Dyeing Shoes Naturally to Give Them a Second Life

The type of dyeing that truly is a shoe win (see what I did there)! 

Fast fashion is becoming one of the leading issues our environment is facing. There is increasing pressure to reduce costs and speed up production leading to the use of cheap and toxic dyes and textiles. Fast fashion isn’t the only issue though, the footwear industry is leaving a massive carbon footprint too. 

Each year more than 20 billion pairs of shoes are manufactured worldwide, and some studies showcase that the footwear industry is responsible for 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Of the 20 billion pairs that are manufactured each year, 300 million are thrown away. Most shoes are made with unsustainable materials that don’t biodegrade and simply end up in landfill. 

This is why we should do what we can to reuse and repurpose our footwear (and clothing) so that we don’t add to the growing impact the footwear and fashion industries are having on the world. Let’s explore the ins and outs of dyeing shoes naturally so that they can last more years in your wardrobe.

What kind of dye should you use for fabric shoes?

First things first, I only recommend dyeing canvas shoes. Although leather can also be dyed beautifully with natural dyes (you can take a look at an example here), dyeing leather shoes is definitely not for beginners! 

You wouldn’t want to ruin your beautiful shoes. 

Another great option is to make paint from lake pigments to paint your shoes, regardless of what they’re made of. I go over the lake pigment process in my Living Colour with the Five Elements workshop.

Natural dyes work great for canvas shoes, depending on the colour you’re after, take a look at some of our articles on creating natural dyes. 

Let’s take a look at dyeing canvas shoes, as this is a simpler process.

dyeing shoes

Dyeing canvas shoes 

Before you get started and begin to explore how to dye fabric shoes, make sure to give your shoes a bit of a clean and do any repairs they might need. For example, does the sole need a little extra glue or do you need to fix a little hole in the canvas? 

There are some really fun patches you can create to add a little something extra to your “new shoes”. 

Once you’re happy with how your shoes are looking (and any new glue has dried thoroughly), you can start the natural dyeing process. 

1. Remove the laces and any other additional bits from your shoes. Laces can be dyed in the same dye bath, but make sure they’re on their own, to avoid uneven dye uptake on the tongue of the shoe.

2. Scour and mordant your shoes (clean and prep your shoes), but make sure that the temperature of the water doesn’t exceed 60ºC, as anything above 60ºC might destroy the glue that holds your shoes together. The water should be steaming, but NOT bubbling.

3. Now you need to make your selected dye bath: 

Pro tip: If you’re dyeing with an indigo vat, you don’t need to mordant your shoes.

4. Make sure your shoes have soaked in plain water for at least half an hour before you start dyeing them.

5. Put them in the dye bath, if you can, leave the soles facing up and simmer gently (remember to not exceed 60ºC) for at least an hour.

6. If you’re indigo-dyeing your shoes, follow the usual procedure for indigo dyeing in a vat.

7. After an hour, turn the heat off and leave the shoes to steep in the dye bath overnight.

8. The next day, rinse them under running water until the water runs clear.

9. Dry them away from direct sunlight.

10. Replace the shoelaces, and you’re ready!

If you want to dip dye your shoes to get two or more colours, you can dye them one colour first (for example, yellow) and then only dip them up to a certain point in another dye bath (for example, indigo). You might have to find a way to suspend your shoes above the dye pot to ensure they stay in place while they dye.

If you decide to give your shoes a second life, show me! I would love to see your dye creations so tag me on Instagram.

Once you get the hang of it, dip dyeing shoes and your clothes become a fun and easy way to create something brand new. 

Not only is it great for your own pocket, but it’s even better for our environment. 

I am super passionate about showing fashion lovers how they can renew their clothing and footwear while simultaneously connecting with Nature. The state of the fashion and footwear industry needs to be looked at and changed, and we can do this together. 

Take a look at some of my other blog posts to get even more inspiration on what you can do with your beloved clothing items. And if you’re keen to put your shoe into learning more about natural dyeing check out my Living Colour with the Five Elements workshop you don’t want to miss it!