These vegetarian shoes and boots are made
with an expensive stitching process that fixes a ridge on the
sole - called a welt - to the side of the shoe. This allows a
complex sole design - in this case the Tredair sole made
of up-market, crack-resistant plastic, a slice of foam, and a
combination of insole board and felt which moulds to the shape
of your feet over time.
Most soles that claim to contain air will either contain a
bit of carpet under-felt, which is good at moulding round your
foot-shape, or a springy chamber with less moulding ability.
The Tredair sole does both, as well as resisting cracks
and bending easily. One customer writes "they feel very
comfortable it will be a shame to go out in them - I think I'll
use them inside and go out in my slippers!"
You may not have heard of Tredair because of a historical
accident. Until the early 80's, there was a brand of shoe that
any good factory could make, as long as they paid for permission
from Dr Martens family solicitors and met the quality standard
- using a cushion sole, a sewn tag and bright yellow string sewing
to emphasise the way that the shoes were made. A shared brand
turned-out to be a very efficient way of structuring an industry
- DMs were as ubiquitous as Cheddar Cheese, air force flight
jackets or Champagne, and hardly needed any advertising. The
competing factories provided a far better quality of seam-sewing
than any brand-name boots could match for the price. Sewing things
together in small batches with different designs and sizes is
tricky. Factories have an idea of the number of operations they
can do - often 100 - and the number involved in each batch which
is often less in the factory but more in administration. When
money isn't spent on brand advertising but is spent on getting
through the dozens of operations instead, a wide range of shoes
can be made and they get to reflect the times.
Another reason for DMs success was a new Health & Safety
act after the second war, introduced when boot companies were
re-structuring for the civilian market, allowed again to compete
with each other and to make their own designs. The act allows
employers to be fined or loose a case in court if they don't
check-up on safety standards such as the new toe-cap boots that
had just been introduced, and they appreciated the yellow sewing
& pull tag that made it easier to check that their staff
were equipped. To make the law easier to follow, a tax concession
was introduced. Several mail-order companies began selling at
wholesale prices to employers and anyone else who could pay for
a minimum order - very much like office stationary catalogues
- and very different to other wholesalers at the time which would
only sell to one shop in each high street and tried to control
the prices. Some manual labourers were able to get DMs cheap
or free from their employers, while other people could buy them
from market stalls or the army-surplus shops that had sprung-up
in most towns.
Thirdly, ankle boots are comfortable. The first application
for Maetens' soles was for people in Austria with elderly or
damaged feet, and the first upper shape was the shape of an ankle
boot because it laces easily and loosely to womens and mens feet.
A few decades later, in the early 80s, the UK government's
economic policy was arguably to close most of manufacturing industry,
or that was the effect, with 25% of UK manufacturing closing
in one government's term of office. Successor
governments and their Bank of England's monetary policy committee
kept the same system in place until 2009. You can see it explained
on the bottom part of this flow diagram.
The largest factory making DMs survived by buying the brand
and controlling all production itself. This also allowed quicker
delivery times (which had never been a strength) and with a little
more marketing DMs went mainstream, selling to mainstream shops
rather than army surplus merchants. Where a few factories had
experimented with bizarre variations like batches of mirror-finish
boots or painted-on spider patterns, the new brand owners hired
designers to tweak and change the finer points of the design
and increase the range, moving away from the standard army-cut
top and 1970s-shape sole. Over the past few years they saw dropping
sales Younger people had forgotten why DMs had ever been a counter-cultural
icon: they were no longer so ridiculously cheap or free, they
had lost their association with muscle & toe caps, nobody
thought about or worked in British industry any more, and the
boots lacked the relaxed look that the e-generation liked. Footwear
had become a style industry, with most trainer firms getting
their stuff made in Chinese sweatshops, selling expensively in
Europe and the US, and spending a big mark-up on advertising
to promote falsely relaxed, liberal associations to their brands.
One or two of the ex-factories and factories are still making
cushion-sole derby boots with a Goodyear-welted seam, passing
business between each other. They are not making many, because
nobody has heard of them, and people assume that they are making
a cheap imitation of the original product In the case of Tredair,
we think they are making a better imitation. It has a better
sole and a frankly better-looking seam And why should there be
only one brand for cushion soles?
