According to Business Insider, sneakers are a $55 billion industry, and an enterprise that traverses the entire globe. Manufacturing regions are scattered around the world, from the colloquially named Shoe Valley in Italy and Northampton in the UK, to the factory-cities in Vietnam and China.
Naturally a made-in-Italy tag carries a different connotation than made-in-China, but in today’s social media-driven age, many would probably contend that limited colorways carry more clout than quality manufacturing. With different investigations from within the industry, some reporting on the thousands of Chinese-owned factories manufacturing in Tuscany, Italy, it may be time to re-assess current stereotypes associated with overseas manufacturing.
Below, we hit up some friends of ours in the industry to ask what their take is on the current state of sneaker manufacturing, and to ask the big question – do you really care where your sneakers are made?
To gauge your buying habits, what are the last 3 sneakers you purchased?
Deon Point, Concepts: atmos x Air Max 1 “Elephant,” Jordan 1 “Royal,” Air Max 97 – all in one day.
Lawrence Schlossman, Grailed: The last pair of sneakers I bought were a basic black pair of Vans Old-Skools. I haven’t really bought too many hyped pairs, or got involved in any of the releases lately.
Hikmet Sugoer, Sonra, formerly Solebox: ASICS x Wood Wood Gel DS Trainer, Nike Hyperadapt 1.0 and adidas Originals YEEZY Boost 350 V2 “Cream White.”
Michael Dupouy, ALL GONE & Club 75: NikeCraft x Tom Sachs Mars Yard Shoe 2.0, CLOT x Nike VaporMax, and ASICS Gel Mai OG.
Jörg Haas, BEINGHUNTED: I’ve only bought two pairs this year, the NikeLab ACG.07.KMTR and ACRONYM x NikeLab AF1 Downtown. I was gifted both but bought a spare pair to wear in the future (it will happen). I got a nice pair of the New Balance Lucem Hafnia by Norse Projects, the 574S as well as the Converse by Carhartt WIP.
How many sneakers do you purchase in a month?
Deon Point: These days not as many, roughly 5 or 600.
Lawrence Schlossman: I haven’t been buying much recently, but I think if you look at like my purchase history, I probably buy a new pair of sneakers a month, I would say.
Mikkel Krath: It really depends, I’m a lot more selective than I used to be, but I’d say on average it’s probably one pair per month.
Hikmet Sugoer: To be honest, I rarely buy sneakers for myself these days. If I like a certain pair, I wear it for a long time as a daily beater. But to guess, let’s say about five pairs a month.
Michael Dupouy: It’s hard to say, sometimes nothing for two months, sometimes three the same week. It really depends on the releases.
Look at the sneakers you’re wearing right now, what are they and where were they made?
Deon Point: atmos x Air Max 1 “Elephant,” made in China.
Lawrence Schlossman: Vans. They are made in China.
Mikkel Krath: Right now I’m wearing the made-in-USA New Balance 990v4.
Hikmet Sugoer: Today I wore the Solebox x adidas Ultra Boost Uncaged. Made in China.
Michael Dupouy: The three I just mentioned aboved are all made in Asia.
Jörg Haas: Converse Chuck Taylor All Star ’70s. They are made in Vietnam.
Are you willing to pay a bit extra for a locally manufactured product?
Deon Point: Of course price isn’t a concern if the level of quality warrants the tag.
Lawrence Schlossman: Yeah, I’m absolutely willing to pay more for a product if I’m under the impression they’re going to last longer, obviously the current side of the political climate in the United States – I’m not going to get too into it – but I do think that’s something I think about a little bit more now. Like the origins of this stuff that I’m buying, and then even potentially the political meaning of the shoe company itself. Clearly there was all that drama with L.L. Bean and New Balance…
When it comes to paying more, based on where a shoe was made and how it’s made, for me, that is really only coming into play when we’re talking about maybe more high end stuff like Hender Scheme or a pair of boots. But when it comes to basic sneakers like adidas or Nike or Vans, I know where this shit is made. I understand some of the dubious nature of some of the conditions under which the shoes are made, but to be completely frank, I’m not really thinking too much about what goes into making sneakers unless I’m going to drop a big chunk of change. Like I said, on a brand like Hender Scheme or something like that.
Mikkel Krath: I am not really too phased about where an item is made, I look at the quality of an item over anything else. I do buy footwear from the UK and the US, however, I don’t overlook products coming out of Vietnam and China.
