I love boots, particularly tall riding boots. They work with my goal of owning only really versatile clothing: they can look professional with a blazer, they can be fancy with a dress or they can be casual with jeans.
The only problem is that the zippers tend to be prone to breaking. I’m not sure if it’s a kind of structural design failure or something about the way I walk, but every winter I break the zipper on at least one pair of boots (which is also the reason I own more than one pair). But fixing the zipper is a no-brainer, because the repair costs a fraction of the price of a new pair, particularly ethical ones.
Replacing buckles or other hardware on shoes is also often a worthwhile repair, as is replacing the soles. But when is it not worth it? Antonia Frazan at Business Insider offers this rule of thumb from her cobbler:
"If the upper part of the shoe dries out or starts cracking, then it's not worth repairing. But if the uppers are fine, the bottoms can always be fixed."
The idea is that if the upper part of the shoe is starting to break down, even if you can repair it now, it may need another repair soon. So it's not worth the money.
Of course, repairing your shoes, even if it’s not cost effective, is probably almost always the greener choice, unless you're basically replacing the whole body of the shoe. And taking good care of leather shoes and faux-leather shoes by re-applying waterproofing wax (Olberté sells an organic and fair-trade version), can help extend their life significantly.
Shoes are depressingly hard to recycle. They are what the authors of Cradle to Cradle might call a “monstrous hybrid” of different plastics, fibers and other materials. But if your old footwear is beyond hope, you still have some options. Most charity shops, like Goodwill, will divert clothes and shoes that can’t be sold (in the U.S. or other countries) to textile recyclers—so there’s a good chance even really ratty shoes that are donated won’t end up in the landfill. Nike also has a reuse-a-shoe service that recycles footwear of any brand, with a handful of drop-off locations.
Or you can find a completely different use for old shoes, like the whimsical planter idea below.