Today I had an interesting talk with my local shoemaker. I went there with a little hope and a lot of good intentions.
As I put down my three-year-old 25€ Topshop shoe I could tell I was in for disappointing news: “If I ask the government to pay half of the price so that I can fix this shoe, they are going to say no!” – he will say to me a couple of minutes later.
It turns out my shoemaker had a lot of built up resentment and was triggered by my response when he told me the price of the repair (a repair that wouldn’t even satisfy the standards of this talented professional) :
“That’s more than what I paid for the shoe”
He must hear this – I don’t know how many times a day – but let’s just say often. Especially perhaps from the newer generation that is used to cheap buys and throw- away culture. The thing is – the reason why I was kind of proud of myself going into the shop- is because besides really loving the shoes I was keen on keeping them in the loop. Despite the fact that the general logic would dictate discarding them and buying another pair I had decided to treat them as if they were high-end expensive shoes and give them the respect they deserved as objects and especially, as potential trash. Perhaps I was hoping to break the cycle of designed obsolesce, maybe also redeem myself slightly for my complaisance a few years back by making an unsustainable buy last longer than what it had been designed for.
So as it turns out the minute he saw the shoe he told me (somewhat irritated) that there was nothing he could do: “because this was made by a ten year old kid! – he expressed emphatically, putting his hand at the height of his waist. He stood with a mixture of distress and anger beyond the counter where the heavy machinery kept on rolling and noising perhaps to the sound of a struggling industry. “This is the problem with shoe repair at this date, it is that a lot of the things that are made are made out of plastic, in China for a lower cost (he had pointed out earlier, tracing a line on the sole of my shoe: Made in China). He picked up a few shoes from the shelves behind him, and even took out his own shoe, in a sketch that he seemingly had performed several times: “this? Fifteen years ! This? Ten years !” The shoes did look pristine.
He finished with helpful advice and some insight: “At first it will cost you a high cost of money but in time you will gain. Plastic over time looses its elasticity and after three years unlike rubber or leather it becomes rigid and breaks” he explained. This is exactly what happened to my split-in-two sole. He went on: plastic nowadays, it’s in honey, it’s in jam, it’s everywhere! After this came the idea of subsidies by the government for poorly manufactured shoe repair to become a smart investment. He could not provide the service at lower cost. Clearly he had given it some thought and some good will, despite the fact that I can only imagine how hard it must be to see this development happen for a artisan that has a passion for long lasting quality.
I thought this discussion was very important. I felt a little bit of anger but I didn’t feel attacked. Once I made it clear to him that I agreed on his opinions regarding the toxicity of plastic (practically and symbolically) and the negative impact of buying cheaply made goods. I didn’t find it necessary to go into a whole debate about the lowering of wages, inflation and the creation of a market for consumption of low cost goods or a grand interdependence explanation because there wasn’t the need to justify of deflect responsibility. I could take a good schooling and his voice deserved to be heard.
I will now have to bear with the guilt of disposing of these shoes. I could, glancing at the pair I was currently wearing with a weary eye, almost feel the tightening of the plastic. Its durability was shrinking by the second until breakage, a vivid metaphor for underailable systemic failure if we keep walking on disposable soles.