Saturday, November 25, 2017

Travel

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerismIt’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.

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerism

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?

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerism
Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerism

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

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerismShoes 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.

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerismAnd 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!

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerismAt 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.

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerismEven 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.

Toronto Bata Shoe Museum, Shoe Industry, Dubai Shoe Garden, Christian Louboutin, Rothys, Toms, World in a Shoe, Manolo Blahnik, Kerry Washington, sneakerhead shoe industry, Zaha Hadid, Brian Atwood, Millennials, India, China, World Bank, Stella McCartney, environmentalism, consumerismOn 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.

My husband claims I bought all of the tea in China – or at least, that’s what he said when the Beijing government refused to ship it to America because it exceeded the 2 kilogram weight limit (roughly 4 ½ pounds). Eventually he forgave this transgression; five countries and two checked bags full of tea later.

After climbing the Great Wall, I couldn’t imagine leaving Beijing without some souvenir tea. After all, Beijing is the tea capital of China with some of the best tea in the world. Tea comes from the camellia evergreen bush native to China, Tibet and Asia, but hundreds of different tea bushes have been cultivated as hybrids from the original camellia sinensis and camellia assamica bushes. According to the tea master of the Shin Shin Tea house in Beijing, tea lovershave more than 3,000 types of tea to choose from.

Our tea lesson and fallout buying spree started at a large teak table filled with a myriad of different scents and tea paraphernalia. Stacked shelves lined throughout the two- floor complex, paid homage to the art of tea in China. It is as complex as the cultivars, which are a cross selection of tea bushes stemming from the original evergreen bush. Each cultivar possesses characteristics unique to the provinces or countries where the plant is grown. Factors like the bush type, climate and production process influence both the qualities and flavor of the tea. Tea production is not unlike wine production with growing variables in each industry determining the unique taste characteristics and customer appeal.

The tea ceremony was an experience I’ll never forget; a combination of fact-finding and olfactory overload. The tea samplings helped us to understand how tea is classified and the significance of the processing techniques. While there is still debate about the number of official tea categories, experts generally agree on these categories and these medicinal properties:

  • Green tea – is heated to stop the tea leaf from oxidizing and has a grassy, toasted flavor with a clean finish. It has the highest caffeine levels and polyphenols (optimizing medicinal and mineral health benefits) so you feel energized yet calm;
  • Yellow tea – is most expensive and rare. It is similar to green tea but undergoes an added heating process that softens the flavor, making it more like a sweet white tea. It is crammed with polyphenols to prevent cancer, treat liver and bowel disease, and aids in a host of other health benefits including diabetes, weight loss, and beauty enhancement;
  • White tea – is the least processed with a light and elegant nutty flavor… a great morning cup can boost antioxidants for cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, bolster anti-cancer properties, and aid in weight loss;
  • Oolong tea – is semi-oxidized tea with a wide variety of flavors to keep the freshness of green tea but additional roasting and processing techniques give it a smooth, fresh, fruity flavor or deeper toasty notes. Health benefits include teeth and bone health, enhanced memory and energy and weight reduction;
  • Black tea – is almost fully oxidized tea (called red tea in China) with rich tannins and diverse, robust flavors. The sweet notes and a comforting aroma help you to feel relaxed and the health benefits improve blood circulation, asthma, and digestion.
  • Post fermented tea/Pu Erh – ferments and ages over time (20-25 years) with a woody, earthy flavor that’s clean and fresh. Health properties include preventing diabetes, and lowering the bad and raising the good cholesterol.
  • Scented teas – often green tea scented with flowers or flavored with fruit. Jasmine is one of the most popular types of scented teas, helping to build your immune system and promote relaxation and stress reduction.

Tea tasting is an enlightening experience in Chinese tradition and philosophy. No attention to detail is spared, and the ritual of preparation, presentation and enjoyment dates back more than 5,000 years to Emperor Shennong. While the tea industry has developed and modernized since then, Chinese people believe tea tied to our longevity and mental health, and tea should be savored to attain “joy of spirit”1.

Motivated to learn more about the health benefits of tea2, we filled our baskets and rang up a hefty bill only to discover we would have to lug this tea with us on our continued travels. But resting comfortably at home and sipping on the teas of my labor, I can see why tea (second only to water) continues to be the world’s most consumed beverage. Here’s to hoping I’ve bought enough to stay healthy for a long, long, time.

  1. See: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-tea/
  2. See China Life website: http://www.chinalifeweb.com

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