When you pay $200 plus for a pair of shoes, you expect to get a good few kilometres wear out of them.
What you don't expect is for the soles to start disintegrating before they're barely worn in – but we've had complaints about exactly this problem.
The culprit is polyurethane, a synthetic material that's used to make the soles of some popular footwear brands. Polyurethane has advantages. It's lightweight and flexible. But manufacturers acknowledge its major drawback is that it can deteriorate rapidly in humid conditions.
The problems we've heard about have occurred with shoes worn a few times and then stored away. When they're taken out to wear again, the owners have found the soles are falling to pieces. The uppers still look like new but the soles are crumbling away – one member described it as turning into "something like breadcrumbs".
Well-known brands Ecco and Kumfs (now Ziera) are among those which use polyurethane soles in their footwear ranges. Both told us they're aware of the problem and said they assess customer complaints on a "case-by-case" basis.
Ziera's Andrew Robertson reckons they don't get many complaints in relation to the number of shoes they sell. "We produce approximately 500,000 pairs of shoes per year – and we get a couple of issues a week at most and often they are pretty old shoes."
Graeme McKinlay, President of the Footwear Industry Association, also told us polyurethane is used in millions of pairs of shoes each year "with no problems". But he says not all polyurethane soles are made equal. McKinlay reckons "better grades" should last the life of the shoe. The design of the polyurethane sole and the shape of the "cleats" – the projections on the sole – will also affect how long it lasts, he says.
What to do
If you buy a pair of polyurethane-soled shoes and the sole starts to crumble after little wear, we think you're entitled to a refund or replacement. Keep your receipt and take your shoes back to the store you bought them from. If that's not possible, contact the manufacturer. If the sole is labelled "PU" that's means it's made from polyurethane.
If you've had this type of problem, let us know.
Got a question or comment on this topic? Share your views and experiences with other Consumer members...
Read what our members have to say close
To save money on essentials and make buying decisions easy, you can't go past Consumer. We're proud to have over 65,000 members all enjoying our independent information online or in Consumer magazine.
Here's what some of them say...
"Just wanted to let you know that I find your site excellent! Easy to find my way around, everything at my fingertips - just a click away.
I only took out a 3 month membership as I wasn't sure but it is actually really easy to use and if I want it on paper I can print the
reports. Thanks again".
Denise Watkinson - Waitakere
"My mother (74) got a renewal letter from her insurance company for her car insurance, wanting $570. After reading
your article on car insurance, I contacted one of the companies you recommended, who quoted her $318 for the same
level of cover. I just wanted to stay thank you very much for your article, as it has saved my mother a substantial amount of money".
Adrian Lane - Kapiti Coast
"I've been a member to the magazine since 1997 and enjoy reading it a lot. I've found lots of helpful information on different issues...
Thank you for being so helpful".
Peter Kovalenko - Porirua
"I have been a member of the Consumer NZ for 20 or more years and have enjoyed much reliable advice.
I turn to their tests before making significant purchases".
Lyndal Print – Auckland
Join Consumer now and make your decisions easy on a huge range of products and services
- Over 500 reports, plus interactive tools and calculators
- Independent advice from NZ's trusted source of information
- Join over 65,000 members who help us get all NZers a fairer deal