I’ve always had weird feet. As a baby, I slept in this crazy device: saddle shoes attached to a metal bar that forced my feet apart. As I grew the bar went away, but I still had to wear orthopedic saddle shoes. My gym shoe options were restricted to the few models available in wide width, always the ugliest shoes in the store.
Barefoot, my feet are fine and never bother me. Trouble starts when I put on shoes. If I find a pair that doesn’t cause pain I wear holes in them, then keep right on walking.
A recent trial of new athletic shoes left some of my toes more blister than not. Tortured feet or the ugly shoes of my childhood? I wasn’t thrilled by either prospect.
Ever my hero, my hubby got on the Nike website and found a way to custom design a pair of shoes just for me. Not only could he make decisions on the structure of the shoe, he could fine tune the aesthetics. He designed shoes so cute I’d want to wear them.
A special pair of shoes custom-made just for me. Wow. But as soon as we placed the order I had questions. Where were my shoes being made? Who was making them? How were those people being treated?
Maybe I have a weird brain in addition to weird feet…or…maybe I’m not the only one who thinks more about the laborers making my stuff when we become collaborators building something I helped design.
I’m not a thoughtless consumer. I limit myself to vegan footwear and bags, and whenever possible look for eco-friendly products. In the grocery arena, I buy a lot of fair trade chocolate and tea. Yet until I pictured someone in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam making shoes specially for me, when it came to shoe buying I was far more worried about the wellbeing of my four-legged friends than I was about factory workers.
There are many advantages to custom-made products. Custom clothing and shoes fit better, fewer blister-inducing shoes and unflattering jeans to discard. The idea of buying what we actually want, instead of a rough approximation, sounds satisfying and fun. What if it also improved consumer consciousness about the conditions of laborers in the garment industry?
Custom design retail sites alone aren’t going to solve the problem of international working conditions, but I do think it’s worth noticing that collaboration on a unique item creates a connection between consumers and laborers. Feeling connection is how we learn to care.