MPB is proud to be the world's most popular men's sewing blog!



Jul 28, 2012

Cheap Fashion and the Canvas Sneaker



Readers, thank you for all the thought-provoking comments you left on my recent post about the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

I came face to face with the cheap fashion dilemma last Sunday, when I decided to treat myself to a new pair of canvas sneakers before my vacation.  I didn't want anything fancy, just a pair of canvas slip-ons -- Vans or something similar.  So I walked up along 34th Street, where there are tons of athletic shoe stores, as well as north of 34th on 8th Avenue.  The selection is tremendous -- practically every style from (nearly) every era is available, it seems.


When I was a kid, I had cousins who lived in Clifton, New Jersey.  When we visited them, my aunt would often drive us to what I remember as a Keds factory outlet not too far away.  They made the shoes right there in New Jersey and you could buy them cheaply; maybe they were factory seconds, I don't remember.  Anyway, that's where my brother and I would get our sneakers, maybe a pair every year or so.  I certainly didn't have more than one pair at a time.


Today, I own many pairs of sneakers.  Some are specifically to run in, and hence purchased new; others I picked up at the thrift store (The trick is to buy them when you see them, rather than when you really need/want them.).  The first thing I noticed on my shopping trip was that the prices have gone up, way up.  Pretty much everything made by Converse or Vans was $45 or more.  For canvas sneakers!  In my head, canvas sneakers cost $20 (and pizza costs 75 cents).

So I headed to Payless, where I found -- in the womens section (you won't find them in the mens for some reason) -- a very generic, ungendered canvas slip-on I could live with (pictured up top) for $17.99.  Frankly, for a shoe like this, that still seems like too much but what can you do?

Friends, the Converse, the Keds, the Vans, the Payless sneakers, even fancier brands like Topsiders and Deckers -- all are made in China.  If I'd paid $25 more, who would have pocketed the difference?  Not the factory workers, I'm guessing.  (If you're open to buying at least 1,000 pair, btw, you can order slip-ons like mine directly from the Chinese factory.)

Coincidentally, the other day I found a wonderful blog called Well Spent, that highlights nicely designed clothing and accessories either made in the USA or under what the author calls "first world conditions" abroad. There are some lovely things listed, and this very week wouldn't you know the blog's highlighting canvas sneakers.  It turns out you can find domestically made canvas sneakers.  You will pay more for them, however.  (For some, a lot more.)

In closing, would you spend $20 more (i.e.  double) for Made in the USA, for something as generic and disposable as a pair of canvas sneakers?

I'm going to have to sleep on this one.

Thoughts?

1960 Keds ad.

43 comments:

  1. I thought it was the sense of entitlement to cheap goods that caused the whole problem in the first place?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the problem started when corporations realized that by taking advantage of radically cheaper labor in other parts of the world, they could increase their profits. The shoes didn't get cheaper.

      Delete
  2. I'd totally pay double for a basic that is made well and in fair conditions, be it made in China, the US, or Antarctica. Finding those basics are super hard, which is why I sew.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think, as long as I can afford it, I'd like to buy the responsibly made clothing (not that I always do, this is a recent awakening). I know how much work goes into, say, a plain white t, and as a creator I'd expect to be paid fairly for that work. So I have to put my money where my principals are and allow others to be paid fairly for the same work.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I haven't done this with clothes but I run a diaper pantry program and just switched vendors from Walmart.com to a firm in Mississippi selling private label diapers mostly because the private label ones are all made in the US. If we don't pay attention to this more jobs will leave.
    And I would pay more for an American made basic if it was made better than the import or as least equal.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'd pay more for locally made quality shoes (for me, locally is Australian made)...I recently paid a small fortune for four pair of R M Williams boots which are made in Australia by an Australian owned company (3 pairs of seconds @ $240 each and one pair of firsts for $390).

    I envisage that these boots will still be worn in a decades time; and when the sole wears out i can go back to R M Williams and get them re-soled for (currently) $100 and then i'll get even more wear out of them.

    2 of the boots are dress boots so they won't be worn daily and will therefore last a LONG time and 2 pair are working boots which get worn in all kinds of conditions when i go dog training (now) and trialing (later) so i imagine will need to be re-soled much quicker than the dress boots.

