One of the world's universal experiences is witnessing your favorite pair of sneakers come to the end of their "life." Perhaps holes are starting to appear around the toes, the soles have completely flattened out, or they’ve just gotten so dirty that they can't be salvaged.
Sometimes, it feels like you bought just those shoes yesterday, or maybe they've somehow lasted for years without showing any signs of wear. Whichever is the case with your beloved sneakers, there is always a point where sneakers must "pass on," for lack of a better term.
But how long should these sneakers really last? Is there a definitive life cycle for your shoes?
Scientists and shoemakers alike go back and forth on how long your sneakers should last. Some argue that you should replace your sneakers after eight to 12 months, whereas others make a case that your footwear can last for years.
Sneakers can be broken down into a sort of life cycle, and what the life cycle of your favorite kicks looks like depends on a number of factors.
Read on to learn more about the life cycle of your shoes and how long your sneakers should last.
It Depends on the Kind of Sneaker
Before breaking down each step of the sneaker's life cycle, it's crucial to note that different brands and different kinds of sneakers can have varying life cycles.
Fast-fashion sneakers or cheap sneakers are going to get worn out much quicker than, say, a comfort knit sneaker made from sustainable, post-consumer plastics. The fast-fashion sneakers are designed quickly to match certain new trends. The quality of the materials isn't always the best, and you may see yourself go through your new shoes' life cycle much faster.
It’s one of the unfortunate facts of consumerism that many companies purposefully design cheap products so that you replace them at a quicker rate and give them more and more business.
Brands like KOKOLU, however, combine style and comfort and use them to create a sustainable shoe that can be a part of your wardrobe for a long time. Our goal is to create fashionable, enjoyable items that can also reduce waste and reduce the amount of carbon emissions that are produced by the textile industry.
The reality is that a cheap shoe made with cheap materials is going to need to be replaced much sooner than a shoe made from quality organic or recycled materials.
If sustainability is important to you, then maximizing your sneakers' life cycle should also matter.
It Depends on How Active You Are
The duration of your sneakers depends on how often you wear them and how active you are in them. If you are an avid runner, hiker, or climber, it's safe to say you are putting some real wear and tear on your sneakers. On the other hand, if you prefer to take it easy and only wear your sneakers casually, it might take a bit of time to wear your shoes out.
There’s no shame either way!
You need a solid pair of sneakers to be physically active, and there is no way to avoid damaging your sneakers after a period of time. In fact, continuing to exercise in shoes that are past their expiration date can potentially lead to injuries. So, it's crucial to exercise in sneakers that are in good condition.
All shoes do expire eventually, and if you wear the same sneakers for your daily workout routine, they will need replacing a bit sooner than is ideal.
Your level of physical fitness and activity is entirely up to you, but there is no denying that the more a shoe is used, the more need for a replacement gets sped up.
It's Not About Numbers
It is a universal truth that shoes are not living things (as much as we may love them). For that very reason, it would be silly to expect some way to measure the lifecycle of a shoe using numbers like we would with the age of our dogs or cats or even ourselves.
The life cycle of shoes depends on how often they're being worn, what materials they were made from, how dirty they get, etc.
There is just no telling, in numbers, how long it should take for you to replace your sneakers — it is all dependent on multiple factors.
That being said, there are sure signs of when your shoes have met their end. If they are damaged, misshapen, uncomfortable, looser, or even just exceedingly filthy, you will know it's time to say "au revoir" to those sneaks.
The Circle of Sneaker Life: Broken Down
Now that we know what factors need to be taken into consideration when determining if it is time to retire your kicks or not, we can examine and break down the stages of life that sneakers go through.
Fresh Out of the Shoebox
Your pair of sneakers were created in a factory somewhere, shipped to some clothes or shoe-specific retailer, and then put out on display. Then you happened to walk (or scroll) by, and it was love at first sight. You had to have them!
This is when sneakers are in their "prime" condition. They are fresh, never-been-worn, and ready to be broken in.
Every life cycle starts somewhere, and the life cycle of a pair of sneakers begins in a shoebox and continues onto your feet.
After your shoes have been broken in and they've become your regular footwear hookup, they are in the middle of their life cycle — the active period.
As previously mentioned, the length of this period of time depends solely on the individual wearing the shoe. One person might be making everyday use of their pair of sneakers by running on the treadmill, taking daily hikes, playing pickup basketball, basically just engaging in regular physical activity.
Another person might wear their sneakers a little more casually; they might save these shoes for days they know they have to be on their feet more, trips to the mall, etc. This period of your sneakers' life just covers the stretch of time where they are being used, regardless of how long that timespan lasts.
Time To Recycle
All good things must come to an end. Unfortunately, this even applies to your favorite pair of sneakers. At this point in the life cycle of shoes, they have reached a point of use where replacement is necessary — they are falling apart, and the bottom soles are worn down. Occasionally, this lifecycle gets cut short because you are just tired of that particular pair of sneakers.
Whatever the reason for their retirement, this is the "end" of the shoes' life cycle, only it really isn't quite an ending.
Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of shoes at the end of their life cycle end up in landfills each year, polluting the planet and taking nearly 1,000 years to break down. While putting your dearly beloved kicks in the trash might seem like a natural, conclusive end to the sneaker life cycle, it doesn't have to be. You can do more with your shoes than simply contribute to your friendly neighborhood landfill.
Recycling your shoes is the true next step in their life cycle, and it’s so easy to do! There are several outlets for recycling your shoes, but the most reliable and best option for both our planet and humankind is to donate your old shoes to Soles4Souls or to your local shoe retailer.
Soles4Souls accepts worn shoes to donate to people in need, which prevents them from ending up in a landfill, expands the shoe's lifespan, and helps out our fellow humans.
If your shoes are too busted to be donated, you can still bring them to shoe retailers, where they collect expired footwear and can properly dispose of them for you.
Recycling your shoes is easy to do and creates a new cycle for your sneakers, instead of concluding their "life" by leaving them to rot in a landfill.
Sneakers Ever After
There always comes a time when you must accept your sneakers' defeat and pass them through to the next part of their life cycle: being recycled.
Just because the life cycle of a pair of sneakers can't be broken down into numbers doesn't mean there isn't a definitive life cycle. All shoes go through a cycle of being purchased, worn, and hopefully, recycled and repeated.
Shoes are recyclable, and that is perhaps the most critical aspect of your sneakers' life cycle. It's essential that we all make environmentally friendly choices. By ensuring that your sneakers conclude their cycle by being recycled, you can make a huge difference.
And when you're shoes do come to the end of their life cycle, for a stylish and comfortable option, try KOKOLU's eco-friendly comfort knit sneaker. They're a fashion “do” you won't regret!
When To Replace Worn Out Footwear | SoleScience Custom Orthotics
How to avoid exercise injuries | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
Some Soles Last 1,000 Years in Landfill': The Truth About the Sneaker Mountain | Fashion | The Guardian