Top Shoes Sole Materials

Top Shoes Sole Materials

9 September 2022

Shoe soles traveled a long way before they became comfortable and stylish to be one of the trendiest things in the 21st century. In medieval Europe, nobles wore cow and goat hide soles. Less fortunate people in the Baltic states had “lapti,” or shoes with woven soles made from the barks of birch. Catalonia and some parts of France, on the other hand, had jute soles.

This simple history gives us a glimpse of how diverse shoe soles were in the past. Is the story still the same today? Do we have a homogeneous shoe sole industry that boasts a wide array of soles? This article seeks to explore different materials for soles available today.

Table of contents 


Cork soles

Leather soles

Wooden soles

Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) soles

Combined material soles

Final word



In the late 18th century, people started discovering modern leisure activities, from long nature walks to games to overseas trips. As they dived deep into their passions, they also discovered traditional wooden and metallic soles were not up for the task. Something lighter, flexible, and easy to wear was needed. That is how rubber soles came on the market.

Rubber is waterproof, durable, and lasts excellently long. It is also grippy and highly customizable. Today, it contributes to more than 50% of casual wear soles.

Early rubber soles were pioneered by Continental, one of the best rubber products specialists in the world. The soles were little less than half an inch thick and were colored differently. In the UK, they have aptly named plimsolls after being inspired by a ship’s plimsoll line, which means that the shoe will be comfortable and dry if the water line is below the sole’s thickness.

In the USA, rubber-soled shoes quickly became what we know today as sneakers because you could nimbly sneak on someone’s back without them knowing.

Normally rubber soles start life as a mixture of natural and synthetic rubber. Additives are then added to harden or soften the sole.

Cork soles

Cork is a classic material in the beauty industry used to manufacture high heels. It is a sustainable material; hence it doesn’t destroy the environment. Instead, the sole is processed from the backs of cork oak which is harvested seasonally in Portugal. The tree continues to grow, and it will be ready for stripping after nine years.

Besides that, it is buoyant, water-resistant, and available on wholesale at affordable prices. So, if you are enthusiastic about footwear and wish to start a sole shoe business, you are guaranteed endless supply from online wholesalers.

Healthwise, cork soles spring up to absorb shock; their hydrophobic properties prevent the build-up of dangerous bacteria and contours your feet.

Leather soles

Leather is a quintessential material for luxury footwear. Its soles are so special to the extent that only a few companies, especially boot and official shoemakers, use them. But despite that, they are a hot commodity in the fashion line.

While everybody looks at something special about a pair of shoes before buying them, leather soles have many advantages, and for sure, one of them will impress you.

Taking different colors and shades, a classic leather sole is elegant. Dark soles are good for official wear and range from black to light brown hues.

Compared to steel shank boots, you will definitely want leather shoes even if they cost more, and customers constantly compliment them for lack of rigidity.

With basic tools and cobbler’s glue, leather is an easy-to-replace material thanks to its flexibility.

Recently, there has been a backlash against synthetic materials, but leather is unscathed. If not from sustainably reared animals’ hide, shoemakers can use natural plant-based leather for this purpose.

Unfortunately, leather soles have their own shortcomings. They are less durable, shrink and crack during winter, are slippery on wet surfaces, and rot in moist conditions.

Wooden soles

It was a matter of time before wood made it to this list. This is because, for many years, it has been a preferred shoe-making material, explained by its availability and rich experiences in wood carving.

Today, if you tell people you are from the Netherlands, the first thing they will ask is, “Do you have a pair of wooden clogs?” and for a good reason. The Netherlands is the unofficial capital of wooden shoes. This culture dates back to the 13th century when the former Dutch Republic was looking for appropriate footwear to protect factory workers and fishermen.

Given wood’s properties, does it have a chance to create modern-day, comfortable soles? A straight answer is yes. Though wood alone may not create very comfortable shoes, it is combined with rubber and leather for durability. For heavy-duty projects, wood is very hard, and sharp objects and nails cannot penetrate through it.

Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) soles

If you’re looking for ways to survive the infamous Russian winter that stopped Napoleon and Hitler, shop for TPR soles. TPR is a unique synthetic rubber with various additives to work in extremely low temperatures.

TPR is less dense compared to other materials making it light. The material is elastic, which offsets legs and the spine from stress by absorbing body weight.

However, a less dense material has its own downfalls. TPR cannot withstand high temperatures and is very slippery on ice.

Combined material soles

Due to the evolving style and cost of producing soles, combined materials are meeting both roles. For example, wood is easily available and strong but not as exotic as leather. So to lower the overall production cost, leather sole manufacturers use both.

Besides, those manufacturers combine various materials with the aim of improving the properties of a sole. A distinct combination of rubber, TPR, and polyurethane produce multi-colored, durable, and heavy-duty soles.

Final word

There is a wide variety of materials used for making shoe soles. Rubber, leather, and synthetic plastics are the most common. However, other materials such as wood, cork, and even glass have been used in the past. Each material has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, and you will love how they complement fashion trends.

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