It’s raining shoes! This photo of shoes hanging in Toronto, Canada’s Bata Shoe Museum says it all. The average American woman will own more than 268 pairs of shoes in her lifetime and spend more than $20,000. And, it’s not just women around the world who ware shelling out over $30 billion a year on shoes. The Boston Globe reports that men spent nearly as much in 2016, shelling out $26 billion globally.
In truth, shoe designers are emptying our pockets at a dizzying rate. They hope we’ll fill our closets with new sculptural designs that seem to be flooding the expanding floor space in department stores. This reflects our love-in with shoes and our exploding thirst around the globe.
Dubai’s Shoe Garden
My visit to the shoe concourse in the Dubai Mall of the United Arab Emirates speaks to this shoe obsession. I was floored by the endless stream of showcases featuring ultra-luxury collections. All were housed under the aptly named Shoe Garden.
Shoppers travel down the garden path mesmerized by edgy shoe styles ripe for the picking. Whether it’s these $2,500 couture sneakers pictured below, or shelves of Louboutin’s ultra-comfy leisure shoes, I can’t help but wonder why we spend so much on shoes? And do they really have to be luxury designer brands?
The answer is more complicated than you think. Many WomanScape readers who read about The World in a Shoe learned that, historically, shoe styles are a poignant indicator of social status and culture. But when I look at the increased accessibility to online shopping and mass consumerism, it’s obvious that today’s global shoe purchases are less about traditions and heritage. The new buyers are putting their wealth and their status on their feet.
Shoes As Status Symbols
Shoes are definitely a status symbol in today’s world. We all know the sexy stilettos by Manolo Blahnik that took center stage in the “Sex in the City” television series. Kerry Washington from television’s hit show Scandal is also known for her shoe obsession. She admits they are the most important part of an outfit and, like other celebs, she loves the red soles and high-heels of luxury designer Christian Louboutin.
But these aren’t the only shoes in the spotlight. You can see in the photos that people are hungry for all kinds of shoes, including the collectable “sneakerhead” shoes. Many are bought as investments and do little more than sit on a shelf to be admired. In fact, the resale business of these status symbol shoes has created a $55 Billion international marketplace.
I’m honestly not much for sneaker shoes, but who can resist these Versace “Winged Dark Angel in Green” shoes by Brian Atwood? Sadly, I can’t but I must. My walking-on-needles days are over even though I love the sculptural skyscrapers by architect Zaha Hadid. Her futuristic shoes are brilliant even though I couldn’t stand, let alone walk, in them.
And how I see these manufacturing marvels of Hadid’s limited edition, chrome-plated, shoes with cantilever heels has also changed. The sophisticated injection-mold and vacuum cast process is certainly impressive. But I’ve become more sensitive to the global realities of our consumerism.
Many people don’t realize that more than 300 million children and 1.5 billion adults around the world could not afford shoes in 2015. We live in a world where the number of people living below the poverty line is increasing, and inequalities and political disparities are tugging at our hearts.
I can’t help but believe there’s something terribly wrong when you consider the weight of poverty and the 85% of all shoes that end up in landfill sites. Turns out I’m not the only one concerned. Shoes are still symbols of status, wealth and individuality, but our spending choices and shoe production processes are addressing some of these issues. So where does this leave us?
Socially conscious millennials are pushing industry changes. Global demographics are getting the attention of savvy marketers who want to align our wallets with our hearts. There is a new global conscience shaping the shoe industry, and a growing middle class in emerging countries and G7 powers that’s underscoring this whopping effect on consumerism.
Purchasing power is shifting from the West to the East, accelerated by rapidly growing population in countries like India and China. And according to World Bank projections, the Asia-Pacific region will have the largest middle class in the world. By 2030, this middle class of young adults will capture 59% of all global consumption and a hell of a lot of shoes!
At a time when the world is rife with social and political discontent, shoe producers are smart to tap our ethical and social concerns. Companies like Toms shoes have continued to step up and align themselves with consumer demands. Toms’ business model rests on a one-for-one philosophy. For every shoe purchased, a free pair of shoes is donated to people in need.
Toms has partnered with dozens of companies and non-governmental organizations, helping over 70 million people in 70 countries around the world since they opened their doors in 2006. Their meteoric brand success has also fueled their expansion into new industries like eyewear, bags and coffee. They continue to shape new campaigns like access to potable water, safe birthing and bully prevention around the world.
Reshaping the Shoe Footprint
Other shoe producers are focused instead on the environmental effects of consumerism and production processes. Companies like Rothys are focusing on renewable resources given the growing environmental concern of landfill sites. Addressing these sites will also stop gap air pollution and groundwater contamination that comes from production-related gas emissions.
Even though Rothy’s shoes are hardly the skyscraper sex kittens of couture fashion, their classic style and comfortable fit are undeniable. They are made from recycled plastic water bottles that are cleaned and broken into tiny pieces before their fed into 3D knitting machines. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow loves these shoes and will tell you there are no seams and no waste.
The demand for socially conscious shoes that are beautiful has definitely increased. Designers like Stella McCartney are jumping in and sourcing sustainable and ethically sourced materials. Stella’s black star-studded shoes in the photo below exemplify eco-friendly and high fashion footwear.
On the heels of #AmericaRecyclesDay, I’ve decided my next pair of shoes will be a smarter choice. I’ll think twice about the water bottles I’ve dropped into recycling bins and treat my feet to some hip star-studded solutions. That way my new shoes can rain goodness in the world.