Ethical Accessories – Where are my shoes from?

It occurred to me quite recently, that I’m trying to learn more and more about ethical fashion, but don’t know much about the accessory side. I was thinking more of shoes, because although I own quite a few garments from ethical brands now, I don’t own any shoes from ethical brands. They do exist – Terra Plana and Beyond Skin are the main ones that I know of, but they’re not quite what I’m looking for. Beyond Skin (who don’t use leather) have the most fashionable styles but most are way over £100. Where are the ethical shoe ranges on the High Street? I might get writing some letters actually, to find out just where and how these shoes are being made.

Obviously there are the issues of labour conditions, just as in the garment factories, are the workers paid enough? Are they being forced to do overtime? Are there any child workers?

Maybe shoe manufacture is more automated than garment manufacture? I really don’t know, but I intend to find out. I’m reading Lucy Siegle’s book ‘To Die For’ at the moment (it’s great, read it!) and in it she has pictures of products dotted throughout with accompanying ‘truth labels’. One of the items is the High Street version of the status shoe, all heel and leather straps, £75. It looks scarily similar to the amazing shoes I just bought for my upcoming birthday party.

The process Siegle alerts the reader to here, is the processing of the leather. She describes a 14 year old boy, who legally should not be working. He works at one of 400 leather tanneries on the banks of the Ganges, thigh deep in chemicals and animal skins, working away until all of the hair falls off the leather. He has no protective clothing and is badly paid. I look at my own shoes (they are from Office). They are definitely marked as leather and it says they were made in China, but presumably the leather will have been shipped in. The leather has been dyed five different colours, that’s what initially attracted me to them, and they’ve got beading and feathers on. These aren’t subtle dye colours either, bright pink and blue! Gosh they are probably the most unethical shoes I could have bought! Were the beads sewn on by hand or machine?

The sad thing is I really don’t want to take them back.

Diverting slightly – Gucci have teamed up with the Safilo Group (which holds the licenses for Gucci eyewear and other luxury brands) to work on new sustainable materials for sunglasses. One is an acetate with a higher percentage of natural materials than typical frames, and the second is a bio-based material made from castor oil seeds. They replace traditional plastics and have a lower carbon footprint. Keep an eye out for the sunglasses available from August.

The shoe exploration continues . . .

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