/ Sustainability

Would you buy refurbished shoes?

Are trainers that have been resold, donated or recycled a step in the right direction for sustainability? The initiative could be coming to the UK soon.

Last month, Nike announced that it would be selling used trainers: a new scheme known as ‘REFURBISHED’ will allow customers to return Nike shoes that are then either resold, donated or recycled.

It works by giving someone’s unwanted shoes a new lease of life with three grades of condition; ‘almost new’, ‘gently worn’ and ‘cosmetically flawed’.

But will it catch on? Would you buy refurbished trainers instead of a brand new pair?

Would you buy refurbished shoes?
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I personally do like the idea of major brands taking part in recycling schemes with their customers. It could work well for parents who are constantly buying their children new shoes that may not last very long, so this could be an option to ensure they’re reused.

There’s still a long way to go, but could it be the start of something positive in the world of fashion?

Combatting waste

The fashion industry is often regarded as one of the most wasteful – research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that a bin lorry of textiles is wasted globally every second, due to a massive increase in production and lack of commercially available recycling processes. 

With shoes, the problem is that different materials can be used depending on the type of footwear. Trainers are often comprised of mixed up of leathers, suedes, mesh and plastics held together with chemical-heavy, hard-to-recycle glue.

The Nike initiative has begun to roll out over in the US this year, but it does plan to come over to the UK eventually.

With other large brands following suit, would you buy refurbished shoes? Do you already recycle your current pairs/donate them to charity shops?


I would not consider buying refurbished shoes but I keep mine until they are well worn and unfit for giving to charity shops. Even then, they may be used in the garden.

I would not buy refurbished shoes for myself. However I think differently about shoes for young children – and, indeed, clothes. They get so little wear, often fairly expensive, and shoes are grown out very quickly – and can cost as much as grown up’s if you are not careful. Providing they are properly sanitized they should keep being given new leases of life.

I found a smart pair of plimsolls in the back of the cupboard recently and am now wearing them around the house. They are quite old but in good condition and part of my foreign travel kit together with some other leisure clothing that has not seen the light of day for a few years.

I was wearing a holiday shirt when I went to the doctor’s surgery this morning. Another patient passed a compliment but I suspect it was out of sympathy rather than sincerity.

If, after more wear during the rest of this summer, they are still fit for purpose I might take them in to the charity shop.

I have bought refurbished shoes in the past, with some shoes not being manufactured any more there is a big demand in retro shoes at the moment with some going for over 5 times its retail price.

With demand for the latest releases and prices sky rocketing a second hand market for high end trainers and shoes is needed with retailers such as Selfridges also opening up a ‘vintage’ department

I think it is good for sustainability reasons also and for that reason am fully supporting this movement

Em says:
13 July 2021

The fashion industry is often regarded as one of the most wasteful – research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that a bin lorry of textiles is wasted globally every second, due to a massive increase in production and lack of commercially available recycling processes.

I hate these “Olympic swimming pools” / “Jumbo jet” type analogies. So now I have to calculate how many old shirts actually fit into a bin lorry to see if the numbers really add up.

Fortunately, Which? have provided a link to the source material, where they have explained their methodology, so we can get to something approaching an order of magnitude. But it does appear that more corners have been cut than on a scallop-cut hem in coming up with these numbers.

Firstly, those bin lorries aren’t running 24 x 7 – It would seem they have given the poor bin men a 35 hour working week.

Secondly, those bin lorries are about 15% smaller than the UK standard.

Thirdly, they are not very good at packing clothes for disposal. The report uses a textile density of 150kg/m3. I manged 200kg/m3 by loose rolling and folding into a cardboard box. I can get 13kg into a 50 litre cabin bag (250kg/m3). Don’t bin lorries use compaction?

Fourthly, the textiles “wasted” have actually been worn – and of course now have to be disposed of. Less than 3% is estimated to be the result of overstock and other retail losses.

