Better Shoes Foundation Marks the Path Toward a Sustainable Shoe Industry

Better Shoes Foundation, Sustainable Shoe Industry, Founded by Po-Zu

The dangers of the clothing industry are well known to me. Chemical dyes, cramped working conditions, long hours, poor ventilation, safety code violations, depression, child labor, poor medical and vocational resources. But I have to admit I haven't devoted nearly as much mental energy to the shoe industry, even though I'm a self proclaimed shoe-aholic.

I've always believed that the shoes make or break the outfit and I've had an eye for the unique and slightly weird since I was young. Even though I've switched to ethical shopping with a focus on buying less overall, I have a hard time resisting a high quality, beautiful pair of shoes. They make me feel good about myself.

Shoes are also important from a health perspective. As I learned from speaking with the founder of local shoe company, OESH, the way a footbed is made has a profound effect on joint and whole body health (Did you know that most shoe lasts are developed off of the male foot even though a woman's gait is distinctly different due to our broader hips? Not cool).

Shoes make us feel confident, make us taller, and help us take on physically challenging tasks. But, like most other things created by humans, the shoe industry has a dark underbelly.

A few introductory facts:

  • Global shoe manufacturing is a $195 billion dollar industry
  • The global footwear industry employs over 5 million people, with 87% of manufacturing done in Asia.
  • Only 2% of the final price of goods goes toward the factory worker's wage, even though assembly can take as many as 360 steps per shoe.
  • Shoe waste will reach 1.2 million tons, but only 5% of shoes and shoe parts are recycled.
  • Despite it being the 4th most toxic pollutant in the world, 85% of leather is tanned with Chromium. (Source)

In many ways, the shoe industry parallels the garment industry, both in terms of labor conditions and pollution. Yet the use of Chromium in leather processing - not to mention the massive amount of livestock that are killed to to maintain the industry's demands (though most leather is a byproduct of the meat industry) - contributes to greater ecological damage on a per-item basis. It's time we take notice. 

Better Shoes Foundation, Sustainable Shoe Industry, Founded by Po-Zu

The Better Shoes Foundation aims to do just that. 

The Better Shoes Foundation was founded by sustainable shoe company, Po-Zu in celebration of their 10 year anniversary. The website has an open source format in order to provide collaborative and up-to-the-minute information about the industry as a whole, from design to materials sourcing to consumption to post-consumer life. Get an overview of the industry or dig a little deeper. There are links, resources, handouts, infographics, and a brand directory to help consumers and suppliers join up and make more sustainable choices. 

Though the Better Shoes Foundation is primarily concerned with being a resource to suppliers, they offer fairly thorough resources for consumers:

The Brands page specifically celebrates companies that have prioritized ethics and sustainability from day one. I immediately noticed a few of my favorites, like Nisolo and Oliberte and several I'd never heard of, like Conker Shoes and D'Arçé. The list conveniently divides vegan and non-vegan options so you can shop according to your specific standards easily.

The For Consumers page provides a directory of apps and guides - like Good On You - that break down the ethical standards of specific companies.

In an industry and a world that tends to favor opaqueness over transparency, I'm impressed with the breadth and depth of information made available through the Better Shoes Foundation. 

As I've said before, I'm of the opinion that staying educated and being well-informed is part of the fun of being a conscious consumer. I could literally spend hours reading up on every part of the shoe making process. In fact, I will.


Check out the Better Shoes Foundation here.

This post was not monetarily sponsored, but I was gifted a pair of shoes from Po-Zu as a part of this collaboration. That being said, I wouldn't have heard about the Better Shoes Foundation otherwise, so I'm glad I got the chance to work with them. 

Image via Po-Zu.

6 movies on female exploitation to watch instead of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls

sex trafficking solutions and a review of nefarious

I was recently invited to a viewing of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls at a nearby church and enthusiastically accepted the offer to watch another film about the sex trafficking industry. Though I know more than the average joe about trafficking simply due to the fact that you can't talk about fair trade very long without running into exploitation, I wanted to see if I could gain new insight.

The film starts with the booming, bass-heavy music one typically associates with a crime thriller...

