It’s a long, slippery road to better women’s shoes

“I’m spending a lot of money on golf carts because I can’t walk around the golf course,” says Mrs. George, an avid golfer who lives in Mississauga.

She blames both falls on the shoes she was wearing – in particular, the thin disc of plastic at the bottom of the heels. Shoemakers call this the “lift.”

Although the heel lifts on women’s best dress shoes plantar fasciitis used to be made of rubber, most manufacturers and importers have now switched to synthetics, which are harder and more durable.

“The lifts on women’s shoes are like tires on a car – they have to withstand a tremendous pressure and a large amount of wear,” says Ross Campbell, president of Continental Heel Ltd. in Waterloo, which makes polyurethane lifts for shoe manufacturers and shoe repair stores.

“Rubber, unless it’s extremely hard, won’t last. But the harder the material, the more slippery it is, especially on hard surfaces.”

The heels on many women’s shoes today are narrow, much like the stiletto heels of the 1950s. The tip is often no bigger than a dime.

“A rubber lift would only last from here to across the street,” says Martin Kerpel, technical director of Moneysworth & Best, a shoe repair chain which uses heel lifts made from polyurethane mixed with a small amount of rubber. The rubber gives resiliency, the polyurethane durability.

Mr. Kerpel says many manufacturers use cheap plastic lifts, which turn rigid in cold weather. He has seen good imported shoes with plastic lifts hard enough to give women a jolt every time they take a step.

Shoe repair stores charge $3 to $5.50 for heel lifts, but say they use a better-quality material than the original. Some women so strongly agree that they immediately replace the lifts on every pair of best walking shoes for bunions they buy.

The hardness of women’s heel lifts is a concern to shoe retailers, who often hear from customers about it.

“This has been a chronic problem,” says Francois Geissel, international research and development manager for Bata Shoe Stores. “At this stage, there is no perfect material that has a soft rubbery feel but lasts for a long time.”

Jack Shand, president of the Canadian Shoe Retailers Association, says the question of women’s heel lifts comes up at each annual convention.

“Retailers are probably just as frustrated as consumers,” says Mr. Shand. “We have asked manufacturers and importers to put better lifts on women’s shoes; we have insisted, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.”

At least 60 per cent of women’s shoes sold in Canada are imported, he points out.

After an investigation several years ago, Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada concluded there was not enough data to justify regulation of women’s shoes under the Hazardous Products Act.

“There definitely is an issue there and we’re monitoring it,” said product safety spokesman Georges Desbarats.

This isn’t good enough for Yvonne George, who is urging Consumer and Corporate Affairs and her MP to make shoe manufacturers change their materials.

“It’s not right to put the onus on customers to examine the heels of the shoes they are buying,” she says. “Innocent people like me will not know they should make this examination until they have had one or two falls.”

“I am not a young person and I could have easily broken a hip. I was lucky not to do so, but I did suffer pain and considerable inconvenience through no fault of my own.

“At the rate I am falling, I will wear out before the lift does.”

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