So of course the numbers can seem huge, but with a world population of over 7 billion, and 35 million tonnes of textiles going to landfill or incinerated every year, that works out at an average of 5kg per person per year. Or about a tenth of a household wheelie bin. Isn’t the amount of black bin waste we produce far more of a concern?

The clothes I am wearing today weigh 950g. Would a typical garment wear out in about two to three months if I wore it every day? Probably.

So the takeaway I have from this is that my own consumption is not excessive on a global scale and there is not much I can do to reduce it, living in a temperate climate and keeping the heat turned down to reduce CO2 emissions. The problem we all have can be summarised as:

1) increasing global population (most of whom wear cotton, not plastic fibre),

2) only 73% of clothing textiles get recycled,

3) we are prone to blaming the extravegant lifestyles of a minority for waste – but we are all responsible.

I’m all in favour of finding more outlets for clothes that no longer fit, but more recycling facilities for worn out clothes seems to be the main issue with my wardrobe.

Em says:
13 July 2021


2) Less than 27% of clothing textiles get recycled, 73% are burnt or sent to landfill.

”The fashion industry is often regarded as one of the most wasteful…..”. I’d suggest it is not the industry that is wasteful, but those who buy their products. Just like the many with disposable income buy stuff they don’t need, or could manage without. Mobile phones, too much food, stuff that is excessively packaged. The consumer could change this if they so chose. But they do not so choose.

I seriously doubt there is anything such thing as a typical consumer. What we buy, how we buy it and when can almost be considered the ultimate variables.

Oh, and I’m with you, EM, on the subject of voluminous analogies. I really have no concept of the volume of a swimming pool and, as one who detests football, positively loathes the ‘big as a football field’ comparison. I really have no idea of how large a football field is, and care even less.

But back to the case in point: when we talk about ‘the consumer’ it’s actually as meaningless a noun as you can create. The advertising business would be done if it considered consumerism in that way. So they don’t. They target advertisements with care, and the best in the field are very good at that.

There can’t be many, for example, who can hear Bach’s Air from the suite in D and not think of someone smoking a cigar. And many years ago the sale of Esso was almost synonymous with the Toreador song from Carmen.

The ad industry knows the value of positive association and has become adept at the art of suggestion and manipulation. Thus, although it’s simple to suggest “consumer(s) could change this if they so chose” we are, most of us, at the mercy of a highly skilled machine, which understands human foibles to an alarming extent. In a very real sense we’re trapped by a system designed to make vast wealth for a small number of people.

”The fashion industry is often regarded as one of the most wasteful…..”. I’d suggest it is not the industry that is wasteful, but those who buy their products.

If I buy a shirt for hubby, I can buy his neck size and it will always fit no matter the manufacturer. That neck size might come in several styles depending on how close-fitting is required and I never have to return a shirt because it doesn’t fit.

But take leggings from Marks & Spencer. I can order the same size as last time and they will most likely be too big or too small so I have to buy the size I think I am plus a size larger and a size smaller. Leggings used to last for ages, now they are made to wear out quickly so you have to keep replacing them – and my pile that doesn’t fit is growing. A friend took some back to the store for me, but they would only refund to a gift card.

Why can’t I order my size and know it will fit? Why can’t the same company produce the same item in the same size? I’d suggest it is M&S who are the most wasteful. This doesn’t just apply to M&S though as this trend is common across most women’s clothing stores.

If leggings were a man thing, I’d bet they would fit – every single time.

Oddly, no; M & S (and other stores) have been getting sizing wrong for a long time in menswear. Shirts, okay, but trousers not so good.

The best thing to do with trousers is try them on before buying; our bodies vary widely so relying on waist and leg length is but a start. Or get measured and have them made. As for shirts, I don’t wear formal shirts often these days but if you do want a decent fit you once again should get measured; Charles Tyrwhitt gives the next best thing to bespoke.

I wouldn’t buy/wear resold shoes – but I do wear resoled shoes.

