Thursday 17 February 2011

These Shoes Aren't Made For Walking ~ Built-In Obsolescence

“If they’re the ones I think you mean, I can’t mend them,” said the man at the local cobblers. “Not even with some glue?” I asked.
He shook his head.

Well, that can’t be right, I thought. There’s that black gummy stuff (the name escapes me) in a tube. I saw it in a skateboard shop once years ago. It was popular with young clubbers for mending the soles of trainers. I mean it's obviously a(nother) petrochemical bi-product, but if he had some I wouldn't need to buy a tube. It would need the tiniest amount.

I asked him about it. I told him the shoe did not need to look perfect. He shook his head again. “You can bring the shoe in for me to look at if you like,” he said.

I got the shoes from Sustainable Bungay’s Give and Take Day in 2009. They were attractive, comfortable, almost new and I loved them. The guy they’d belonged to had loved them too. But they squeaked when you walked in them and he probably didn’t want to be known as That Man Whose Shoes SQUEAKED! Apart from that there was nothing the matter with them.

I was not concerned about squeaks, however, but about the split which had appeared between the upper and the sole. It looked easy enough to mend. I would ask a second shoe repair man. And this time I took the shoe in.

He’d seen it all before.
“They’re impossible to mend,” he said, and showed me that what looks like stitching to hold the upper and sole together is in fact a sort of faux stitching. The leather upper is not actually stitched to the sole. They are held together only by a thin strip of plastic or rubber (I’m not sure which). This strip is what had broken.

“Super glue?” I asked.
“It’ll just come apart again in next to no time. And the rest of the shoe will follow.”
“A design fault.” I offered.
“A deliberate one.”

This is what the first man had hinted at, but I was so intent on getting my squeaky shoes repaired (THESE SHOES CAN AND WILL BE MENDED!) I hadn't noticed. Now disappointment was giving way to curiosity.

The shoe repairer told me he had stopped buying Clarks shoes because of this particular “design fault.” He was unhappy that the company was trading on its reputation for good quality shoes whilst supplying poor quality short-lived models. Which in addition weren’t cheap.

I still might have a go at supergluing my give-and-take-attractive-fashionable-clarks-made-within-the-context-of-the-global-economy-deliberately-built-in-obsolescence-wasteful-there-must-be-profit-at-all-costs-never-mind-about-the-physical-constraints-of-an-already-beleaguered-planet-growth-growth-growth shoes together. Or does anyone have any of that black gummy stuff? But whatever steps I take (sic) these are shoes of a short lifespan.

Next time I visit the shoe repair man I’m taking a pair of well-worn 5 year old Doc Martens along, where the seam has also come apart. I’ll let you know how I get on…

Pic: Shoe Splitting Seams

PS: I liked this post on Transition Footwear by Joanne Poyourov in Los Angeles.

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