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Creative Hearing

Genuine Leather Uppers, Synthetic Soul

(Vol. III, no. 1 -- Summer 1999)
Barb "The Brief" Heldke writes:

The title of this article actually inspired it - how could such a title not be "used" once imagined. It came to me the way Arlo gets a song lyric. Or a scientist gets an invention. All at once. Suddenly. Without effort.

A while back I broke down and bought a pair of Reicker's - those funny looking shoes you think must be made in Germany. I hadn't ever tried them on. Too pricey for "play" shoes. But my legs were aching, my casual shoe wardrobe was lacking and there was a sale!

I tried on the style I thought I liked - the box said the model was "anti-stress" - another great selling point in this time of "maximum stress, minimum shopping time". My rust brown slip-on shoes made of Nubuck from Eddie Bauer had barely survived a muddy trip to a Renaissance Faire. So I bought dark tan. Bear in mind we are in Northhampton. Two hours from home so this was a "no turning back" decision. We went and ate lunch. Tradition and conservatism set in and I decided "if there is a black pair in my size it is a sign from God that I should buy black and I should exchange them". I exchanged them.

I wore these shoes a few times - they looked weird on me but not as weird as the Birkenstocks I admire on other people's feet but that always look stupid on me. They were comfortable - even without socks and during the break-in-period they did not cause pain. Then on about the fourth wearing as I was putting them back in their box I realized that they are made in Tunisia! This should have sent me off for a world atlas but it was time to go to sleep so I still am not exactly sure where we KEEP Tunisia. (More about my geography problems on another day.)

That got me reading more of the inside of the shoes - most of which IS in German (maybe Tunisia is a former colony or a local subsidiary of Germany?). And there it was - "leather uppers, synthetic soul"...or at least that is what my eyes saw. It brought to mind all the other shoe labels. Adding "genuine" in front of leather is popular. "Manmade" appears more often than "synthetic".

All leather shoes are my favorite -"souls" and all! Cuervo something or other. I like "real" things. But even expensive dress shoes are less and less that way. Fake insoles are my biggest gripe. Leather insoles dry out without smelling, much like the animal that contributed the leather does after a day at the beach. (A commercial or pointer to a "don't kill animals for clothing" article probably belongs here and I leave that to my capable editors.) Then there are the "lifts" or heel caps on dress shoes. Designed for obsolescence. Designed for people who buy new shoes every season. I have one pair with some new space age material that doesn't wear out. Seems smart to me. I actually am about to pitch the shoes - having worn them out without having to schlep around for new "lifts" on them a time or two while they were still good. And shoe laces. Another "you are supposed to throw these shoes out more often so that you don't ever need to find the right style laces" insult to frugality.

Over the years I've graphed in my head the relationship between the source of the shoes and their components and price. I figured out that the "genuine stuff" comes from countries where the labor is cheaper - offsetting the cost. I stopped when the big, over-decorated, often with "air" or "blinking lights" athletic shoes became so popular. And so pricey. There was no logic to that. The recent trend in cheaply made, "fake everything" in mid-priced shoes made in China blows my theory.

We could go on. The wedgie period. The clog era. The resurgence of Keds. The "looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker" brand. But what about the "soul" and the "genuine whatever an upper would be"? It's how the world has become. We try to "think" with our "upper" (head) self in a way that is solid and good and honest. But the "soul" of our being now is too artificial. Too motivated by "getting by", "making do", "meeting the schedule", "not making waves". We recycle and buy whole foods locally grown and subscribe to The Progressive or Green Times but it's going to take more than that. And maybe I have to "vote with my feet/shoes" and do the "more" of it.

Barb "Don't Call Me Imelda" Heldke reports that she sat out the clog era because "I had a 'bad toe' during that period. But I did once have some sandals with thick wooden soles. Nearly flat, but a good inch and a half of wood. I once spooked a cow walking down the path at the county fair when I fell off my shoe being clumsy. Poor cow."

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