That is really from me – not an imposter. Confused dot com here as I am still (I think) signed in – and have not changed browsers

I’m sat on the fence with this as never thought about it before. I think I’d want to understand how they are recycled and cleaned but wouldn’t say no.

Hi Chirag – I’m always unsure of the motives when companies set up schemes that are claimed to be of environmental benefit. I appreciate that children outgrow footwear and clothing but wouldn’t it be better for adult customers to hang on to their favourite trainers?

” I’ve got 60 plus shoes in my collection“. Crikey, that’s more than many centipedes or millipedes might need…. 🙂

In the good old days of Woolworth’s I used to buy their stick on soles to repair a worn-through leather sole. I see you can still buy them but these days all my shoes that I wear regularly have thick soles that never develop holes. Those with thin soles are formal styles and rarely worn.

I see your point, Chirag. There is no point in keeping them if they are not going to be worn.

Apart from a couple of pairs of boots that I bought during the lockdown I have always bought shoes in shops and am almost always happy with the fit. Although new shoes tend to be uncomfortable, I find that by rotating several pairs they become increasingly comfortable – until they are worn out. 🙁

Having inspected my shoe cupboard, there are several pairs that have not been worn for a few years but they will have their chance.

Em says:
13 July 2021

This looks like a cynical ploy by Nike to sell yet more trainers to those who already have more than they need, by removing one of the conditions that leads to buyer’s remorse.

Although most of us are not aware of it all the time, a decision to purchase is almost always tied up in what psycologists call “cognitive dissonance”, where two or more perceptions we hold are in conflict. For instance: 1) “Those donuts look good”, 2) “Donuts are fattening” and 3) “I need to lose weight”.

Before we can come to a purchasing decision we are comfortable with and avoid buyer’s remorse, we need to lessen the mental stress by changing, justifying against, or being indifferent to the contradictions in our belief system. In the case of the donut purchasing decision, these might be 1) “I don’t need, donuts, I’ve just had lunch” or 2) “They are only 200 calories each” or 3) “I can go to the gym later.”

For someone who covets their fifth pair of Nike trainers, but also wants to appear cool and eco-friendly to their friends, what better way than to gift or trade in one of their existing pairs.

Is this really helping to save the planet, or just giving vanity a free pass?

I would not buy refurbished shoes but Nike are welcome to have my old trainers back, although I hope they will be dismantled to recycle the materials as nobody else would want to wear them. The heels will be worn down on the outer edges, they will likely have holes in the upper parts, and they won’t be very clean.

I always have two good pairs of trainers that happen to be Nike as they do half-sizes. One pair is kept clean for exercise such as the treadmill, the other for going-out. When they get tatty, they will be worn for gardening or painting.

We have been able to recycle pairs of shoes locally for some years now which is where they will go at the end of their life where hopefully the materials will be recycled.

I have a pair of Russell & Bromley winter boots that are the most comfortable boots I have ever owned. They have been re-heeled many times and new soles applied to the bottom. If only they could be properly refurbished and returned to me – that I would pay for.

Pam Silgrim says:
14 July 2021

I would! Great way to make better shoes more affordable to those who want them too. Nice article!

I do buy second hand shoes from charity shops – if I find a nice pair and I have also bought used army boots from army surplus stores.

I think the only trainers that I currently have are either hand me downs donated by family members or trainer style safety shoes, free issued by my employer.

Indoors at home, I prefer not to wear any shoes. If at work, I’d expect to wear safety shoes on plant and I’d try to get away with sandals in most office situations, but perhaps not when needing to wear a jacket or a suit and perhaps even a tie.

I have a lovely vision of John’s plimsoles being next to his neatly pressed nautical whites and those being next to his khaki shorts, desert boots, bush jacket and pith helmet.

You missed out the knee-length socks, Derek, and I no longer take the pith, a Panama has to suffice to comply with luggage regulations.

Thanks John, I guess you also have to leave the sword and revolver behind too these days.

I wonder how many “young people” would appreciate being bought second-hand (pre-owned) Nike trainers. Imagine if their peers found out. Fashion and keeping up seems to dictate what hey buy, rather than utility.

