Made In The U.S.A.

How to buy American-made shoes

In Adventures on January 19, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Today was a rousing purchasing success. I bought a tank of gasoline on the way home from work. While I was waiting for the superslow pump, I considered ducking into the station to get out of the cold and to pick up a snack. Then I thought about sifting through the available foods and having to read small print and possibly seeing something that I wanted but that didn’t work with my diet or MITUSA agenda, and I decided just to skip the whole thing. Eureka! An unintended intended consequence. I avoided buying something I didn’t particularly want or need just because it was an opportunity to buy (and eat) something. Not only does that help my purchasing habits, it probably helps my waistline too.

Then I headed down to DSW to shop for some running shoes. My last pair are completely worn out, to the point that errant shards of rubber and leather are constantly catching on the ground as I go. I knew my options in American-made shoes would be limited, but I also knew I had an ace in the hole.

For years I’d heard that New Balance athletic shoes were good for your feet and Made In The USA. I’ve never owned a pair, but I figured this would be the perfect opportunity. A bit of pre-departure research and I was armed with important information. It turns out that not all New Balance shoes are MITUSA, but some still are. Simply check the label inside the shoe to find out which is which.

I entered the store and headed toward the tennis shoes, stopping only once to examine a pair of snazzy loafers. Sure enough they, like every other shoe I checked, were marked with a country of origin inside the shoe. It was China. I moved on.

Hitting the athletic section I found my first pair of New Balance. They were hideous. Thankfully they were also made in China. So was the next pair I found, and the next. I worked my way down the length of the store, picking up every pair of New Balance along the way. After 23 different shoes, only two weren’t made in China. They were made in Indonesia.

Finally, in the clearance section in the very back corner of the store, I found what I was looking for. These New Balance looked different from the get-go; they were labeled prominently with a hang-tag on the laces. It described the company’s commitment to manufacturing in the USA and supporting an American workforce. Sure enough, my research showed that the company still operates five factories in the US, in Massachusetts and Maine.

The hang tag on an American-made pair of New Balance sneakers goes on to explain that although the shoes are MITUSA, the necessary ingredients aren’t. It goes on even further, weakening even more the appearance that the company actually wants to make shoes in the U.S. by discussing technicalities and semantic arguments and all the reasons they still consider their shoes to be Made In The USA.

In my single-store, single-day experience, it took me 24 pairs of New Balance shoes to find one that was Made In The USA. Ultimately I found a few more pairs in the clearance bin, and ultimately had two pairs of MITUSA New Balance in my size to choose from. Some is better than none, that’s for sure. But when you consider that 70% of the company’s shoes were MITUSA less than 15 years ago, it sure seems like it won’t be long before the company’s American manufacturing presence is nothing more than PR technicality—if it isn’t already.

Ultimately, though, I was able to buy a comfortable and hopefully high-quality pair of running shoes that were Made In The USA. Better yet, they weren’t exorbitantly priced. Better still, they were on further sale that meant I took them home for under $50 with tax included.

I’m choosing to see this experience as a rousing success. Alternatively, though, I could whine about the fact that literally every other pair of shoes in the store that I examined was made overseas. One pair of boots was from South America. Roughly five percent of the shoes I saw were Indonesian. One was Italian. The rest, easily 90 percent of the shoes I saw, hailed from China. Most disconcertingly, the All-Americanest of shoes, the Converse Chuck Taylor that I was humiliated for wearing in sixth grade and excited to wear once I rebelled toward college, is no longer Made In The USA. These red white and blue shoes, with their star logos and warm fuzzy jingoistic feeling, are in fact made in China. I almost shed a tear.

But still—I chose between two pairs of American-made shoes that were exactly what I needed. I bought one pair, and I’m happy with my purchase.

I am, however, growing tired from all the mental work that goes into being a responsible consumer. I hope this gets easier. Broken in, even. Like old shoes.

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new balance shoe

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