Sole Searching: Lessons from Shoe Shopping

Church shoe shopping must be one of the many circles of hell for a child.

Shoe shopping itself wasn’t horrible. Tennis shoes could have She-Ra or Care Bears emblazoned on the sides. The velcro straps made them a breeze to try on and purchase, but church shoes required a whole production team . First, my mother prepped me for the torture. She dressed me in white, itchy tights with little pink dots sewn in as flowers. How these blotches of faded color weren’t mistaken for chicken pox, measles or hives is beyond me. Next, my father directed my attention to the wall of shoes appropriate for church. Shiny, leather dress shoes displayed on illuminated glass shelves mocked me.

“All right, Sarah, which ones do you like?” asked my father.

“Those purple ones with the bows,” I said pointing the ballet slippers with purple faux leather and wide bow on the toe. No matter that purple only matched half of my wardrobe for church. Perhaps, my fashion sense needed some development too.

Slowly, my father took the purple bowed shoe of church perfection down, examined the sole, felt the quality, then looked inside. Printed in gold letters, he found my death sentence for acceptable church shoe style.

“No, they’re made in China,” said my dad putting the shoe back. “We don’t buy shoes made in China.”

I tried again with a brown shoes. The same “no made in China shoes” echoed in the shoe store. I pointed to black and white saddle shoes. The same answer followed this suggestion. China, a nation half way around the world , separated me from my wants, desires, needs. I floundered trying to distract my father from the only pair of shoes not made in China. A maroon leather shoe sporting an etched diamond pattern, a t-strap, and buckle. Even at four, I hated these shoes. They pinched my toes. The brass clasp never fit into the leather strap just right. Worst of all, the strap made me the laughingstock of the entire four year old Sunday School room. I’m fairly certain the flannel-graph pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the disciples were snickering at me too.

Shoe shopping taught me to love the world.

Years would pass before I understood the power that we wielded when buying those shoes. Ideas like labor laws, human rights, and fair wages didn’t compute in my child brain. I didn’t see the sweat shops filled with women workers or the children stitching together these shoes. I didn’t understand how purchasing one pair of shoes with the “made in China” printed on them would encourage and fund these places of human rights travesties.

Slowly, I began to see my culpability in the labor riots, the poor work conditions. I may not be holding the whip forcing these people to work, but my choices and actions are just as devastating when conducted unethically. Maybe, one pair of shoes isn’t going to change the work conditions for those in China, Asia, and Africa, but it stopped the $19.95 from lining the pockets of the abusers.

Question: How do our choices affect the rest of the world?