Hikmet Sugoer: Yes, I try to support local manufacturing in my daily life as much as possible and I am willing to pay more for this.
Michael Dupouy: Sure, I can always pay a bit extra to support locals.
Jörg Haas: Yes, definitely, b only if the quality is acceptable. “Locally manufactured” obviously only makes sense if the quality – skilled labour, machines, etc. – is up to the current standards. I won’t pay more for something that is less in quality but manufactured in Germany (or Europe for that matter).
To you, what are the merits of product that is manufactured locally in the USA or UK for example?
Deon Point: As someone that works closely with brands creating product I have come to appreciate minor flaws. Human error as opposed to factory perfect. I do like my shoes pristine though don’t get it misconstrued.
Lawrence Schlossman: Just because the sneaker is made in the United States, if it looks like shit, it doesn’t matter to me where it’s made.
So I understand the merits of the stuff, I’m not naïve, obviously a lot of times for domestically manufactured stuff or brands that are putting a lot of thought into where their stuff is made, I understand the quality is going to be better. But for me when it comes to sneakers, aesthetics are the most important thing. So I’m not going to buy a shoe that I deem, subjectively of course, but that I deem as not great looking just because it’s made in the United States. I think that some brands really use that as a selling point, but to the point where other things get left by the wayside. Just because something again is made in the United States, if the design isn’t agreeable with me, it doesn’t matter. You know what I’m saying?
So it’s just one of many factors that go into a purchase, at least for me.
Mikkel Krath: I think both the USA and UK are producing high quality product due to the fact that they have been refining their craft for many years. Not only do they have the infrastructure to support the creation of high quality goods, but the people working for some of the bigger brands take huge pride in their jobs and have been perfecting their skillset for many generations.
Hikmet Sugoer: If a product is locally produced for a local consumer, we can avoid hurting our environment, due to a few factors like eliminating transportation. The company can also better control the production processes, and local production can better react to trends due to lower lead times. Companies doing this will also strengthen the local economy, which means more jobs, more money, better infrastructure, and so on.
Michael Dupouy: For some strange reason, made-in-USA or made-in-UK sounds more authentic and better made.
Jörg Haas: In the USA, there is no merit really as the product will be shipped to Europe. UK more, as the distance to the market is much shorter. I do like the story, though, that a brand that is based in the US or Germany for that matter, also has products that are made in that country. If I’m buying a Nike sweatshirt and there is one that’s made in the US, that’s the one I’d buy, as long as the quality is acceptable.
Name some of your favourite brands that are manufacturing their products locally.
Deon Point: All of Concepts apparel is produced locally in Massachusetts with the exception of the fleece goods, and a few of our hats. I have always admired New Balance for continuing to manufacture in the states.
Lawrence Schlossman: I would say Victory Sportswear, I’m pretty sure they are stocked at Nepenthes, you know that’s a brand and a store that I really respect. So for me, that’s a good enough cosign for me to shout out Victory Sneakers. But yeah again, I’m not going to front, it’s not something that I’m super concerned with.
Ultimately, if I saw a sneaker that I like, like an adidas Gazelle, I just really like Gazelles, to me it doesn’t matter where that Gazelle was made. If it looks good and the price point is agreeable, I’m gonna cop that shoe regardless of whether it’s made in China or whatever.
Mikkel Krath: I have been a big fan of New Balance for many years, purely based on the level of craftsmanship they’re able to achieve. There are also a few newcomers to the sneaker world that are producing their sneakers locally, however, for a lot of them I don’t think the quality is there just yet, especially for the prices they are asking for. I guess that’s why I am a fan of New Balance, not only are you are getting a solid product, but the price is easily justified.
Hikmet Sugoer: New Balance, Danner, Red Wings, Dr Martens, Diadora, Church’s, Birkenstock, Kangaroos, adidas, Sonra, etc.
Michael Dupouy: Some New Balance, Diadora, and Le Coq Sportif are made locally. I think Sonra makes everything in Germany.
Jörg Haas: Padmore and Barnes, they used to make the Wallabee for Clarks and they still do their own version in Ireland. I have a belt by Ludwig Reiter which is made in Austria. I do like made-in-USA and made-in-UK New Balance sneakers, but then I’ve also visited their manufacturing sites in the US and UK so I have some sort of a relationship. I like that some Japanese brands still make a lot of their products there – visvim, WTAPS, Neighborhood. Acronym has have their own production facilities in Europe and they work with Bagjack here in Berlin for their bags.
What are your connotations of made-in-Vietnam or made-in-China footwear?