    I can afford to buy Australian made and wherever i can and when the goods are of quality i make the effort to be a responsible consumer....i won't be buying boots again anytime soon that's for sure!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. R M Williams boots are the antithesis of disposable fashion. When the elastic inserts on the sides get worn out, you return the boots to the factory and they put in new elastic. These boots will actually last a lifetime.

      Delete
  6. You lucky you! Here you got to pay at least 70€ for a pair of converse or Vans, often 100€ or more! A store next to ours sells fair trade converse like shoes for a lesser price too, but I'm still wondering whether to get those or the lovely Marimekko ones..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got the Marimekko ones. They're gorgeous! Nicer canvas than the normal Converse too.

      Delete
  7. Agree, big dilemma. We were talking about it last night on the way to The Warehouse (kind of NZ's Walmart only not quite as evil, I believe) on a mission to buy a few stationery items. We both feel strongly about not buying cheap c-rap that adds to the big picture issues, but ended up buying two merino long sleeves Ts for me and a pack of 5 briefs for him. The cost of these was sooo low, and I honestly don't know where to get locally made stuff like this anyway. I COULD make it I guess but working 7 days, 60 hours a week doesn't allow for much sewing right now. So, still working on the transition, is how I see it. One day in a few years I hope to only make myself, or buy locally made product.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Glad you are back Peter!

    If we don't buy U.S. made goods, who will?

    China only wants to buy assets, not products. Plus they have kept their currency lower than ours for years, forcing a trade imbalance AND a job shift to their shores.

    If you don't see the long-term actions of China as anything less than a financial strangulation in slow motion, you haven't been paying attention.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My mantra? Quality over Quantity. To me, quality includes the conditions my clothing was made in as well.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Responsibly sourcing items is awesome. Reducing waste by buying clothes that last and not replacing them until needed is great. In practice though, I have 3 rapidly growing children. Yes, they wear hand-me downs, and we pass on the things they've outgrown to friends and charity. But realistically, the average family has a hard enough time keeping growing children clothed without buying more expensive items. Thrift stores don't always have the necessary articles in the correct size at the right time, and making/refashioning absolutely everything for one's household isn't practical either. Of course, making some things and being realistic about how much is needed helps, but the way economic systems are set up, it could become very burdensome to me and my family to try to aspire to a certain "only buy local/artisan/etc." standard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so right. I'm glad I don't have children to clothe these days. I used to haunt the local jobbers and discount stores when my girls were little. Where it was made was usually the last thing I looked at.

      Delete
  11. I'm on a quest to find a reliable source for basic, made in the USA shoes that fit me. Oh, difficult! Keds just don't fit my feet--I've tried several sizes and widths via Zappos. Currently I'm exploring the offerings of Tic Tac Toes, a U.S. made brand that has a particular specialization in dance shoes. I love their rather dated and nerdy styles, but I haven't been blown away by their sizing and quality. Planning a review of my most promising pair yet, the Shag, on my blog. If I could find a company that fit me well, that I felt fairly confident would stay with the same lasts and that was based in the USA, I would definitely pay more. But all of that is a tall order, I realize.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Munro American shoes are fabulous. High quality, made in America.

      Delete
    2. Munro doesn't seem to fit me well! I have one pair of their sandals and I've tried many of their styles at our wonderful local shoe store, Tops for Shoes. Wish they worked for me, but even in a wide they don't. Thanks for mentioning it, though!

      Delete
    3. They don't fit me either- either the ball or the heel of the shoe will fit, but not both, and the leather is much more delicate than shoes that look like the ones I bought really should be.

      Delete
  12. Converse have been around the $70 mark in Australia for the last 5 or so years!I have also owned R M Williams riding boots when I was younger and the do last the distance suzi they were handed down to my two younger sisters then passed off to another horse riding friend and were still in good condition (it helps that my family have a thing with polishing shoes!)

    ReplyDelete
  13. all my shoes Italian. They are the best at making the shoes!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Not based on price so much as I like the plain-janeness of the top pair. Maybe not the "correct" answer, but that's the pair I'd buy.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Elaine (nobody you know)July 28, 2012 at 10:11 PM

    Love you. Love your blog.

