The Frankenstock Experience

Last year I bought a pair of Birkenstock Tatami Santa Cruz after the summer season and gave them a bit of a paint spattered job then put them away ready for the warmer weather this year. I bought them online from a supplier in Germany and have worn this brand of shoe for a long time, since my twenties so basically a hundred years ago. I’ve bought three pairs in my lifetime; one I wore out completely, a pair that I currently wear and those pictured. The ones with the paint job.

A fortnight ago it had got to the right temperature for me to consider bearing my trotters so I started wearing my splattered ones and instantly felt at home with them. Then last week, I noticed a trail of black bits all through the house and couldn’t work out where it was coming from, that was until one evening I noticed the bottom of my shoes were disintegrating before my very eyes. Ye gads, what fresh Hell is this? I thought and began stringing off a series of muttered expletives.

I did the obligatory Google search for Birkenstock customer service to report the defect to. I considered it to be a product failure as I had only worn them a maximum of 8 days. It was pointless me contacting the retailer, it was last year and not their problem and my German language is OK but not good enough to get into the nitty gritty of technical shoe talk.

I waited, and waited for a reply but no, it did not come. I tried several attempts to contact Birkenstock HQ. I did some reading up about what could have caused this material failure and it turns out that it’s a fault that can happen with ethylene vinyl acetate soles which is what we have on our Birks. It’s called hydrolysis and happens during manufacture when atmospheric moisture enters the material. During wear, this moisture is squeezed out with the weight of the body, it is postulated. However, unworn footwear that has been compromised can weaken structurally hence when the shoes or boots are started to be worn they fall apart. I’ve read that people can be out hiking and it happens, imagine being out in the middle of nowhere and your shoes fall apart? Perhaps having to fashion emergency replacements from the mountains of plastic rubbish we humans leave strewn in our wake about the planet? Anyway, I consider myself lucky to not be in this predicament and like I say, I have another pair.

I made a few enquiries about getting new soles fitted locally and was quoted between £30-45 which I baulked at and also I’ve had expensive shoe repairs done before which have failed so was reticent to go down that avenue. I resolved to do it myself and perhaps learn something along the way. There was no way I was going to pull out loads of lolly though to do it. I am a cheapskate after all.

After a rummage in my cupboard I found a tube of Shoe Goo, just the job for the adhesive as it’s flexible.

Then I though I’d sacrifice an EVA mat that I’d picked up at a recycling centre to use for making my own shoes at some point in time, well there was no time like the present I thought. I decided to order a pair of thin bottom soles with a tread in a huge manly size to add to the bottom after building up the sole so that I don’t slip in them and found some on eBay that were £11.99 so that totals my expenditure for the project.

I set about removing the crumbling soles one day last week, with a butter knife as you do:

Then I gave the upper bottoms a good sanding to remove all the nasty crumble. I waited then until the weekend to tackle it as I was a bit nervous it was not going to work but anyhow on Saturday afternoon I decided to get stuck in. The picture below shows a photo of the mid-sole after I’d struggled for nearly two hours to cut it. Having limited tools but much dogged determination I grappled on.

After I managed to cut a pair by using a Stanley knife and sanding it to refine the shape I applied liberal amounts of Shoe Goo and bound them tightly with miles of cotton tape to keep them in place until it cured. I have no clamps you see. Yesterday I did a repeat of the process for the bottom part of the sole but it was sweet to cut because it was only 6mm thick rather than the 1.5cm of the EVA matting. They sat together nicely but would need tidying up after the final curing. I rebound them with my tape and waited until this evening to have a look and a test wearing. I’m happy to report it’s been successful and whilst they’re not pretty, Birkenstocks aren’t pretty to start but these are like the industrial version now, I do feel they will be serviceable. I plan to let them cure for two full days more before getting them on and properly wearing them, there’s no way now I’m going to run the risk of having them unworn and succumbing to hydrolysis again. That might tip me over the edge. What have I learned from the process? Well apart from the fact that Birkenstock customer service is diabolical, they did get back to me on Friday and said that they couldn’t help me as it was not their responsibility because they weren’t the vendor. I had bought them elsewhere. So apparently this is a good enough reason to not be interested in a product defect. The company has been operational for many years and I’m sure the founder wouldn’t be too chuffed about this attitude, I’m sure they’d have pride and a sense of responsibility about their product. Not now though, they are a fashion brand. How shit.

I digress, what I did learn is I can do it myself and am more confident with a Stanley knife now and realise in the thick of the repair that sequence is key. Oh and Shoe Goo, wow, I salute you!

These are my finished Frankenstocks:

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