I remember a time when shoes didn’t stink. It was pretty much before mass production of athletic shoes back in the early ’80s; before factories had to find a way to make every shoe consistently perfect. Did you know that shoes are all hand sewn? Some people seem to think that shoes are made by machine and some brands try to tout that “special” fact that Their shoes are hand-made, but pretty much all shoes (except ones like Crocs) are sewn by hand.
So why is mass production making our shoes stink? Well, try to imagine the skill involved in sewing small pieces of materials with exterior layers, internal backing material, and internal lining material altogether and still get a straight and perfect seam. Pretty quickly factories realized that if we laminated all the layers of a shoe together, glued the parts together, THEN stitched it, the single focused task made the seams pretty perfect. But what it didn’t do was allow the material to be porous. Now you basically have layers of material with nice consistent thin layers of adhesive, kind of like an imperfect plastic bag. Would a plastic bag breath? Nope. Now more than ever your feet will probably stink even if your feet normally smell like roses.
I know my son’s shoes started smelling pretty badly even at 4 years old, way before the teenage hormones kicked in to make it really noxious! I tried everything, carbon inserts, expensive shoes, sun baking, removing his shoes at home, letting his feet breath, washing his feet with peroxide, but nothing kept the smell from eventually fumigating a corner of the house. BUT, last year at his birthday, I invested in wool socks, ones that would stay on his feet and hold up to machine washing. And guess what? Almost immediately his feet are no longer a problem. He can even wear regular cotton or acrylic socks sometimes and his shoes don’t stink! That’s when I realized socks could be key.
When we started looking at making DZR cycling socks, we wanted to make the best socks possible, we explored a number of advanced materials, silver for anti-microbial properties, Dyneema, for durability, Kevlar for bulletproof-ness, silk for breathability, Angora for softness, but in the end, we kept coming back to wool. Wool did it all, it was anti-microbial, temperature regulating, durable, comfortable and even fire resistant. It would seem intense research and development with man-made materials have not come close to achieving what wool does naturally.
So, what makes wool anti-order? Well, wool has a hollow core filament which is both hydrophilic as well as water wicking. With this advanced structure, wool can wick away over 30%, by weight, of moisture as appose to Nylon which wicks less than 5% and polypropylene which wicks less than 0.5%. So the less sweat, the less smell, although, human sweat on its own, doesn’t, in fact, causes odor. It’s the natural bacteria on the skin and the perfect humid environment inside a shoe, that incubates those bacteria. They breed and the buildup of bacterial by-products, eventually begin to smell. With wool, the moisture is quickly and constantly pulled away from the skin to inhibit an environment that harbors those bacteria.
At the same time, the hollow core filament makes wool an incredible temperature regulator. The air pockets in each filament helps you trap air in the socks keeping your feet warm and toasty in the winter, but also the relatively cool in the summer? And if that wasn’t enough to make it clear that wool is a super fiber, Wool is an incredibly durable filament. Stronger than cotton, acrylic or nylon. But that feature is contingent on its care.
So how do you keep your wool socks strong and resilient through the years? It’s pretty simple, you can throw it in the laundry machine just the same as any other piece of clothing, BUT you have to use a wool soap (like Woolite) or no soap at all. After all, Wool is a natural animal product which means it’s made of protein. Most soaps are designed to break down proteins which is why it cleans away things like Ketchup stains and oil spots. But if you treat your wool well, it will perform for you for years to come! Mother nature developed wool through hundreds of years of trial and error (aka evolution) and created a material that is pretty darn perfect.