Sneakersheads have a saying: wear your shoes.

The sneaker culture and collection may be more important than it ever was – sneakers are one of the best asset classes to invest in these days – but ultimately , these are shoes; they are meant to be worn. Just as it’s a shame to see watches or cars go astray and never appreciated by their owners, it’s a shame to see sneakers never reach people’s feet.

But there’s another reason why you should wear your sneakers: Unlike stocks or precious metals, sneakers degrade. Dramatically and quickly too, as this now viral video demonstrates.

Nick Bennett, a restaurateur and vintage Nike enthusiast, shared this video with TikTok of him restoring a pair of Nike Air Jordan 3 “White Cement” basketball sneakers from 1994. The video shows how the polyurethane midsoles of the sneakers have completely degraded compared to sneakers. Lifespan of 27 years, just like the rear plastic “Nike Air” tabs on the heel of the sneaker. That’s enough to make a sneakerhead (or a clean freak) cry.

Watch how the ravages of time have taken their toll on these rare sneakers below.

It’s fascinating to watch Bennett painstakingly restore these rare retro sneakers; the meticulous prep work, the Frankensteining pieces from other shoes, the painting, the collage… The end result speaks for itself. It’s also worth it: the real 1994 Air Jordan 3 “White Cements” are easily worth four figures, with a US size 8 pair currently selling on StockX for US $ 2,500.

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Unfortunately, virtually any athletic shoe with a polyurethane foam midsole is susceptible to this fate over time. The phenomenon has a name: hydrolysis.

“Hydrolysis is the chemical breakdown of PU [polyurethane] polymer and the resulting physical degradation or spalling of the PU sole by attack of water (usually in the form of vapor), occurring over a period of several years (even when the shoes are in store!) ” , explains Safety Jogger.

“This process is accelerated by heat and high humidity. This will therefore happen more quickly in tropical climates, but also in confined spaces (such as lockers) if safety shoes are stored wet. In the most advanced state of hydrolysis, the PU sole will lose all of its physical strength, cracking or crumbling.

A shoebox full of crumbled vintage Adidas sneaker midsoles found at a Buenos Aires sneaker store. Image: The Guardian

For this reason, vintage sneakers that haven’t undergone significant hydrolysis or degradation are worth a lot of money – but they’re incredibly rare, as foam becomes so brittle. It’s also why the “retro” of some of those popular vintage sneakers has become such a big deal for Nike and others: it gives new customers the chance to get their hands on some vintage-looking sneakers they can. really wear, without fear of doing irreversible things. shame.

Not all sneakers will necessarily succumb to this kind of fate. Other common midsole materials, such as the vulcanized rubber found in Converse or Vans sneakers, are much stronger and hold up better over time. Of course, shoes with leather soles can also last for decades if properly cared for.

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But it’s a timely reminder that sneakers, like all clothing, are ultimately fleeting. Collect them if you like, but they’re meant to be worn. Better to have fun with them in the present than to end up with a box full of dust and broken dreams down the line …

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