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Common Athletic Shoe Materials

About the Author

Haik Zadoyan

Running his own restaurant, his lifelong passion for food and beverages led him to co-found Snibbs in 2015, where he acts as Chief Operating Officer and Designer. Snibbs are completely fluid and slip resistant, durable, stylish and perfect for hard workers who are on their feet all day. We're on a mission to enrich worker’s lives, one shoe at a time by creating a work shoe that's inspired by everything that's wrong with the one you're probably still wearing.
Common Athletic Shoe Materials

When you’re on your feet all day, it’s tempting to slip on your favorite athletic footwear before heading into your shift. After all, when you’re working, you need a pair of comfortable sport shoes that facilitate movement. And since they’re designed for physical activities, athletic shoes are perfect for the workplace, right?

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Although athletic and running shoes might seem like a comfortable at-work option, they likely aren’t slip resistant shoes that offer all-day support.

Instead, athletic shoe materials are often made with soft, stretchy, synthetic material that promote breathability and flexibility, rather than durability.

What Materials Are in Athletic Shoes?

Various materials are used in the construction of athletic shoes. Although some of these comfortable materials may offer benefits that transfer nicely to the emergency room or the warehouse, athletic shoes are primarily made to improve performance and comfort when playing sports, jogging around the neighborhood, or walking your dog. 

So what gets used for athletic shoe materials? It depends on the part of the shoe in question. Let’s take a closer look.

The Uppers

When it comes to footwear, “upper” refers to the part of the shoe that covers the tops and sides of your feet. Traditionally, this part of the shoe design is made from either fabric or leather. In an athletic shoe, materials for this part of the shoe are usually some form of lightweight mesh fabric.1 This mesh is a synthetic material that’s usually mixed with nylon or suede. 

For an athletic shoe, materials like synthetic mesh are desirable because they’re:

  • Soft
  • Stretchy 
  • Breathable

In other words, they promote movement while keeping your foot cool and comfortable on the field, court, or track.

That said, they lack certain other qualities you need from the uppers of a work shoe, like water resistance to keep your feet dry and make your shoes easier to clean. 

usually some form of lightweight mesh fab

The Midsoles

The midsole of a pair of shoes separates the uppers from the part of the shoe that touches the ground. For an athletic shoe, materials that are used in the midsoles need to provide three primary things:

  • Cushioning
  • Flexibility
  • Support

For that reason, you’re most likely to find athletic shoe midsoles made from ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, a synthetic plastic.1 Polyurethane is another common material for an athletic shoe’s midsole or outsole. If you’re wondering, “what is EVA foam,” make sure to read up on the topic to ensure that you know which shoe options are eco-friendly.

Unfortunately, these materials aren’t great for the environment. Is EVA foam biodegradable? In particular, EVA foam is not biodegradable, which means when your sneaker ends up at the landfill, they can potentially stay there for hundreds or even thousands of years. 

As such, you should opt for shoes with eco-friendly materials, whether you’re looking for work or athletic shoes.

The Outsoles 

Whether you're wearing your shoes for work or play, the outsoles are easily the most important part when it comes to providing your foot with support. 

The soles comprise the bottom portion of your shoe, which is the part that experiences the direct impact of every step you take. And when your job or sport keeps you on your feet, you need a shoe that’s ready to absorb that impact so that your feet, knees, and legs don’t have to. 

The design of the sole also factors into the amount of traction a shoe provides and, in terms of the weight of its materials, can contribute to the mobility that the shoe offers. 

The most common shoe materials for outsoles are two types of rubber:2 

  • Carbon rubber – Most athletic shoes use carbon rubber for their soles. The addition of carbon to solid rubber increases the rubber’s firmness and durability.
  • Blown rubber – Although blown rubber is less durable than its carbon counterpart, it’s also more lightweight and flexible. It’s referred to as “blown” because it’s injected with air during production.
  • Although rubber is a natural material that can be great for footwear, it’s not always good for the planet. Harvesting natural rubber can take a significant environmental toll.3 Meanwhile, creating synthetic or vulcanized rubber (that aren’t necessarily biodegradable) requires the extraction of crude oil, which can pollute water environments, leach into soil, and generate dangerous emissions. 

    Snibbs, For Safe and Sustainable Workshoes

    If you’ve been wearing your athletic shoes to work, it’s time to return them to your closet until the next time you’re on a court. That’s because Snibbs has everything you need for lightweight work shoes that are comfortable, stylish, and safe.

    At Snibbs, we specialize in making sustainable shoes for anyone who works on their feet, whether you’re standing in one place or moving around. If you’re wondering “what is sustainable footwear,” check out our resources on sustainable shoes to become more familiar with our eco-friendly sport shoes and shoe material.

    Our shoes combine high-quality, sustainable materials with orthopedic features and aesthetically pleasing styles, plus all the features you need to stay safe at work, like slip-resistant soles, water-resistant uppers, and ergonomic midsoles for comfort that lasts all day.

    Ready to discover a whole new world of work shoes? Shop Snibbs today. 



    1. VeryWell Fit. Making an Athletic Shoe: Anatomy of a Running Shoe.
    2. Running Warehouse. Shoe Components. 
    3. Citizen Sustainable. Is Rubber Sustainable? Why It’s Not So Simple.