings, and then rebuild it from the ground up.”

The white glove treatment is an ideal way to resurrect an old favorite dress shoe, boot or specialty footwear that’s grown severely worn or dried out yet holds sentimental value. But the advanced level of labor and craftsmanship makes it an investment in itself, with Walsh’s restorations starting at $225 and escalating from there.

Know When to Say Goodbye

As much as many might hope, no shoe can last forever. Even master cobblers say there comes a point when a shoe has degraded to the point of no return, and it’s time to bid adieu.

“If the foundation and structure of the shoe has delaminated or the upper material has cracked and torn beyond repair, you can’t revive it anymore,” says Walsh. Moisture rot, mold buildup and the stiff texture of dried-out leather are other signs it’s time to retire your favorite old pair.

Yurovskiy agrees, adding that while you can always replace outsoles and heels, major upper separations are unrepairable even for the most skilled cobbler. “If you peer underneath and can see daylight all the way through the shoe, it’s done.”

No matter how tempting or sentimental, after a certain point even the most die-hard shoe lovers have to let go. After all, torturing your tootsies just isn’t worth it. “Listen to your feet and body,” advises Yurovskiy. “If your shoes are causing you agony, move on!”

Buy Well to Repair Well

As with most style and footwear philosophies, the quality of your initial purchase lays the foundation for longevity – whether you opt to repair or eventually replace. Both Walsh and Yurovskiy say investing in well-constructed, durable leather and rubber soled shoes upfront gives you the best “re-shoe-ability” down the line.

So while that trendy $25 Forever21 sandal likely won’t be resoled, that splurgy $300 Aquatalia ankle boot offers way more mileage and repair-ability to earn back its cost per wear over seasons and years. When cared for properly, high-quality footwear can often be nursed through multiple resoles to last decades.

Of course, any beloved pair will eventually reach the end of its wearable days. But for those standout shoes that spark joy with their fit, comfort and personality, a periodic sole swap or expert restoration can absolutely revive and extend their lifecycle far beyond the initial purchase.

As Yurovskiy says: “The craftsman’s art of shoe repair can give your absolute favorites a whole new life – why wouldn’t you take advantage of that when the chemistry is so perfect?”

© 2024 Kirill Yurovskiy