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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cheap Shoes

The Wal-Mart, globalization, and sweatshop labor questions about the benefits of trade summarized in a tennis shoe:

Sneakers for Social Justice?, by Dave Zirin, The Nation: Stephon Marbury, the wildly talented and widely criticized point guard for the New York Knicks, usually carries a Q rating commensurate with Kim Jong Il. Making max dollars and being the face of the NBA's most dysfunctional franchise will do that. But Marbury has been drawing high-profile praise in recent days for promoting a new basketball sneaker described as "revolutionary."

What's "revolutionary" about the new Starbury One--a reference to Marbury's on-court moniker--is that ... Starbury Ones are listed at $14.98.That's $14.98. Not $149.80. As William Rhoden recently wrote in the New York Times, "This is an industry in which star athletes encourage children to buy shoes for anywhere from $75 to $200."

The shoe is not cardboard and canvas but serious and solid enough that Marbury has pledged to wear them in games this season. He says his motivation was rooted in discussions he had with Knicks GM Isaiah Thomas about the civil rights movement and Marbury's eventual legacy. ... In tune with the idea of a sneaker for social justice, Marbury's website urges visitors to "join the movement," and the chic insignia, familiar to those with a fascination for Che Guevara, is a stylized red star. Marbury isn't all talk. He has a history of putting his money where his heart is. He pledged about $500,000 last year to help victims of Hurricane Katrina...

The Starbury One sneaker is ... flying out of the stores as quickly as they are being made. As Howard Schacter from Steve and Barry's told me, "The vision we shared with Stephon was to eliminate the incredible pressure kids and parents feel to pay top dollar for the latest and coolest sneakers and clothes. What we're saying is, You can pay a lot less for these things.... it simply doesn't cost that much to make high-quality sneakers and clothes."

But the Starbury One--because of both its price and the fact that it is being marketed as footwear for social justice--has also invited scrutiny. The athletic shoe industry is notorious for some of the most appalling of sweatshop conditions. Are the Starbury Ones, made in China, produced in such a manner?

Schacter says no. ... "...in our history and culture is a deep commitment to legal compliance and ethical business practices. This commitment is a fundamental part of the philosophy upon which we were founded."

Schacter says that costs are kept low because their business model "eliminates the middleman" by producing their own product and selling them in Steve and Barry's stores. They also rely on word-of-mouth instead of national advertising campaigns.

But some leading antisweatshop activists doubt this claim... Jim Keady is ... co-director of the antisweatshop organization Educating for Justice. He ... said... "...I would bet my professional reputation that these shoes are produced in sweatshop conditions. That said, Asbury Park has a poverty rate of 30 percent. I see kids buying sneakers I know they can't afford, so it is a good thing an affordable sneaker is available." ...

I was unable to reach Marbury for this piece, but it's difficult to imagine him being unsympathetic to the plight of workers overseas. He has spoken out about selling sodas on the beaches of Coney Island as a young boy, trudging on the sand and trying to scrape a dollar or two from the tourists visiting the famed amusement park. ...

As Jim Keady said, "The real slam-dunk would be if Stephon Marbury came forward and said, 'Not only do I want poor kids to be able to afford my sneakers. I want their moms and dads to have good-paying factory jobs-- in Coney Island, Bed-Stuy or Asbury Park for that matter. Imagine that: a sneaker made for the players in Brooklyn by the people in Brooklyn, he said. "Would they be able to sell them for $14.98? Maybe not, but that would be a tremendous model that other athletes and other entrepreneurs could follow."

    Posted by on Wednesday, September 20, 2006 at 12:33 AM in Economics, International Trade, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (3)  Comments (10)


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