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Letting Go of Leather Sandals

Like many shoe fanatics, I suspect that my commitment to leather sandals started with the staple footwear of my childhood: black leather school shoes. Somehow all those years of wearing sober lace-up shoes instilled in me the belief that nothing is quite so sensible, so durable and breathable as leather. But given the expense of leather sandals and the time it takes to polish and waterproof them, last summer I decided to give Birkenstock's Birko-flor sandals a go.

A good retailer will stock most of their sandals in leather and the company's own less expensive material called Birko-flor. Because it is manmade this Birko-flor lends itself to a wide range of colours and patterns, but other than that it's difficult to see much difference between it and leather. Birko-flor is made of a blend of soft acrylic and polyamide felt fibres, which means that it has the smooth surface you'd expect of leather with the addition of a fleece lining that effectively puts an end to first-day blisters. It's also easy to clean. A quick rub with a damp cloth and a spot of detergent and my sandals always come up as good as new.

Being an orthopaedic shoe company, Birkenstock is all about creating a healthy environment for the foot. This means that every one of the company's sandals - whether they are leather or Birko-flor - is designed to draw moisture away from the foot. Unlike other synthetic materials Birko-flor is light, flexible and allows the foot to breathe. Although they are less expensive, Birko-flor sandals have exactly the same suede lining, layers of jute and mix of cork and latex as their leather counterparts. It is this mix of materials that makes Birkenstock sandals unique. Not only does the footbed wick moisture away from the foot while absorbing shock, the cork gradually heats up and moulds to the contours of your feet, which makes for an unbelievably comfortable shoe.

While the manufacturers claim that this Birko-flor is tear resistant, I'd say that given the quality of Birkenstock's leather (it is sourced from specialty farms in central Europe where unique breeding practices ensure that all leather is a minimum of 2.8 millimetres thick) the leather sandals would probably last you longer. That said, even if you don't take advantage of Birkenstock's repair service I think you can expect your Birko-flor sandals to see you through a couple of summers. And if you're anything like me you'll be ready for a new style by then. With so many beautiful Birko-flor sandals around this season - including the Papillio Collection's soft floral designs and imitation snakeskin - you'll have hundreds of reasons to reconsider your lust for leather sandals.