What are Shoes Made Of?

What are Shoes Made of featured photo

Everyone wears shoes – when they go out for errands, go to the gym, or go to work. When out shopping for new pairs of shoes, we should know to look at more than just the design and how it looks. Asking the essential question, “what are shoes made of?” can help you make better shoe choices.

A variety of materials can make up a single pair of shoes. But typically, a shoe is made up of five common construction materials: leather, textiles, rubber, synthetics, and foam.

Of course, the materials used in shoe-making aren’t limited to only these five. In the shoe-making business, there are endless materials to choose from.

In this article, we’ll take a close look at what makes up shoes, where these materials come from, and how they help construct the shoes that we know today.

Why Do Shoe Materials Matter?

Everyone has owned a couple of pairs of shoes in their lifetime. And whether you’re a shoe aficionado or not, for sure you’ve noticed that a variety of different materials usually make up one pair of shoes.

Shoes can have a varied combination of materials that make them stand out in style and design. Different outfits also call for different styles and designs of shoes and footwear. Of course, you would want to match everything from head to toe.

This is mostly why many fashion authorities strictly inspect shoes on the shelf before they buy anything. They want to make sure it would pair well with an outfit in mind.

But fashion style aside, the materials used for shoes could affect how they could perform under certain circumstances.

Are you looking for athletic shoes to wear to the gym or for running? Or are you looking to buy a new pair of shoes for a special occasion to look your best?

Or maybe you’re a dancer or a ballerina looking for the perfect pointe shoes? One should also determine whether they’re looking for casual everyday shoes or work and safety shoes.

They’re often overlooked, but a shoe’s materials are one of the most important things one should consider when shoe shopping.

Closely inspecting what makes up a pair of shoes could determine if they will meet your needs and demands and whether they can withstand what you will be using them for.

What are Shoes Made of?

If you have multiple pairs of shoes, go ahead and inspect the materials that were used to construct them. At a single glance, you will notice your different pairs of shoes use a variety of materials that are quite distinct from other pairs.

There are no set and strict guidelines on what can be used for shoes, especially with so many fashion innovations that come and go.

But typically, a shoe can have any combination of the following construction materials:

  1. Leather

Leather is probably the most common type of material used for shoemaking. This material is usually available in many different styles and colors to choose from.

Leather is often made from cows’ skin. Other animals’ skin like pigs, sheep, goats, and crocodiles is also a source of the material.

Leather is stretchable and flexible and it provides huge comfort when worn. It’s also known to stretch and mold on the wearer’s feet with no problem, ensuring comfortable all-day wear on people’s unique feet shapes and sizes.

On top of its flexibility factor, leather is very sturdy and durable. Though it easily conforms to the wearer’s feet over time, it’s resistant to wear and tear for a very long time.

Leather material shoes also offer a sleek and high-quality look and feel like no other. One can often find the use of leather in dress shoes, which are meant for formal or professional settings use.

To add to its top-notch quality, leather is extremely comfortable thanks to its breathable nature.

Leather shoes look exquisite and classy, but they come with a heftier price. Due to the material and craftsmanship that comes with leather, genuine leather shoes are often more expensive.

  1. Textiles

Textiles are another common and popular material used in shoes. Just like leather, these are also available in many different colors and textures. Textiles offer creative freedom due to their many variations, making them a popular material choice for shoes.

Textiles can come from a variety of sources. It can be made from plants, animals, and even mineral sources. No matter where it’s sourced from, textiles are made by interlocking thread or yarn.

Textiles are lightweight and comfortable, making them an ideal material for easy all-day wear. Textile shoes are also breathable and keep feet comfortable. But what makes them very popular is their versatility in design, which allows the creativity of shoe designers to bloom and show.

Textiles are a more broad term. Under it is an umbrella of many different types of textiles:


Cotton fibers are soft, lightweight, and comfortable. They’re also breathable and absorbent. Cotton comes from the outer layer of the cotton plants’ seeds.


