June 8, 2017

A search for sustainable shoes

With every quest I start, I always end up somewhere close, but very different form what I was looking for. So today a post on how shopping shoes can became a quest for sustainability and result in a historical buy....

Sneakers by TOMS, Sandals from Gurkee's and sneakers by Vans

In the Winter I wear the same shoes almost every day. And in Autumn and Spring, but that is technically Winter in the Netherlands. It began with Dr. Martens in my teens. After that cowboy boots inspired by Madonna Music period and now for a few years dark blue Timberlands. If they keep my feet dry, warm and secure I'm already happy.
When the days get a little warmer it's time again to search for flattering sandals and handy sneakers. My shoe collection was always different, but the last years my search for Summer shoes resulted in a even stranger yet interesting collection of footwear and a longing for a simpeler solution. I love my sneakers, I love heels and I love green sandals. But finding practical and pretty Summer shoes, or let alone sustainable shoes, has become a true quest.
The Summer hasn't even started and I already bought two pairs which fit perfectly with my strange yet interesting collection of shoes.

The first pair of this year I found after an online search for sustainable shoes. My eyes fell on TOMS.
TOMS designed shoes in a way that the fabric and material is used most economical. With every pair of shoes that is sold, a pair of shoes goes to a child in need. I went for a pair with the Navy Batik Stripe. I couldn't find any info on the fabric online, but I thought it would be maybe on the shoes or in the box when I got them. After arriving the fabric looked like it could be handmade, but there was nothing on it to explain it. I turned to Twitter and TOMS replied fast, but not very helpful.

The response made me even doubt my purchase. Why can't they tell me where the textile is made? And is it actually Batik? And why can't I find any information on the makers?
It makes me think it's a shoe that does only good after it is sold. And this is something that is happening a lot today. Part of the proces is okay, but part is not. Of course making something completely sustainable is hard, but if your brands goal is to help people, you have to start with making sure the makers are treated well and fair every part of the process.  Don't get me wrong, my beef is not with TOMS. It's a good shoe, nice fit and I will rock them all Summer. But my concern is with the transparency of compagnies and brands. If you say as a company you have good intentions; to be more green, fair, animal-friendly, sustainable, you can already claim you are...
Instead of offering costumers what they want: a fair, sustainable product, We are sold only the intentions of doing so with a maybe future product.

Before my Batik TOMS, I got new shoes I thought where made in Ghana. It started with the Vans in collaboration with Della in 2014. Della is a Los Angeles-based brand which let their fashion be made by a community in Ghana. When I got the shoes only the outside fabric was made there. The shoe itself is labelled 'made in China'.
Last year I bought what I thought where rope sandals from Ghana. They turned out to be made in the USA. Okay, maybe they are made in better working conditions, but why where they promoted as African Fashion on blogs and social media?

In last years post about buying Batik, I promised I would buy real handmade wooden shoes. So during our short camping holiday in Eenrum last month, I had to check out the local wooden clog-maker. I was hoping for a traditional tour through the shop, but the wooden shoes were already unexchangeable on my feet before I knew it. If you are not sure you want clogs, don't go to this shop haha. Trying on means buying in these regions. But anyway, when I entered the shop my eyes fell directly on the purple clogs and the price for these handmade beauties was pretty good.

Eenrumer Clogs

Now I own a pair of Eenrumer Wooden bright purple clogs, but when am I ever going to wear them. When I was little I wore clogs every day. My mother started putting them on my feet, I guess partly to slow me down and mostly to see where I went. I left the shoes outside a house, so she could easily see where I was. Wooden clogs were at that point not so much daily wear anymore. I had a PE teacher who wore them, but that was a rare exception. When I asked my mom where she bought mine, thinking they were probably locally made, she replied 'Boerenbond'. 
Nowadays you can buy, mostly machinemade, wooden clogs everywhere. In Dutch souvenir shops and garden centers, but you don't see people wear them. Yes, the Swedish sandal clogs, which I have too, and the plastic Clocs, who designed those? But actual traditional Dutch clogs, no. Last year I worked shortly at the Art Academy in Utrecht where I spotted a student wearing actual Dutch yellow wooden clogs. I thought that was so cool and I wish I dared it too. I'm waiting for the right event to rock my new Eenrumer clogs, but I'm already pretty sure this will not be my last pair of wooden shoes I buy. 

My old wooden clogs

Me with my parents and brother in traditional wear from Volendam, The Netherlands
I'm wearing only one clog because 30 years ago I had the habit of kicking off my shoes

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