[leadin]Upgrade your sole, or re-tread a pair of old boots or shoes with fresh rubber. A mail-in service from Vibram gives footwear new life.[/leadin]
Founded in 1937, and today adorning millions of soles, Vibram rubber is an industry standard. A just-launched service from the company, the Vibram Sole Factor, offers custom cobbling to repair or redo rubber underfoot.
Sold as an aesthetic play or a performance-enhancing option, the Sole Factor service offers dozens of tread patterns. I shipped a pair of shoes and some boots to the brand to try it out.
Vibram Footwear Customization Service
Go with big knobs and grip. Or, you can pick a lightweight sole for casual use. The raw soles come in all colors, even camouflage, and almost any tread pattern you can think up.
Ordering is a simple procedure: Choose a sole from an online catalog; mail your shoes; and Vibram delivers a customized pair in a couple weeks.
You fill out a short form to tell the cobblers, whose shops are in Queens, N.Y. and San Diego, Calif., what soles to add to your old shoes.
Starting cost is $75 per pair, which begs the question ‘Why not just buy new shoes?’ High-end boots or much-loved footwear that you don’t want to throw away are obvious candidates for the service. A quality pair of boots can last 10 – 20 years, depending on use, so a new sole could extend life with the moderate expense.
I shipped some worn boots from Chaco as well as a pair of Montrail running shoes. My chosen soles, a boot tread for the Chacos and white, pavement-oriented rubber on the runners, would tweak the shoes’ performance and give them an under-the-hood facelift for a refresh.
New Soles, Delivered
In three weeks, my shoes arrived. My Chaco boots looked like new. The sole, a classic hiking pattern with deep tread, had transformed the boots, which had smoother soles, into mud-tromping machines.
For the Montrails, the strategy with refreshed rubber was mainly an aesthetic play. I picked a low-profile white tread that’d be good for running on pavement and roads.
Both pairs were well done. The tread appeared to be applied from the original manufacture, despite the personal attention they got by hand via a cobbler at the New York facility.
The rubber edges were slightly rough, and a smidgen of glue was visible in certain spots. But the rubber got smooth after a bit of wear, and the glue was flecked off with a fingernail. I didn’t mind the hand-hewn effect of it all, as the craftsmanship was solid.
My shoe upgrades were conservative. Sure, I have new rubber underfoot, and the boots now have better grip. But with the Sole Factor you could go wild. Think deep, knobby tread on dress shoes, or perhaps a camo motif on a well-loved mountain boot.
On a performance front, Vibram offers many of its popular rubber types and tread options with the Sole Factor service. You can likely match to an existing sole on hiking boots or walking shoes.
Check out the Sole Factor for all the underfoot options and consider a style change, a performance rev-up, or to make your well-worn boots new again. You can choose between a ‘premium’ or ‘standard’ service, priced at $125 and $75 respectively. The two services are run through Vibram by different cobbler operations, Cobbler Concierge ($125, N.Y.) and NuShoe ($75, Calif.), and offer different return speeds and accessories.
–Check out the company’s Sole Factor catalog here.