Their peers might be envious, Malcolm. Have a look at what some trainers sell for secondhand.

I have one pair of what approximates to trainers and my choice was largely governed by the fact that Clarks had made their branding inconspicuous.

Used Nike trainers don’t seem very expensive online.
If they are so good, why do many people want to get rid of them when they have a lot of life left in them?

Em says:
14 July 2021

You can’t pretend you are a famous athlete if you aren’t wearing mint AF1s. Although the sagging cargo pants and fake Rolex tend to spoil the illusion.

Like Derek I don’t tend to wear shoes in the house, though that means that socks don’t last as long as they should. Living alone I don’t have to be wary about the dangers of lego bricks and upturned mains plugs.

In the warmer weather I like wearing sandals – with socks of course – when out and about. I choose socks with contrasting toes and heels to draw attention to the comfortable way to wear sandals.

Slippers are nice in the house, with or without socks.

Cherub says:
14 July 2021

I wouldn’t consider wearing refurbished shoes because everyone walks differently and shoes wear to the shape and comfort of the original wearer.

Flip flops are my favourite for around the house. There’s no bending involved getting in and out of them, but for a well made fashionable trainer with endurance, you can’t beat a Merrell. Although American they are freely available here.

Em says:
14 July 2021


That’s my understanding too. So you could end up compensating for someone else’s defective stance, particularly where used for the intended purpose – exercise or sport. If you just want to show off the flashy logo whilst leaning on the bar, it probably doesn’t make much difference.

Hmm. I wonder if Nike make spats? It could save a lot of money.

@chiragkhetiya, thanks Chirag. This is not a world I visit. But if people want to spend £453 on a pair of Nikes then it is their disposable income to do with as they wish.
I suppose it is no different to trading Petrus.

Fit for the likes of Richard Branson on one of his interplanetary, very extraordinary flights into space, predicted by The Carpenters in the seventies.

I’m not surprised that most of my neighbours have much more expensive cars than mine, but it does not concern me how they spend their money.

If people want to take money out of the economy to spend on things that are not competing for my expenditure that’s fine by me.

I buy my trainers in Nike Factory Outlets – much better value.

You can also pick up a pair of recycled shoes made from recycled fabrics, from Mountain Warehouse at a reasonable price.

”Products made from recycled fabrics, divert waste from land-fill – protecting our oceans, safeguarding the Earths resources and preventing waste.”

While a good idea, I would expect converting textile waste into shoes to come with some adverse environmental implications. It would depend on the sort of shoes produced and what the soles are made of. Better than discarding textile waste completely, but perhaps not as good as reusing it in fabric form as lining material, industrial sheeting, webbing, or as insulating material where dyeing would not be necessary and it will have a very long life without the need for further modification.

These walking shoes are certainly at attractive prices but I noticed three things about the Mountain Warehouse range made with a recycled fabric mesh — they represent only a tiny percentage of the company’s shoe range, the amount of recycled material in the shoes is quite small, the place of manufacture is not stated so transport implications could be significant. If surplus or waste material is going to be reprocessed to make into other products it would be better to do so in the UK.

There is quite a bit of presentation styling in the shoes which requires some refined processing that conflicts with ecological values. I feel that we should not accept the term “recycled” being used as a token concession to environmental conservation when in reality it is just an opportunistic marketing tag.

Tricia says:
28 January 2022

My concern about buying refurbished shoes would be hygiene and I’d want strong guarantees that they were not harbouring any residue from former wearers.

I might buy good quality, leather, refurbished shoes, but probably not trainers as I don’t wear trainers. It would depend on how well it was done. I have narrow feet, so shoes which fit properly are hard to come by unless you buy new.

Regarding shoes, I have given/loaned shoes to friends who wear same size. Some friends have done the same with me or other friends. I have also given to charities but only if in good condition.
Done the same with clothing…
Items have to be clean, in good condition after all…………………waste not, want not.