by Brendan Dunne
The polyurethane material that sits in the soles of many sneakers is why vintage pairs are so often unwearable.
Wired turned its focus to sneaker collecting for a new piece, and got some interesting info on the science behind vintage footwear in the process. One of the biggest takeaways is the evil of PU soles, an evil easily illustrated by the fact that the rubber soles in original Air Jordan 1s still render the shoes wearable today, while the PU from the following sneakers in the line means that an original pair of any other Jordans is almost guaranteed to crumble.
Wired even tracked down some scientists to figure out an optimal storage process that could possibly ward off the crumbling. According to Northwestern chemistry professor SonBinh T. Nguyen, the only real solution would be to store shoes in an airtight steel vessel filled with argon. Hopefully readers can get working on a Kickstater campaign for such a storage system.
The good news is that manufacturers are working on bettering traditional PU. There's thermal plastic polyurethane, used in sneakers like those in the adidas BOOST series now, that doesn't have the crumbling problem, according to its creators. Those creators even went as far as to say that models using TPU will still be wearable 20 years from now, so collectors shouldn't have any worries about putting BOOST sneakers on ice for a couple decades.