Nylon is man-made textile. It’s lightweight yet durable. Nylon is also flexible but helps give footwear shape and form. A man-made textile, it comes from crude oil, through an intensive chemical process.


Wool is an elastic textile that is also fire-resistant. It has moisture-wicking properties that when used in shoes, keep your feet cool during the summer. At the same time, when used in winter, it can keep your feet warm. Wool mostly comes from sheep. But other mammals like goats and rabbits can also be a good source of wool.


Known to be exceptionally elastic, lycra boasts strong and durable properties. It’s also resistant to tearing. It’s comfortable and stretchable. And when used on shoes, it gives them that stretchability factor, making them perfect for all-day wear. Lycra is a man-made fabric and it comes from a combination of polyester and polyurethane.


Polyester is durable and extremely strong. These give them no-tear and no-stretch properties. In the same way, this fabric is able to retain its shape without shrinking. It’s also resistant to most chemicals and cleaning agents. Polyester is usually derived from petroleum and is a kind of plastic.


Rayon is very soft and wears comfortably against the skin. It’s water and moisture-absorbent. It also keeps the wearer cool and comfortable. Designer-wise, rayon is known to easily absorb dye and color, making them a popular choice in shoe designing. Rayon typically comes from eucalyptus, pine tree, or spruce wood. Some other sources are cotton or bamboo. Fun fact: rayon is actually the first man-made fiber, finding its history from way back to the late 19th century.

  1. Rubber

Rubber is another material used in most shoes, especially athletic footwear. It’s usually used on shoe soles. The great thing about it as a shoe-making material is that rubber-soled shoes are slip resistant and provide traction. This is why rubber soles are very popular in running shoes and sports shoes.

Natural rubber is a naturally occurring material and often comes from what is known as the rubber tree or hevea brasiliensis. It’s usually harvested in the form of latex from the tree. Latex is a milky, white, and sticky liquid that comes out from the latex ducts of these trees.

The use of rubber for safety shoes is becoming increasingly popular. Due to its nature, rubber as a material in work shoes protects feet from falling objects.

Rubber also keeps feet dry as it’s resistant to water and many other liquids.

  1. Synthetics

Synthetics are man-made materials found in many modern-day shoes. They’re designed to look like and act as an alternative to natural fiber like leather.

Synthetics are made through chemical synthesis. These are often called by other names as well – synthetic leather, PU leather, or simply PU.

Synthetic material is made of two man-made layers: a backing layer made with polyester fibers woven into an outer layer.

Synthetic materials are cheaper, making shoes made out of them relatively cheaper as well. It’s worth noting, however, that synthetic shoes can be less durable and may be prone to creasing and wrinkles.

The good news is, there are still shoes out there made with high-quality synthetic materials.

  1. Foam

Foam is a staple shoe material in shoe-making. It’s typically made from plastic, synthetic rubber, or polyurethane. Foam can be used to give shoes and footwear shape and make them comfortable to wear even for long hours.

When it comes to shoes, there are two foam categories: open-cell foam and closed-cell foam.

Open-cell foam

Open-cell foam is the breathable type. Simply put, this allows air and water to pass through, promoting ventilation. Because of this property, it’s mostly used in shoe uppers like the tongues and collars. Open-cell foams are most commonly referred to as KF or KFF foams.

Closed-cell foam

Whereas open-cell foam allows water and air to pass through, closed-cell foam prevents this from occurring. This gives them a much denser property. This is usually used in shoes’ midsoles. EVA foam is a common closed-cell foam.


Shoes are an everyday staple – whether you wear shoes casually whenever you go out or wear specific types of shoes for your line of work. Shoe aficionado or not, it’s true that consumers take extra care in choosing the next pair to buy.

More than styles and designs, it’s also important to know and ask, “what are shoes made of?”. Shoe-making materials can vary greatly. Though typically, shoes are made with five common materials: leather, textiles, rubber, synthetics, and foam.

And that has been our detailed guide on what shoes are made of. For more questions and queries, don’t hesitate to reach out to us below!

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