Shoe Factories and Lost Opportunities

Though I don’t generally think of myself as a shoe fetishist, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Fluevogs. In their latest e-newsletter was a video of a Fluevog shoe being made (I must add the disclaimer that though I truly love Fluevogs, I truly hate the style in this particular vignette):

I have loved seeing the process of how things are made since I was a kid. Perhaps Mr. Rogers’ segment How People Make Things had something to do with it; in addition to the crayon factory (sooo many pretty pretty colors!), Mr. McFeely (the friendly postman) narrated how shoes are made in a factory. I do believe the shoes we see being made are the blue canvas Keds Mr. Rogers was known for slipping into. Go to How People Make Things and select the How People Make Sneakers video to see for yourself.

Though I’m mesmerized by the intricate process of shoe-making (it typically takes more than 100 steps to compose a shoe), I think it’s worth noting that these educational videos do not mention the mostly brown hands toiling with this fussy process, inhaling toxic glues, probably under-paid and over-worked. I can understand why Fluevog wouldn’t address this in their promotional video, but I feel Mr. Rogers missed an opportunity to discuss labor rights and exploitation (see my post on factory exploitation). The closest he gets is when he observes “she works so quickly!” and “She’s so careful!” So close, Fred. So close.

I think there are a lot of similar lost opportunities when viewing the arts and fashion as abstracted expressions of “genius,” emotion, or even kitsch: though a work of art may indeed be these things, these adjectives minimize the historical contexts and forces beyond the control of any particular artist / designer that inevitably are captured in works. That’s why I was so excited to attend the D-Crit conference last week– this two-year-old program within the New School is devoted to the serious analysis of design in all forms. These are my peeps! And yet there were at least two instances where speakers referred lightly to fashion as frivolous and superficial. This was not the thrust of any grand argument, but it was shocking to me in its carelessness– uttered by two people who are intellectually devoted to the study of design, fashion still gets short shrift when in proximity to architecture, branding, and even audio design elements. I know I’m speaking to a converted audience here, but this was a reminder that even within the arts, fashion and apparel are denigrated. Art and design are powerful teaching / learning tools precisely because they touch every aspect of the human existence, and I just hope a thoughtful, critical approach is taken when discussing things as seemingly benign, or captivating, as a shoe factory video.

2 Comments »

  1. Elizabeth said,

    May 12th, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Very cool video. It was fascinating to see the process from start to finish, the skills involved and the complexity of such a small item.

  2. Anastasia said,

    May 20th, 2011 at 7:49 am

    textiles also get short shifted in the art community, thought of more as craft than “art”. i seriously think anyone looking at “the unicorn tapestries” would have a hard time calling them “craft”. i wonder if it is because of the mass production of textiles and clothing in poor countries, that it tarnishes all textiles and clothing, and instills in the common everyday person the throw away value of fiber.

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