Make or Mend of The Month: My Toddler Shoe Fix

One of the biggest challenges I have with my son’s wardrobe is footwear. 99% of his clothes are second-hand but as it’s not generally recommended for children to wear hand-me-down shoes (unless they have virtually no wear), I usually buy him new shoes. That said, good quality ethically-produced children’s shoes are expensive and I cannot afford to buy more than one pair at a time. I also don't like waste and will happily reuse footwear where I can, so he does have a couple of second-hand pairs as interim measures or spares if his main pair get wet, very muddy or lost - each quite a common occurrence with a super active, almost three-year old. 

My son's welly boots and rubber sandals are always pre-owned and often found on a nearby wall – I’ve discovered over the past 20 months that Bristolians love to pass on their kid’s old Wellingtons and Crocs.

I've always aimed to buy my son footwear that will look after his feet and last as long as possible. The experts say that 'barefoot is best' for new walkers so my son only wore moccasins until he was around 14 months. I highly recommend the stripe moccasins from Polarn O.Pyret which are also brilliant as slippers. Unlike many moccasins that come off small, wriggly feet quite easily, the elastic across the ankle of the Polarn O. Pyret version keeps them in place. Plus they're great quality, are washable, made to last (my son was in his for about a year and they are still in good condition),  and from a brand that produces kids clothing with care. At £20 they are more expensive than some high street brands but because they are so useful they are definitely worth the investment. They are also available from John Lewis for £14.

My son’s first shoes were a red pair of ‘barefoot’ Bobux boots which I bought in the sale and lasted him for most of his second year. He turns three in December and is only on his fourth pair of shoes so although at full price they cost £40+ each time, the cost per wear is very low. I would rather buy him one really good pair at a time than buy a few cheaper, lower quality pairs of ‘fashion’ shoes from the high street – he really doesn’t need a smart shoe, a casual shoe, a boat shoe, a weekend canvas shoe and a flashing, wheel spinning, all-singing, all dancing pair ‘just for fun’. Nor does he need branded trainers.

Ethical toddler shoes from Bobux, before the repair with Sugru

When his gorgeous pair of well-worn Echo Smoke shoes from Bobux – which I bought him in June – got damaged from a fall at the park I was slightly at a loss. I bought them from Oddsox, my wonderful local Bristol shoe shop which values ethical production and as such has a nice range of conscious footwear for kids (and small but carefully curated selection for women too). I took the shoe with the offending hole to them and they creatively suggested I could colour it in grey so that it didn’t show as much, or I could try the local cobbler. The shoes definitely needed more than jut a cover-up so the cobbler was my next stop.

The cobbler however told me nothing could be done; that the hole was beyond repair. This is not something I like to hear nor it is not something I'm happy to accept. He had unknowingly set me a challenge. I was stuck but determined not to buy another pair when my son could get months more wear out of them. Then I remembered Sugru, a mouldable glue which sets like rubber. But the pressure was on as I had a deadline – I was due to be bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding in a few days time and I couldn’t take my son along in broken shoes, old moccasins or hand-me-down wellies. There was no time to order online so I tracked down some Sugru in Robert Dyas in Bristol and started planning the repairs.

Sugru mouldable glue, used for Bobux chldren's ethical shoe repair

The slightly daunting thing with Sugru is that you only have 30 minutes to shape it and get it in place before it starts to dry. As a procrastinator who tends to have myriad mending projects on the go at any one time this was hard for me. But after watching a few online tutorials I set myself up in the kitchen and got started. The day before, I’d cleaned the shoes with a damp cloth and allowed them to dry.

Sugru is designed to be mouldable like play-dough. The grey stuff reminded me of Blu Tack, though it's not as tacky or stretchy. I would have loved to have taken more photos to illustrate the steps but as I was working against the clock, it felt too risky.

First step, I used masking tape to section off the area I wanted to cover, just as you would when painting a wall.

As the leather around the hole was curling up I took a small piece of Sugru, placed it under the leather edge and attempted to stick it down. As it isn’t as sticky as glue (if it was you wouldn’t be able to work with it) I needed to press the leather down onto the Sugru then placed some over the hole to secure the edge and fill it in. I then smoothed it by rubbing my finger over the surface, a tip from Sugru’s website.

I wanted to make a rubber ‘bumper’ to help protect the front of the shoes from future scuffs. I took half of the remaining packet of Sugru and flattened it with my fingers into the rough semi-circle shape of the ‘patch’ I wanted to make. I placed this on the front of the shoe and gently pushed it down to cover the area and slightly over the edges of the masking tape so there were no gaps. I smoothed it out so there were no big bumps and then 'polished' the surface with my finger to make it as smooth as I could.

Bobux shoes mid-mend with Sugru

Next I peeled off the masking tape and gently pressed down the edges of the Sugru and again polished over them with one finger. I scraped off the excess Sugru from the masking tape and used that as a top layer for additional coverage over where the hole had been. For the second shoe, I repeated these steps.

Once I’d taken the tape of both shoes I noticed that they weren’t even and the new rubber bumper on the left shoe was slightly deeper than the bumper on the right. My son wouldn’t have cared but I like symmetry so I put the masking tape back on the top of the right shoe a few millimetres above the bumper I’d just made and used a little bit of left over Sugru (that I’d scraped off the masking tape) to fill the gap. I smoothed it out and the bumpers are now roughly the same.

Bobux Echo shoes complete with Sugru 'rubber' bumper.

The Sugru I bought contained three small packets - grey, white and black. Ideally I would have used a larger packet of grey Sugru and made the bumper thicker as I think that would make it last even longer, but I know for next time. Instead of paying over £40 for a new pair, I spent a mere £2.30 for the Sugru and half an hour of my time and now his well-worn but well-loved shoes are almost as good as new.

Sugru has been around for a few years so I’m slightly late to the party. Though I’d been meaning to try it for ages, I hadn’t appreciated how versatile it is. I didn’t think I had anything in need of repair that could be mended with it, but how wrong I was! I’m now planning quite a few fixing sessions with this magic mouldable mending material.

*Little note to wearing second-hand shoes - I always give my son's pre-loved shoes a good clean inside with tea tree oil which is antibacterial and antifungal. 

About the author
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Founder and Director of The Good Wardrobe. Lover of charity shops and mending stuff. New to Bristol. Follow on Twitter

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