Don’t Sweat the Sweatshop

I’m not a political guy. Don’t get me wrong – I’m against global warming, I’m all for equality in terms of race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. – but most issues just don’t make it to my attention.

But as a sneakerhead, two political/ethical controversies constantly arise: a) sweatshop manufacturing, and b) expensive-ass prices. Most shoe enthusiasts skate past both, and I’m usually no different. But you can only profess ignorance and indifference for so long. So whut’s the fuss about?

Sweatshopping (just do it)

Most sneakers cost under $5 to manufacture, and that’s being generous. Nowadays, almost every sneaker, regardless of brand affiliation, is manufactured in China. Why? Shit is cheaper.

In the ‘80s, South Korea was the manufacturing hub of the sneaker industry. But as time progressed, the industry (and Korean industrialists) started outsourcing the manufacturing to even-cheaper labour markets in Asia (such as Singapore and Indonesia). When political activists challenged Nike on this, the Swoosh’s tepid response was that it was their international manufacturers that were outsourcing work to the cheapest of Asian labour-forces, not the Swoosh themselves. Blame the middle-man every time, yo.

Nike pledged to change its labour-practices, but I’m skeptical that anything has changed. Now some cats argue, So Whut? Their point: even if it’s pennies an hour, at least now these sweatshop-workers are making money. Without the Swoosh, they’d be making zero.

The counter: Nike could pay these workers more than the pittance they now receive. Yes, any sum is greater than zero, but that don’t turn pennies into dollars. And, of course, Nike can afford it. Phil Knight and Co. could surely shell out a dollar-an-hour increase with their pocket change. But again, don’t hold yer breath.

My stance? While Nike is certainly culpable for their labour transgressions, I’m not going to stop buying their product. Nike is just one of the myriad businesses making money off broken backs. That’s whut businesses do. Outrage at the Swoosh’s practices seems petty in light of the horrendous atrocities committed by industries daily. Get over it, or stop buying sneakers. Shoes are an industry, not an art form.

Expensive $hit

Why do sneakers cost so much? If making them only costs $5, where’s the other $150 going? R&D takes its chunk, as well as administrative costs, but over 50% (likely 80%) is spent on marketing. Those sweet Lebron ads don’t make themselves – nor do they show up on expensive television programming without mucho dinero changing hands.

On this front, NBA baller Stephon Marbury has taken matters into his own hands. Teaming up with a local Brooklyn retailer, Steph has lent his name to the Starbury, which sells for a mere $14. He did it for all the kids that aspire to shoes far beyond their means – and especially for their parents. And, putting that NBA money where his mouth his, Marbury also sports them in games.

Me? Shit IS way too expensive – but I’m a grown-ass man. I can afford it, so I will. And I commend Steph’s gesture, but don’t hold a pair for me. Still, I sympathize with parents whose eyes bug out at the price tags accompanying sneakers today. But I should also add, my folks never bought ME Nikes.

The solution is this: be a smarter shopper. From just one outlet in the greater Toronto area, I’ve seen niceness such as AF1s, Dunks, air max ‘87s, ‘91s and 2K4s, not to mention Hurache 2K4s and AF2s, go for half price or lower. Not just mutant-big sizes either, or crazy-horrible colorways – I’m talking legitimately nice joints (albeit, with limited sizes).

But if you MUST have the latest Jordans/Lebrons/whatevers, the choice is simple. Save yer money and ante up – or don’t buy ‘em and shut up.

Rick Kang

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  1. kalimah abioto says:

    uuuuuuuummmm. i’m a little mad at this. i love shoes. i can afford them; however, once we have this information( sweatshops, etc) we put the shit to use. yes. nike does employ but knowing the conditions over in those countries they could surely, SURELY pay more or at least put in place a system to where these people have a chance to earn money or an education. For one, these companies( nike, etc.) continue the cycle of uneducated individuals who are bombarded with poverty and do not feel that they have the power to change their situation. NIKE HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE THIS. either don’t pay them at all or pay them enough so that they can get by. and most cannnot get by on this.

    for all that we spend on shoes there is something that we can do to amend this situation. are we too confortable? are we too afraid that we won’t look fly enough? we can put our love for fashion to better use right? i’m not saying give up the shoes totally but think about what is going on when you wear them, not just if you can afford the next pair or not

    by the way i had nikes in my repetoir
    not no more
    think. then action

  2. Kalimah,

    Word — I don’t disagree. The Swoosh has many more dollars than it knows whut to do with, or how to properly use — except when it comes to doing right by its hardest-workingest, least-paid “employees” (cuz technically these folks are employees of Nike’s manufacturers — which is some kind of outsourcing/bizness semantics).

    Do We really have the power to change things? Yes, but there aren’t enough people willing to do something. Even though those informed may feel a twinge of guilt, that’s often not enough to propel one to action.

    Even those that want to help are hamstrung by a lack of knowledge as to HOW to help. Maybe that’s whut we should be doing — thinking of ways to shame Nike et al into doing good.

    Anyone got Lebron on speed-dial?

  3. basically everything is made in poor conditions in asia for low pay. there’s gonna be a lot more than sneakers to think about if we talking about it like that. is there a major retailed that doesn’t outsource their work? reebok is the only company i know that put a promise on its product that it wasn’t made by pakistani children.

  4. Its truly time to take action and protest. What pair of sneakners could be worth $175.00. Outrageous! There is a specific target market that this company aims for (lower to middle class america )and it’s time for us to wise up. Our dollars count. We Have The Power To Change This.
    Stephon Marbury has taken the first step in revolutionizing the industry.

  5. teresa aversa says:

    the sad thing is your not even ignorant, your just being stupid. The fact that you researched and wrote a whole article on how it’s wrong but your still going to ignore it is completely ridiculous and one of the reason our world is so fucked up. People don’t care unless these things directly effect them, and that has to change. I admit I have spent copious amounts of money on fly shoes but no more, I’m a grown woman and I take responsibility for my action. The reason these companies continue to screw people over is because we live in our north american bubble and put up with this bullshit, we could care less about other suffering so some superficial trendwhore can comment on our fly kicks while shopping on queen west.
    Grow up, use the knowledge you have.

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