Bare Your Sole

Outdoor footwear brand Chaco buses into Austin on adventurous shoe-repair tour

Outdoor footwear brand Chaco buses into Austin on shoe-repair tour

Chaco bus
Check out the Chaco bus to save your soles. Chacos

Plenty of Austin feet walk around in classic Z Sandals from Chaco Footwear. The web-strapped shoes handle all the things this city loves with equal aplomb: dirt trails, sandy rivers, rocky creeks, casual dining, dancing to live music. So, it is only natural that the company’s Fit for Adventure tour has rolled into the Capital City.

Every day from now through Sunday, September 26, from noon to 6 pm in a converted river-rafting bus parked at 1511 South Congress Ave., Austinites can get their Chacos repaired for free and buy and build a custom pair of Z Sandals. (The bus makes a quick detour to the University of Texas Marketplace, 2300 Speedway, on Wednesday, September 22.)

“We have had repairs as part of our brand for as long as it has existed,” says brand marketing manager Lyndi Bell. That would be since the company’s founding in 1989 by a former river-rafting guide. The repair team, based at the Michigan factory, can re-sole outsoles, replace straps and buckles, adjust the length of straps, and consult on cleaning and care.

“Our sandals are high enough quality to actually repair, and we would much rather repair a well-loved and well-worn pair than have people buy a new one,” Bell adds. “Our goal is to produce as little impact and as little waste as possible. The best way to be sustainable is to build good, quality products and make them last as long as possible.”

The company says its repair-it philosophy has kept more than 266,000 pairs of shoes out of landfills so far, 21,000 pairs in 2020 alone.

Taking the repair experience on the road seemed a natural next step, and an old river-rafting shuttle bus the perfect vehicle. The bus turned out to have just the right amount of space, in addition to the right vibe, thanks to a jazzy paint job and a raft perched on the top. Inside, a team works with three industrial sewing machines, stacks of soles, and rolls of webbing.

This crew can repair soles and straps, sometimes in as little as 20 minutes. Building your own pair of custom Z Sandals (models without a toe strap only) may take a bit longer.

Just outside the bus, staff helps with fit and selection of options for strap and buckle colors – everything from the classic black to hot pink, stripes, and animal prints. Shoe lovers feeling particularly untethered to convention could take the idea of “custom” to the limit and pick something different for every piece. Buyers can watch through the bus windows as the crew makes their creations by hand.

The tour stopped in Portland, Denver, and Nashville before arriving in Austin, a city Bell says has always been on the company radar, given its sizable outdoor community and comfort with unusual and weird things, say a shoe repair bus.

The original plan was a festival-to-festival tour with a launch at SXSW in 2020, but when the pandemic upended those plans, the company switched to setting up in one place for weeks at a time. The curious can sign up for updates on future stops.

“It’s all outside, and we can make appointments and keep people spaced out to operate safely,” Bell says. “Even if you don’t have a repair need, come check it out. We love hearing Chaco stories.”