Why these are expensive
Uppers are very well cut on these boots to avoid waste. Far-Eastern
suppliers often maximise the complexity of a product to show
how cheap their labour is. These simple shoes use at least a
square foot or tenth of a square meter while ankle boots use
1.2-1.5 square feet @ £44.40 a square meter plus £10
delivery. The outer sole is another thick chunky component costing
£3+VAT a pair with a £10 set-up cost per size for
small orders. Add the small parts like 40p for pull-tags or a
pound or so for the box, something for the three other layers
of sole and you get up towards £25 on parts assuming they
are all used. Some people like to store surplus material. Soles
from White and Co lasted for 8 years after production transferred.
Other producers try to get exactly what they need and no more
to make each order, which can add to set-up costs. Buying small
batches from UK manufacturers is likely to cost in delay, delivery
charges, lack of discount, set-up fees, and prompt payment, but
may be little more expensive than buying without thought from
an importer who covers-up all these costs or who sells something
just in time from a warehouse.
There are 1-200 operations in making a pair of these boots, which
take a lot of fiddling-about with materials & machines to
get right. Working in a factory that makes small orders is tricky,
because you have to co-ordinate with colleagues to do most of
the different Jobs
trade at different times. Usually the factory is in a cluster
of traders who sometimes exchange small amounts of material without
courier costs if you pick-up or collect stuff on the way to work.
A trickier job is using a hot knife to seal the welt to the sole
after the welt has been sewn-on, then using heat again to sculpt
the out-sole and welt to a single smooth surface.
Paid Taxes for a welfare state
Every pair of boots includes the cost of PAYE, National Insurance,
business rates, business rubbish collection, fuel duty &
the costs of following UK environmental & employment laws.Wages
are under pressure in manufacturing but no worse than Jobs
trade like hostel work, outreach and supported housing that
I used to do because the work is so skilled that few people do
it. Factory work is more like hostel work in lack of views from
a window, personal desk space and hob knobs than office work,
but does have the satisfaction of doing something that everyone
can see if you have done it well or badly, rather than judge
on a dress code or whether you sound good in team meetings.
There are pundits who say you can't tell if factories are
good or bad just by finding out what country they are in. These
pundits and their organisations such as Ethical Fashion Forum
are set-up by importers from China, staffed by consultants looking
for work & interns who between them show little interest
in the welfare state that UK manufacturing supports - either
as claimants or taxpayers. One of their web pages warns against
buying UK products for ethical reasons.
Fair Trade is another way of increasing happiness, but
Some more open countries are on a the Fairtrade list and count
as third world, because their government is too poor, corrupt
or macho to consider a welfare state as a way of reducing poverty.
Tariffs against despots would help too. Those companies which
carry the trade mark offer a better deal to staff in worse-run
countries by providing some benefits in a kind of Butlins camp
for loyalists. This is a quote from Tradecraft Wholesale linked
from T Shirt and Sons, ethical T shirt printers:
"The company in India manufacturing the T-shirts, polo
shirts and sweatshirts have social responsibilities to all employees
and is committed to overall employee welfare and providing a
healthy working environment. It meets ethical standards required
for the manufacture of Fairtrade garments. The factory site includes
a housing colony for over 1800 workers with parks, a dispensary
and four bed hospital, plus a school offering subsidised education."
If you would like to go further and promote hospitals with
more than "4 beds", universal rather than "subsidised"
education and services to people who have been evicted or left
the "housing colony for 1800 workers" then look
no further than the UK.
These have been rigged to reduce inflation in the UK from about
1979-2009 and are still rigged in the opposite direction in China,
where the currency is made cheaper by out-flows of money controlled
by the elite who like to buy assets round the world or build-up
Swiss bank accounts.
PR, executive salaries, executive salary committee salaries,
PA to the CEO at HQ, national advertising, distribution warehouses,
stock held in every high street and not just online, corporate
events, government lobbying, a tower block in the most expensive
city of London that looks like the corporate logo from above..
Next to no money is spent on the essentials in these categories
and none on the non-essentials. That's partly why people believe
the pundits who promote "ethical" manufacturing
in China; UK manufacturers aren't throwing money at PR and leave
customers to draw their own conclusions from the facts available,
and support local manufacturing.
People all over the world support local manufacturing. They
benefit the world economy by taking an interest in the products
of wherever they happen to be living, rather than the advertised
brands or the brands with ethics wash and green wash credentials.
With luck, you will do the same whatever country you are in.