I have spent a great deal of time the past two months doing something I hate – shopping! Now, I know genetically, I should love shopping and, due to rather fortuitous circumstances, I was able to go shopping for clothes and shoes properly for the first time in years – a big thrill. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I don’t really like it. I’d much rather read a book, weed the garden or in fact clean the toilet …
However, I had to “reimage” as I was job hunting … and had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview for a role I really wanted, at a company which sounded fantastic … so off I went, on carefully planned expeditions to the great metropolis that is my local town. The town planners loved it so much they allowed developers to convert all our lovely old buildings into a set of big shopping malls. The upside is that we have all the major (and some of the minor) chain stores. The downside is that we have very few independent shops that aren’t selling stuff for a Pound or less.
I bravely stepped off the bus, gritted my teeth and set about my first task – to find several pairs of work shoes. Not just any work shoes, these pinnacles of pediwear needed to not only (a) fit round my bunion (which makes my current shoe size a 7 instead of a 5) but (b) also be trendy, (c) businesslike and (d) scream “Employ me! I’m super, fantastic, reliable, still young(ish) and energetic and work hard”.
I was able to spend a bit more than I usually would be able to (I normally buy new shoes at the discount shop when my old ones have just about fallen apart) so I wanted to make sure that I was buying my shoes as ethically as possible, as most times I can’t afford to have the choice. I started out at the department stores. I lingered over some wonderful shoes but could only get my feet into a very select few. It took me ages. I finally found a pair that met the above criteria and didn’t kill my feet when I walked round in them.
The price indicated that it would be somewhere in Western Europe. I cheerfully turned them over to see where they were made. I was horrified to find that they were made in China. So I put them down. Two hours of shoe shopping, four department stores later and a lovely pair of shoes that finally fit and I couldn’t buy them.
Call me silly, but I have a real issue with buying from China. Mostly, I can’t afford to choose, especially when it comes to household goods, as everything in my price range is made in China. But I was damned if I was going to spend serious amounts of money and still compromise my integrity by buying goods probably made in a sweatshop, in a country that treats its wildlife and animals cruelly and its people not much better,. I am sick of walking in shoes made in a country whose people skin animals alive because they couldn’t be bothered to kill them first, leaving their skinless bodies writhing in pain and terror for several minutes before they succumb to shock, whose poachers travel to India to kill endangered tigers to supply a fashionable pseudo-medicinal industry and which now farms tigers in the manner of farming cattle, as tigers are now so rare in the wild, for parts.
After another hour and two shops later, I found another pair. These were even more expensive than the first and once again, fit my necessary criteria. Except these too, were made in China. I started to get suspicious. So, mad woman that I am, I went along the rows of shoes, starting with the row I picked my shoes from. Every single shoe in that row was made in China. So too were the mega-expensive shoes. I went back to six of the shops that I had been in. Every single one of their shoes was made in China.
It became clear to me that it didn’t matter how much I spent within reason, I had no choice but to buy shoes from a country which I believed to be deeply unethical, culturally cruel and who deserved not a single penny from my purse.
So here I now am, with six pairs of expensive shoes, all made in China. I decided it was time to go clothes shopping to match all those lovely shoes.
Gamely I step off the bus, with gritted teeth and a generous budget. I was looking for clothes that would show people I’m an individual (but not way out), that I’m good at my job and confident about what I do and the way I come across. I start at the first shop and … do I need to tell you the rest?
I guess I don’t, but just for the record … every single item of clothing I picked up, apart from one, was made in China too.
I think that it is shocking that I live in a country which purports to be a democracy but I don’t have freedom of choice in terms of how I spend my money. I am also fairly appalled at the level of trade the UK appears to be doing with China. My understanding was that there were trade limits imposed on countries so that each importing country could not contribute more than a certain percentage of our goods (to prevent us becoming too reliant on one country’s output). It appears that China is supplying most of our household goods, our clothes and our shoes. If there are limits in place legally, they do not appear to be being adhered to in practice.
So think of me when I start work in a couple of weeks – I got the job, by the way – stepping out in my animal- and people- abuser made clothes and shoes …
In my forays into the world of ethical shoe shopping, I also discovered that most people do not recycle their shoes. Shoes, no matter how worn and old, are collected and sent to Third World countries where they are spruced up and given or sold at cost to people who ordinarily could not afford them. My local dry-cleaner has a permanent bin for these, so I assumed that it was fairly wide-spread – not so. Discarded shoes add to landfill, so it is best to recycle them.
Here are some sites to investigate:
http://www.runtheplanet.com/shoes/selection/recycle.asp has contacts across the World for recycling shoes.
http://www.recycledrunners.com/shoe-donation-programs/shoe-material-recycling-programs for recycling running shoes
http://www.simplysoles.com/about/recycling/ recycling shoes for reuse for a non-profit organisation who provide clothing and shoes for women coming out of jail or rehabilitation programmes.