Deon Point: To be honest, I haven’t really followed between the two, other than noticing an increase in Vietnam production, most likely attributed to production costs.
Lawrence Schlossman: It’s one of these things where – just because a shoe is manufactured in China or Vietnam, or a place where there might be a stigma when it comes to quality, the materials can still be premium, I can still pick that shoe up and that shoe feels good … for example, Vans Vault. I’m pretty sure they’re just a little bit more expensive, because they use better materials, or whatever differentiates that shoe from standard Vans. Again for me, the country of origin it doesn’t always really reflect the actual quality of the shoe, especially when premium materials are being used. But for the most part, for me personally, I’m always going to air toward what is the cheapest one.
Mikkel Krath: As long as there are fair working conditions in place, and the product is of a high level, I won’t hesitate buying sneakers from either place.
Hikmet Sugoer: Sadly people associate those places with poor quality compared to American or European-made products, which is not always fair. Made in Asia can be great. They are able to produce high quality products. But the consumer wants cheap prices, so brands are cutting down the FOB (Free on Board, refers to shipping prices) prices to reach the target price for the market, which is demanded by the end consumer. So let us not blame the brands or Asia. Let us blame ourselves.
I hope that we educate ourselves and our children to consume more consciously. Quality over quantity.
Michael Dupouy: I have zero problems with it. Some made-in-Vietnam or made-in-China pairs are also perfectly made, and I don’t associate those regions with poor quality.
Jörg Haas: This is too big of a subject to get into. There are so many factors that I could start discussing but it wouldn’t probably lead anywhere. One thing, though – I’m old enough to remember that “Made in Japan” used to stand for “cheaply made.” But Japan ended up having the best, most skilled workforce, modern machinery, etc. so that it turned into a label for excellence. The same thing is happening in China. I think that’s what one needs to keep in mind. China now has the know-how, the equipment to make really good stuff. Talking about prices is a whole different story. Especially for sneakers prices have gone up considerably. If that money goes to the workers or the brands I can’t say. If I was still buying lots of shoes I wouldn’t want to pay just so that a brand gets a higher profit.
Do you really care where your sneakers are made?
Deon Point: Judging by my closet I would be a hypocrite to answer yes.
Lawrence Schlossman: No. I do not.
Mikkel Krath: For me it comes down to the quality of the product, and not necessarily where it is made.
Hikmet Sugoer: Yes, but I am sure this is part of growing up and getting older and getting children. You become more responsible. You think about things you never thought before. We have one world. One environment. One nature. We have to consider the generations that come after us.
Michael Dupouy: Honestly? No. It might sound stupid, but I don’t want to be a demagogue and claim that the country of origin matters. I recently got sneakers made in Asia from a brand that usually manufactures everything in Europe. I couldn’t tell any difference! A good factory is a good factory, wherever its origins. There are good factories in Asia, and bad ones in Europe or USA. And vice versa.
As I said before, a made-in-France pair, or made-in-Italy shoe will sounds always better, and I will probably pay extra money for it. But only if it’s a real true and proven fact, and not just a marketing thing.
Jörg Haas: I do and I don’t. As mentioned, I’m not a perfect example for a consumer as I’m not really buying sneakers. If I am, I’m buying them because I like them from an aesthetic standpoint. If they happen to be made in a place that I know, or even by people who I’ve met, that’s cool. I wouldn’t buy sneakers because they are made somewhere. I wouldn’t buy sneakers if they are too cheap. That’s something I can say for sure. Because if you save money, someone, somewhere takes a loss. The lower the price, the higher that loss…
While a pair of $300 made-in-USA or made-in-Germany kicks is certainly a nice addition to any sneaker closet, and using spending power to support local economies is a positive thing, the bottom line is consumers and casual sneakerheads do generally want and expect cheaper prices, which truthfully comes second to political or ethical concerns about manufacturing conditions, for most people.
For those who would opt for locally made shoes, brands like Victory and Sonra do exist, but bigger brands aren’t offering as many choices. Obviously adidas produces a huge majority of their products in Asia, but the German sportswear brand is taking steps to manufacture in France and Germany, which is something we’re not really seeing from Nike.
Most iconic shoe styles are mass-produced overseas, like the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star, the Vans Era, or the Nike Air Force 1, as well as hyped models like the adidas Ultra Boost or Nike Air VaporMax.
I, for one, would love to see Vans being made in California again.
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- Main & Featured Image: @kuwahd