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Does made in America matter? (spoiler alert, yes it does, but it has nothing to do with patriotism)

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Jul 3

Does made in America matter? (spoiler alert, yes it does, but it has nothing to do with patriotism)

In my journey to create the Bendy: a shoe with a conscience, I read a lot about ethical fashion and researched ways on how I could create a shoe with less impact on the planet. Ethical fashion is a growing movement right now, but there are very few options in shoes for the conscious consumer. To take this on one needs to look at many aspects of a product. Having worked in fashion for years I have seen firsthand, the ecological and labor-rights violations running rampant in Asia factories. So I started by looking at the manufacturing process. I knew I wanted to make the Bendy in a safe place for workers and for the environment. I asked myself, could I make a shoe that is ethically made, high quality, fashionable and made in America?

In my research, I came across an article in Fast Company that reported on a trend of companies starting to manufacture in America again. These were businesses drawn to making products in the US due to, low minimums, short lead times and higher quality. This all sounded great, but in the shoe business, I had not seen this catching on. Nevertheless, it was good to know that I was not crazy and some other like-minded people existed. Curiously they did not mention anything about environmental benefits to the planet which seemed pretty obvious to me.

America has an ethical leg up

It was evident to me that made in America had an ethical leg up because to do business here, one is required to have a baseline standard for labor and environmental rights. We have national, state and local laws in place that regulate how workers are treated: minimum wages, overtime, and safety. Also, laws regulate waste processing, use of chemicals, water usage and recycling. Many of these things don’t exist overseas. All of us in fashion read with horror about the factory in Bangladesh, in 2013, collapsing on top of workers. Risky workplace conditions still exist throughout Asia. I know this first hand because I held senior positions in shoe manufacturing for many years for large fashion retailers and traveled to overseas factories on many occasions.

Now on to the next hurdle. Could I find a place to make the Bendy in the US? After a mass exodus in the last 50 years away from manufacturing here, were there any shoemakers left? And if so, could they make our type of shoe that requires a lot of hand stitching? Had any skilled artisans and ethical, responsible makers survived? US sweatshops are well publicized. I surely did not want any part of that for the Bendy.

Finding a smart, experienced shoemaker

Truth be told, yes, you can find it, and I found it pretty quickly. Granted, I did sourcing for a living for years, but I ended up finding a great manufacturer in my own state of California. This factory has been making high-quality, specialized shoes and handbags for almost a decade now. The owner is a smart, experienced shoemaker. Shoe-making is difficult, and a good manufacturing partner must know construction, fit and materials. A small change to any one of these things can impact fit, yield, cost, and efficiency. After my first meeting, I was very encouraged. The owner and his team understood my vision. I had found my maker.

The next hurdle was the price. Could I make a shoe that would be competitively priced in the US? Our research found that women liked the idea of made in the us, but were only willing to pay slightly more. The answer was yes, and mainly because we designed the Bendy with only 4 components and a very straight forward construction. This makes for less labor, so pricing came in our target range.

Proudly support a community of shoemaker in LA

So, yes, made in America does matter and it has more to do with the environment, higher quality, shorter lead-times, and better working conditions, than patriotism. The Bendy will be made in sunny California. Our plan is to establish a direct, long-term relationship with our factory. We can ensure that fair wages, safe working conditions, and no child labor is used in making the Bendy. We proudly support a community of shoemakers in Los Angeles. We think how things are made should matter as much as making money. By making our shoe in California, we are supporting our state and our planet.

modern eco shoe by Ashbury Skies

To learn more about the Bendy, click here.

Mary Sue Papale is the co-founder of Ashbury Skies and the Bendy: a shoe with a conscience. She is based in San Francisco.

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