Sneakers today use all kinds of materials one wouldn’t have even imagined would be on their feet some day. From Ballistic Nylon to Ultra Boost, sneakers have come of age. But this wasn’t achieved overnight. It took hundreds of thousands of Man hours and days trying to figure out the best materials, put them through their paces and rinse-repeat the whole process once they reached a point of failure. Today, we’re going to look at two of the oldest materials that have been used over the years to create the shoes we love so much – Canvas & Leather.
What is Canvas? What are the pros and cons of Canvas Sneakers?
Hemp is considered as one of the Super Fibres of nature and Canvas is a cloth made from hemp. If you look around, even today, it is one of the most common materials used to create sneakers. The ability of the fibre to be woven or spun into a linen-like fabric combined with its reputation as one of the strongest and most durable of all natural textile fibres makes it a highly desirable manufacturing material. Hemp is also known to stretch way less than any other natural fibre which helps a canvas shoe hold its shape without you having to use shoe inserts and despite all kinds of punishment you put your kicks through. Overall, shoes made out of Canvas are very flexible, and also allow the foot to breathe. No wonder they were the first choice for every skateboarder. You can toss them in a washer and they’ll be just fine but just like Twill, they can sometimes be quite stubborn with wet stains. It’s a given though that their downsides are completely justified by their relatively inexpensive price tags. From an ergonomics point of view, they don’t provide much ankle support as most of them have quite thin collars. That’s why shoes like the Half Cab by Vans got puffier collars over time to lessen the chances of ankle injuries to the shredders in Skate parks.
What is Leather? What are the pros and cons of Leather Sneakers?
Leather is tanned animal skin or hide, which goes through a bunch of processes to make it rot-proof and is one of the defacto shoe manufacturing materials out there. Unlike Hemp, Leather has far more varieties and thickness based on the animal as well as the type of cut. Before people began to spin wool and flax into cloth, they made more of their clothes out of leather and furs because the art of weaving and spinning came much later. Even though those techniques were learned later on, leather continued to be used for a variety of things – belts, bags, slings, gloves, wallets, etc. Leather is flexible which is why almost every shoe salesman tells you about the “break-in” period when you buy a dress shoe made out of leather that fits a big snug. Leather easily moulds to the shape of your foot and durability is one of its core properties. Given these properties, it is a material made for punishment and hence a highly desirable manufacturing material used for Sneakers. Contrary to popular belief, leather is breathable albeit wearing it in summers will make your feet a bit more sweaty compared to the canvas or hemp options. Aesthetically, there are no materials used in shoe production that can match the class of ageing leather. The Patina that develops on a leather shoe over a period of time, for instance, has no rivals in the entire Canvas catalogue. There have been several sneakers that have tried to embody the best of both the worlds and when tastefully done, have really been taken in well by sneaker lovers. Leather is also much easier to clean albeit at the cost of some maintenance, for which the market is rife with shampoos, waxes and conditioners. You might wish to invest in some shoe inserts/trees as well for your higher end stuff to ensure good shape despite multiple wears.
So which one’s for me?
Seriously? They’re all for you. It depends on what do you want to rock with. There are people who swear by Canvas and how it’s the best thing next to sliced bread but personally being a fan of both materials, I collect both. You need to have both materials in “sane” quantities so that you don’t run out of options when the season changes. If you live in a really cold place, leather is the way to go but if you live in a much hotter and humid place, canvas will save the day for you. Be advised though that these are preferences and guidelines, not rules. Having a suede toe-box and a canvas upper is perfectly fine. It looks great, feels great and provides you with best of both the worlds. Instead of making it a contest, I would advise you to go one step further and cut leather to stitch onto the lateral and medial sides of your Canvas shoes if you get down like that. Let your creative juices flow whilst you create something cool and funky for your happy feet.