Quality leather shoes – like those BB Shoemaker’s Beccy Bromilow tailors in her Adelaide workshop – get better each time you lace them on. As the fabric moulds to the wearer it takes on character. Sure, it’s a hardy material, but it still needs looking after. Broadsheet visited Bromilow at Ensemble Studios to get her advice on making leather last.
1. Keep it dry
Bromilow’s top tip is to avoid getting your leather shoes wet – as much as possible. This can be a challenge during the wet winter months, so spraying them with a leather protector or water-proofer is a good idea, just in case. You can pick these up at good shoe shops and most supermarkets.
“If you do get your leather shoes wet, let them dry overnight inside, and out of direct sunlight,” she advises. “Once they’ve dried out again, apply a natural leather conditioner and spray with water-proofer.”
2. Be sun smart
“I highly recommend you don't leave leather shoes outside or in the sun. They will fade and dry out,” Bromilow says. Store them in a cool, dry and dust-free spot.
3. Always condition
Bromilow swears by a good-quality leather conditioner. Conditioners reintroduce natural oils into the material, reviving its suppleness and restoring a richness of colour. “Shoes with leather uppers need to be conditioned about every one to two months, depending on the amount you wear them,” she says. To do this, prepare the leather first by wiping it clean with a cloth or shoe brush. Then apply a small amount of leather conditioner and rub it in with a circular motion. Leather is made from hide, so a natural conditioner is preferable to a synthetic or petroleum-based one.
Bromilow sells her own care product – called BB Shoemaker Leather Conditioner. “It’s made by hand in the Adelaide Hills from all natural Australian ingredients,” she says. There’s good stuff in there, including beeswax (a natural water repellent), lanolin (to moisturise the leather) and eucalyptus oil – which not only softens the fabric, but being a natural antibacterial agent and antiseptic, makes your shoes smell fresh. It can be used on all leather shoes apart from suede. "For suede items do not apply leather conditioner. You can get special suede cleaning products and brushes from shoe repairers."
4. Spot clean
If (or for most of us, when) you spill something on the leather, make sure you clean it as soon as possible – before the liquid soaks in and creates a stain. "Use a clean cloth and dip it in some warm soapy water," Bromilow suggests. "Wipe the area with the cloth, and then use a fresh cloth to clean away the soap." Allow the leather to dry completely before your next outing.
Bromilow's other tip: "Another great way to remove marks and stains is with baby wipes. Give your shoes a once over and then let them dry before you apply a leather conditioner."
5. Give them a day off
"If you want your favourite pair of shoes to last longer and keep their shape, avoid wearing them on consecutive days," Bromilow says. Though she admits, " I don't always do that – I thrash my own shoes – but I probably should."
Moisture from your feet can distort and damage the leather. "It's a good idea to leave your shoes out for a day in a ventilated area before wearing them again."
6. Look after them, body and sole
Bromilow says, for those who wear leather-soled shoes, “It can be a good idea to get a ‘topy’ or rubber half-sole put on. This will make them less slippery and prolong the life of the soles.” Take them to your local shoe repairer, they’ll know what to do. For boots with cork soles, she recommends applying a cork sealer. “This will harden the cork and make it last that bit longer.” Bromilow always has some in stock at Ensemble Studios, or you can find it “at most shoe stores that stock Birkenstocks”.