THINGS FALL APART: Faye-Rose Silvermans boots: perfect on top, but the soles were disintegrating. When it comes to polyurethane soles, the advice is wear, dont spare. Constant use prolongs their lifespan.
THINGS FALL APART: Faye-Rose Silvermans boots: perfect on top, but the soles were disintegrating. When it comes to polyurethane soles, the advice is wear, dont spare. Constant use prolongs their lifespan.

I recently highlighted the issue of bicast leather, a form of highly processed “split” leather which is being used to cover lounge suites, described simply as “leather” by many furniture retailers, and sold to consumers who don’t realise that it is likely to start to peel within three to five years.

Again, the six-month “implied” CPA warranty would be long over by then, so they have no legal recourse.

It’s a similar story with the moulded polyurethane (PU) soles of shoes.

PU soles are widely used in some styles of top brands of “comfort” shoes such as Froggie, Tsonga, Green Cross, Clarks, Hush Puppies, Scholl, Blundstone, Bass and Ecco – shoes that are relatively expensive. Ironically, the soles don’t disintegrate due to over-wear, they do so because of lack of wear.

It seems the act of wearing the shoes puts pressure on the soles and squeezes out the moisture in the PU, which would otherwise insidiously break apart the foam-like structure, a process called hydrolysis.

It is most prevalent in humid, coastal areas, and keeping the shoes in a box, in a dark cupboard, accelerates the process.

The problem is that, typically, someone will put away winter boots – in a cupboard, often in the original box – until the following winter, by which time the soles could well be crumbling.

Again, the six-month “implied warranty” of the CPA warranty would be long over by then, so they have no recourse.

To my mind, shoe retailers should warn those buying shoes with PU soles about the problem, and urge them to wear their sandals from time to time in winter, and get their boots on in summer.

Local manufacturer Froggie recently began issuing such warnings with their PU products, and Beier Safety Footwear carries a hard-to-miss warning on its boxes, bags and box liners: “It is not recommended to keep these biodegradable PU soles in a dark and unventilated space for long periods.”

Fay-Rose Silverman of Camps Bay bought a pair of Green Cross boots from the company’s factory shop in Cape Town two years ago.

“When I wanted to wear them this winter the leather uppers were still in great condition, but I noticed that the soles had crumbled and cracked.

“I took them to a shoe repair shop where I was advised to take them back to Green Cross as the deterioration did not constitute ‘fair wear and tear’.”

She did so, and says she was told by Green Cross staff that the problem was not unusual in PU-soled shoes, and sometimes even occurred while shoes were still on the shelf, in the case of old stock.

“But they were not prepared to compensate me in any way,” Silverman said.

I took up the case with Green Cross’s retail general manager, Chum Edwards, who confirmed that no warnings about PU soles were given to consumers, because the incidence was “negligible”.

“These complaints are really the exception and we deal with them as they occur.

“We will always honour the product if this should happen.”

That’s not what Silverman was told originally, so it’s good to know.

Meanwhile, a delighted Silverman has exchanged her crumbling-soled boots for “a very nice pair of walking boots”.

Here’s the crux of this issue, for me – the average consumer expects shoes they wear often to show signs of wear on the soles. But they don’t expect shoes to fall apart as a result of having been left unworn in a box or cupboard for months.

Which is why they need to be informed.