Admittedly, the title turned me off. It sounds like a pirate horror movie. And the production value didn't really help change my perception. The film starts with the booming, bass-heavy music one typically associates with a crime thriller, and a reenactment of a new girl being groomed for trafficking, her abuser pushing her into a dark room full of scared, crying young women. Meanwhile, the voice-over of a "rescued" trafficking victim retells the horrors of her life imprisoned. I don't want to make light of this: I have no doubt in my mind that her experience - and the experience of a million girls, women, boys, and men - is absolutely true. But I hoped that this over-dramatized start wasn't setting the viewers up for the oversimplified narrative of a crime thriller. After all, this is real life.

Producer and director, Benjamin Nolot, was on a mission to discover the realities of trafficking for himself, so he went to Europe, Cambodia, Thailand, and the US to track down traffickers, the trafficked, and the people trying to change things for the better. He discovered that trafficking at its broadest definition was simply "exploiting the vulnerable," and that vulnerable situations ran the gamut from economic despair to childhood abuse to cultural dynamics that supported - and even endorsed - trafficking. Though I have a few bones to pick, mostly having to do with the film's total lack of nuance on policy and individual cultural conceptions (Here are a couple: 1. Sweden's prostitution laws, which are held up in the film as an example of what works, have been critiqued numerous times for having the effect of driving trafficking even further underground, making it more difficult to aid victims and, 2. human trafficking is MORE than sex trafficking!), most of the data presented rang true based on what I already knew about trafficking. And it's hard to argue with the facts.

And yet...

And yet, I couldn't help but want to yell at Mr. Nolot as he contorted his facial muscles grotesquely, listening to the heart-wrenching statistics and personal stories: "You can do better than this!" You see, Mr. Nolot and his ilk don't see that they themselves exploit the exploited by juxtaposing their stories against gaudy graphics, over-dramatic reenactments, and the faces of the do-gooder men trying to "save these girls."

"These girls'" stories are quite enough all on their own. Cut the music, cut the harsh lighting, cut the weeping. Look at them. Let them speak. They benefit from our help, sure, but they don't need us to cry over them. They need us to be strong with them.

It is as awful as it sounds. Let that be enough.

So, if you're thinking about watching Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, maybe watch these movies instead:

  • Whore's Glory - a documentary team follows prostitutes in their daily lives in several countries. Beautiful and striking in its subtlety, the story is told through the eyes and in the words of the women. (Available on Netflix.)

  • The True Cost - a larger look at labor exploitation in the global economy. Not specifically about sex trafficking, but will provide a wider lens with which to view the issue. (Available on Netflix.)

  • Very Young Girls - covers sex trafficking of young girls and women in New York City. (Available here.)

  • Hot Girls Wanted - a look into the porn industry through the eyes of young women who enter voluntarily. (Available on Netflix.)

  • The World Before Her - follows young Indian women involved in the Miss India pageant and the Hindu Nationalist party. A troubling glance at how patriarchy limits women's choices. (Available on Netflix.)

  • Girl Model - a documentary about Russian girls who enter modeling contests in the hopes of having a better life. (Available on Netflix.)

The movies above are about the exploitation of women, not just about trafficking. It strikes me that we can't keep talking about the evils of trafficking if we don't want to talk about patriarchy. Economic inequality and corruption are worth noting, but women keep getting the short end of the stick because of entrenched ideas about our worth. We need to look at the whole problem, not just at sex. Women are conditioned to constantly be thinking about our bodies, to protect and hide them or to flatter and use them as a means to get ahead. Men and women alike are complicit in encouraging us to objectify ourselves. Things are made worse when rapid social change, damage to infrastructure, and economic injustice run rampant. Some of us have more privilege than others, but none of us are free.

And if you want to do something about trafficking, there are a few things I can think of. 

  1. Commit now to stop buying products from sweatshops, non-fair trade chocolate and coffee, and new vehicles. The International Labour Organization estimates that 18.7 million people are labor trafficked globally. Of that, "14.2 million (68%) [are] in forced labour exploitation in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing" (Anti-Slavery International).

