This Is What’s Really Going on Inside Your Shoes — Details You Never Knew on the Anatomy

Ever wonder what’s behind all those official-looking tags hanging on your boots and shoes? They tell the story of the anatomy and components that go into your footwear, from waterproofing to insulation and cushioning technologies.

Among the leaders in today’s construction arena are Vibram, Gore-Tex, Ortholite, and Primaloft, often found in the athletic, outdoor and work footwear markets. While these branded technologies can add to the cost of the shoe, manufacturers and consumers are often willing to pay the price due to the reliability and performance features they offer.

“As a brand ourselves, we clearly believe there is a concrete benefit in branded goods,” said Soyla Breen, senior director, footwear merchandising for work & outdoor for Ariat International, about the use of branded componentry.  “A brand cares about its reputation, and there is therefore a sense of accountability that drives excellence.”

While there are lots of quality generic components used in footwear today, branded component makers will often invest more in research and development, thus driving up the cost of their products. However, spending a bit more up front can mean extending the life and performance of the shoes you buy.

At Danish brand Ecco, Felix Zahn, product director for Ecco Americas, which uses components such as Primaloft explained, “Our core competency is shoemaking, operating and own our tanneries and factories. However, we’re very aware that there are companies out there that are experts in waterproof materials, rubber materials, or warm lining components.”

Therefore, the company has opted to add branded components in order to provide the consumer with an enhanced wearing experience. “Our partnership with Gore-Tex already goes back many decades, while we have just started to collaborate with other industry leaders such as Primaloft and Michelin last year,” said Zahn.

3D-fit shoes
3D-fit shoes.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Since branded components can add to a product’s cachet, retailers make sure to communicate their features and benefits to consumers. At Appalachian Running Company, Carlisle, Pa., a two-store chain, co-owner Todd Lewis said relating such information is an important part of the sales process, and also figures into the store’s buying decision.

“Gore-Tex is the best example,” said Lewis. “There’s a perceived value. Our store is [saying] if [a shoe] has Gore-Tex, it’s probably a better process than XYZ waterproofing membrane.” Lewis added many consumers are already familiar with branded components, which are likely to become even more important going forward.

Ariat has also found consumers will recognize a branded component and its perceived value, and are willing to pay more for the the “intel inside.” According to  Soyla Breen, senior director, footwear merchandising for work & outdoor, the company uses both Thinsulate and Primaloft insulating materials.

“For the work category, we use Thinsulate, not because we believe it is inherently better than Primaloft, but because we believe the average work consumer recognizes and understands Thinsulate is the best of all insulations on the market.” She added, these consumers may have already bought a boot with Thinsulate, so they know what to expect. It provides a comfort level with the product, which I’m not sure overtly tips the scale on the purchasing decision, but certainly contributes to it.”

Using branded components, said Breen, also offers a safety net when it comes to reliability. “In lab testing, many times the branded version performs better, but you can also find non-branded materials performing well. However, long-term partnership and reliability matters. A branded supplier is a partner who stand behind their product.”

At the end of the day, all these factors contribute to a consumer’s willingness to pay more for a product with recognizable components, said Breen. “Consumer perception of the component performing better than a generic [version} is very important. ‘[However], the consumer is only willing to pay more if they believe it is superior.”

Here, is a round-up of the some of the key branded component makers and the features and benefits they provide.

PrimaLoft

An insulating material, Primaloft can be applied to a range of footwear categories and includes PrimaLoft Gold, designed for use in shoe uppers. It’s designed to add warmth without bulk and can stand up to repeated compression over time. It’s also breathable and can be used in both dry and wet conditions. In addition, it’s made from 90 percent post-consumer recycled material such as plastic bottles.

Vibram

Known for its rubber compound outsoles, it’s most commonly used Sport & Outdoor, Lifestyle, and Work & Safety footwear categories, and recognized by its yellow octagon logo. Soles for casual footwear are designed with enhanced gripping properties for wear on solid surfaces such as as asphalt and concrete, and  can withstand wet as well as cold and icy conditions. For the Sport & Outdoor category, soles offer traction on unstable terrain, as well as grip on dry and wet conditions.

Vibram shoes
Vibram
CREDIT: Courtesy of Vibram

OrthoLite

OrthoLite is a manufacturer and supplier of open-cell foam insole technologies used in a wide range of footwear brands. OrthoLite foam compresses less than 5 percent over the lifetime of the product, so the cushioning and fit remain unchanged. Their open-cell structure creates a moisture management system that helps move moisture away to create a drier environment. The technology is 95 to 100 percent breathable, allowing air to circulate.

Gore-Tex

The producer of waterproof and breathable performance technologies, this spring the brand is introducing 3D Fit, a waterproof and breathable system that allows a shoe to more effectively contour to the shape of the foot. It will allow consumers to wear knitted, elastic, mesh footwear in a range of conditions and outdoor activities regardless of the weather, and is debuting in Adidas’ Terrex Speed GTX style.

Gore-Tex shoes
Gore-Tex shoes.

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