Growing up I used to have a recurring dream that I had gone to school without my shoes. No one seemed to notice or take issue with this fact but I remember how uncomfortable it made me feel. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had this dream in one fashion or another. This dream was on my mind as I left my home early one morning for a brisk walk.
Shoes were on my mind. We wear them every day and probably have multiple pairs in our closets, as well as tucked away under our beds or boxed up in our garages. I must have at least fifteen pairs myself. Athletic, dress, casual, gardening, hiking, flip flops etc.
Considering the shoes I owned, I came to the realization that, on any given moment, on any given day I can only wear one pair at a time. It was for certain that of the many different styles I owned I continually wear only two pair. So why do I continue to hang on to all those shoes I no longer wear? As a child we were extremely poor. We had one pair of shoes and that pair had to last us the entire school year. I remember when I would get a hole in my shoes and in my socks at the same time I would pray they wouldn’t happen in the same place so that people wouldn’t see my toes sticking out.
Now it was different. No more discount store shoes. Only name brand for me. Whether I use them or not, needed them or not. I had become a Brand Name Consumer. I really hadn’t thought about my shoes at all. Not just how many I had or how much I had spent to get them, but what was the significance of these shoes. I started to think about where the shoes came from. The materials that were used and the factories that took the raw materials and created the finished product. I wondered if the factory workers were treated fairly and had decent working conditions? I wondered if they were paid a fair wage and if they were allowed to have Union representation? I started to research the factories and the locations that my shoes had been made. None of them were made in the U.S.A. All had been imported from another country. There had been reports of terrible working conditions and in some instances, of the factories collapsing and killing the workers. Little or no safety regulations exist in many third world countries. Companies love to move their factories there so that they can keep their cost margins low, and we love the fact that their low cost makes them easily affordable. The shoes I purchase are highly significant to the workers in the shoes factories.
When I was homeless, many years ago, I had little or no food on a daily basis. I tell people my story of a nice man handing me a bag with a cheese burger in it. It was the best tasting meal I had eaten in weeks. Going hungry for two days will do that to the flavor of even the simplest of fast food. The one thing I did have was a good pair of shoes. In the United States there are over 500,000 homeless people. Many are families and elderly. They have many needs, but imagine being homeless and hungry, now remove your shoes. To say this is dehumanizing is an understatement. Not to mention the effect of the climate. Winters could be life threatening without proper clothing especially a good pair of warm shoes. Homeless, hungry and shoes less, it would be easy to lose your hope and surrender you humanity. I can only imagine that shoes are extremely significant to a person living on the streets, or some one on the brink of poverty.
300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away each year and placed in land fills. It takes 1000 years for the sole of the shoes to break down. That means that every pair of shoes you purchase have a significant impact on the environment and the world you will leave behind for generations to come. Toxic chemicals in our soil and in our water systems, polluting our air and poisoning our ecosystems. Whether during manufacturing or break down in a land fill, those stylish pair of sneakers come with a price tag that runs much higher than what you paid for them at the check stand.
After all my research I discovered that my shoes would be significant only if I chose to make them so. By being aware of the true cost of my shoes, and only purchasing shoes that I need so that I can lower the environmental costs. Researching the companies that make the shoes so that I will only do business with companies that are using fair labor strategies to improve their workers lives. Most importantly, to donate all my shoes that are not being used so that some one less fortunate than myself will not have to go another day with out something to put on their feet. I feel its a small price to pay to be self aware of my impact on the world and attempt to make it better, since I have received so many blessings in my life. Do a little research and I’m sure you will find shoes hidden away that you too can donate and a reputable place to give them to. If you can’t find one I welcome you to throw your shoes my way and I will be happy to give them a new home. The difference we can make as a community of friends would be significant.