  2. Purchase from social enterprises that support anti-trafficking programs, such as Thistle Farms.

  3. Find local organizations committed to combating trafficking in your area and see what you can do to help. Consider donating time or money. Many communities host meetings on this topic with local law enforcement, so try to attend local events.

  4. My friend, Hannah, is helping get a social enterprise up and running to provide employment to women in the Philippines who are in recovery from lives of trafficking and abuse. They hope to have their screen printing shop up and running by summertime and are currently raising money to purchase equipment and supplies. I strongly believe in Hannah and her team's mission and think they're doing a great job of helping without further exploiting the women they serve.

If you have a bit of money left over (maybe from your tax refund?), please consider donating here:

Support A Beautiful Refuge.

A final thought:

We will never change the world if we keep painting ourselves as heroes and saviors. We will never change the world by calling ourselves "change-makers." I want to change the world, so I do my small part. Context is everything and everyone is multifaceted. We do an injustice to all when we make blanket statements about who's good and who's evil. I try to see shared, equal - always equal - humanity in the face of everyone I interact with, whether they're the exploited or the powerful. And that might not change the world, but I think we want to be seen, to be acknowledged. I believe that the more we share in that, the more humane we become. That means something.

find me at Seasons & Salt today!

true cost movie consumerism
Film Still from The True Cost movie; text and effect added by me

When Andrea (of this helpful capsule wardrobe post) asked me if I could write on "the importance of considering where your clothes come from," I was convinced I'd have a hard time with it. After all, I write on this topic a few times a week for Style Wise. But I'm thankful for the challenge, because it forced me to expand my focus from the day-to-day issues and crystallize a lot of my thoughts about behemoth topics like labor, consumerism, and capitalism. 

You can read my post, Knowing Who Made Your Clothes Matters, on the Seasons & Salt blog today. Thanks for having me, Andrea.

Marx on labor-power as commodity

Jacob's biscuit factory

"But here comes the key to profit. The laborer who contracts to work can ask only for a wage that is his due. What that wage will be depends, as we have seen, on the amount of labor-time it takes to keep a man alive. If it takes six hours of society's labor per day to maintain a workingman, then (if labor is priced at one dollar an hour), he is 'worth' six dollars a day. No more.

But the laborer who gets a job does not contract to work only six hours a day...he agrees to work a full eight-hour, or in Marx's time, ten- or eleven-hour day. Hence, he will produce a full ten or eleven hours' worth of value and he will get paid for only six...

But meanwhile the capitalist gets the full value of his workers' whole working day, and this is longer than the hours for which he is paid...The system is perfectly 'equitable,' and yet all workers are cheated...

...capitalism, where historical forces have created a propertyless class of workers who have no alternative but to sell their labor-power - their sheer ability to work - as commodity."

Excerpted from The Worldly Philosophers by Robert L. Heilbroner

the moral wardrobe: nomads floral tunic

nomads fair trade tunic
nomads fair trade tunic

Nomads sent me this beautiful floral pocket tunic in December and I've worn it several times already, but I finally got a chance to photograph it! It's made of soft organic cotton - it's not scratchy like some organic cottons can be - and it has a straight silhouette without looking like a sack.

Nomads uses organic cotton for many of their products. Since it's processed without the use of chemicals, it's a safer, healthier option for cotton farmers, but it has several other benefits, as well. According to the site:
Organic farming emits about half the amount of CO2 produced by chemical methods, the soil is more fertile and it also employs more workers to harvest the crop naturally so provides more jobs. It also has huge benefits for the farmers and the environment...

fair trade outfit
boho tunic dress
Ethical Details: Tunic - Nomads; Boots - thrifted; Sweater - thrifted

What's been great about reviewing several Nomads items is that I've gotten a chance to see if sizing is consistent across the line. I'm pleased with the fit and surprised that the sleeves are long enough (sleeves are never long enough on me).

In other news, yesterday was a beautiful day with temps above 50 degrees. My blood is finally adjusting to "cold" Charlottesville weather and I consider 50 warm now. I drove with the windows cracked and had a nice time trying my best to copy John Legend's riffs in Glory and remember all the words to O Mio Babbino Caro, a song I learned in high school voice lessons.


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