    So now, let me understand... You don't like cheap "goods" produced by labor in foreign countries, but you have to sleep on this one because you're not sure if you want to spend more than you have to spend on the umpteenth pair of sneakers. And you're critical of corporations that buy their labor (a necessary input for those sneakers) for the lowest available rate because... why again?

    We each have to make our own economic decisions based upon our own needs and wants, some of which may include social goals or ideals. However, there any many repurcussions of those decisions, some of which we feel (e.g., the inability to buy something else with the money) and many more of which we don't (e.g., the pollution). If faced with the stark choice, I pay more for American-made goods and locally-raised food because I HATE the idea that something travels 2,000 miles to get to my use. Each time I do that, I deny Chinese factory workers and California longshoremen (don't ignore this cost in the price of foreign-made junk) paying jobs that sustain their families. I'll have to count on "evil" Wal-Mart to take care of them, I guess.

    So long as we each make our economic decisions based upon what suits our needs and wants (even those touchy-feely ones), we exchange something we value less (our day's work) for something we value more (shoes or a full-bellied child). So my thought is, buy whatever shoes make you feel as though you created value for yourself and/or society or decide to save for something that makes you even happier, and set aside judgement against others for doing the same (even if they don't make the same choice), because it all works out to the benefit of everyone who engages in every step of the transaction.

    ReplyDelete
  16. To be sure, this gets extremely complicated and is not as simple as buying local or not, as evidenced by earlier comments. Sometimes it can be paralyzing.

    My mom worked at a dress factory in Brooklyn under sweatshop conditions. Competing against cheap overseas labor is impossible.

    After decades of consumption, I now strive to buy fewer things, but better quality when possible. That said, even when buying fewer things, there’s a limit to how much I can spend on something. That’s just reality.

    At one time, I was in dire economic straits --like having a landlord threaten to put my furniture out on the street, dire straits – so every penny counted and there was really no room for searching my conscience.

    IMHO, we all have to weigh our needs and our means and do the best we can under our particular circumstances at the time, and maybe walk a mile in someone else’s canvas shoes.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don't know exactly how old you are, but my guess is that you were between the ages of 0 and 10 in 1975 (or something). So I used this handy calculator: http://www.davemanuel.com/inflation-calculator.php

    And I learned: $20 of 1975 dollars would be worth: $85.11 in 2012

    I am young and not wealthy and I usually only have 1 or 2 pairs of "everyday" shoes at a time, because I pay ~$80 for a pair of shoes, and I try to buy ethical and well-made when I can.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Loved the menswear website. I wondered if there is one for women's clothing. Here's a long list of American makers of women's apparel:
    http://www.americansworking.com/clothingwomens.html

    ReplyDelete
  19. I agree that we should buy fewer goods. We all have too much stuff. Some of you would be shocked to see how few clothes I have but am quite happy with for the most part, and most of which I don't wear. I really should take to goodwill. So at least I don't add a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Yes. I go out of my way to buy things that are not made in China. Two years ago, I bought a pair of Payless canvas shoes (pointy toe, zebra) and ended up with swollen feet and legs because I'm allergic to the dessicant they use to keep things from getting mouldy in shipping ahd the pesticides they sometimes use. Both are forbidden, but that hasn't stopped them. Took weeks for the swelling to go down and ruined my summer as it just plain hurt. I buy a lot of shoes made in Italy or France which cost the earth but last forever. Wish I could buy a $20 pair of canvas shoes, sigh. If I could, I'd paint them all over bright patterns to celebrate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Holy crap. Even is one is not allergic, who wants this stuff on their feet?

      The last shoes I bought were from Italy and Spain. I had no idea what crappy shoes I had been wearing until I put these Italian/Spanish shoes on my feet. They cost more, but have lasted a long, long time and are so much more comfortable. Worth the price.

      Delete
  21. to the other Aussies reading this, did you see the post somewhere out there on the internet celebrating the fact that the Aussie Olympic team wore Dunlop Volleys for the Opening Ceremony?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. they wouldn't want to do much more than a walk in the Dunlop Volley's...they used to be standard issue in the ADF in the 80s as part of the PE uniform - no arch support what so ever LOL I replaced mine with a pair of running shoes and then promptly dyed the Volleys bright pink.

      Delete
  22. I'm your age, Peter. I remember, when I was a kid, my parents would buy me a pair of generic Keds-like sneakers for $1 at the discount store.

    To answer your question: If it's a planned purchase, I'll buy whatever fits best, and is the best quality. Sometimes, that's Walmart. I've found that quality is not guaranteed at higher prices. I don't shop specifically for made-in-the-USA, but if I do find something good, and the price is higher, I don't mind paying a little bit extra because I know the reason for it.

    ReplyDelete
  23. When I was a kid and we got cheap canvas shoes the sole would invaribly come off, starting at the front, and flap as we tried to walk.

    We tried to use a gum band to keep it in place. Crazy kids!

    NO more cheap canvas shoes for me!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I feel you on the high cost of Converse. When I was in high school (in the mid-90's) Converse were made in America and cost about $25-30. A few years later they moved production overseas, but prices stayed about the same. Then Nike bought them and jacked the prices way up. It's really frustrating to know that, in the not too distant past, you could buy inexpensive, well produced, domestic made sneakers- and now you just can't.

    I also read Overdressed and it inspired me to sewing as much as possible and commit to only buying vintage/thrifted or ethically produced. Because I can't make my own shoes, so far I have bought some from the Buffalo Exchange which were practically new. You might try there. Otherwise, if you can afford the more expensive ones, I'd say go for it. The story of Overdressed started with poorly made canvas sneakers, after all.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I can't wear canvas shoes, cheap or expensive. But if I could, I would. I try to stick to shoes with a leather upper and well made. No Wally World or Payless shoes in my house. It's hard to find a well made, nice looking shoe of any kind that fits a wide foot. The only thing available are granny shoes.

    ReplyDelete
  26. For the past two years I've been wearing Fluevogs, they're ethically made ( albeit not in the US) but style-wise are not for every taste I admit

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i love the look of Fluevogs; never owned a pair though.

      Delete
  27. I have been looking at canvas shoes for Summer (My last pair could walk by themselves!) The nicest/cheapest pair I could find (ladies size 4/5 UK)was £40! I decided to keep the stinky pair ;)

    ReplyDelete
  28. I only have two pairs of shoes, not because I can't afford more, but that is all I really need.
    I buy quality shoes though. I had a friend who would do Hong Kong trips back in the 80's. She had her clothes tailor made, and shoes and belts made as well in Hong Kong. For the upcoming fall and winter, which is usually mild in our state, I will invest in a couple of new pairs.

    ReplyDelete
  29. A friend always said that she didn't have enough money to buy cheap products – in the end you spend more on lots of cheapies (that wear out sooner and get thrown away) than on one good whatever it might be, which could well last a lifetime (and can be repaired, resoled, etc.). Of course, the problem is having enough cash on hand to buy the more expensive option in the first place. So yes, I would pay twice as much to buy the local product (assuming it is of better quality) and indeed try to do so whenever possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've got some Converse and some Converse knock-offs. The difference in construction is more obvious to the wearer than the observer. If you care about yourself, buy the Converse. If you care about what other people think, buy the knock-offs. (presuming no other considerations about where they're made, etc!)

      Delete
  30. When I was a kid in middle school and high school (think 1977-1983), it was common to get the canvas shoes from Kmart very cheaply. The wealthier and popular kids bought the more expensive Keds with the distinctive blue rectangle on the back and that was a form of class distinction in school (Kmart shoes vs. Keds) and Keds were preppy. This was a time of designer jeans etc. While we were not expecting our parents to foot the bill for $300 handbags, we were begging for $40-$60 Sassoon/Gloria Vanderbilt/Sergio jeans. Of course, those names no longer mean anything now since they were licensed to Asian Schlock factories. But all the better dept. stores had them in their Fall fashion/back to school displays.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I also grew up with Keds deck shoes and am shocked at the prices these days. I would certainly buy American made products and do so whenever I can find them. Funny, my husband and I went to a Nordstroms Rack this weekend and saw all these designer labels made in China. The fabrics were so cheap but the clothes still so expensive. I'm all for making my own.

    ReplyDelete
  32. As much as I love buying things that are quality & American made, I would not pay more than $40 for a pair of canvas shoes - those things fall apart so fast! I'd rather buy at the thrift store & save my dollars to buy shoes that are leather (and American-made, of course). Yeah, they'd be expensive but at least I could count on them to last 10+ years - unlike canvas shoes.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts with Thumbnails