Don’t Be a Mikey….

Hi World,

In the rural area where I was raised, there were two main industries-paper and shoes.  Most families were either “paper” or “shoes”, meaning that one or both parents worked in either the paper mills or the shoe factories.  Kids grew up, and if they didn’t move away, they often followed in their parents footsteps-paper or shoes.

My family was a shoe family.  My father was an engineer for Bass shoe, founded by George Bass in 1876.  He started out on the factory floor, before I was born, and worked his way up.  His job, as I understood it, was to study the labor that went into each job required to make the shoes, and then to determine how much “per piece” a worker should be paid.  This kind of work was called “piece work”, and allowed better, more experienced workers to earn more, because they produced more. 

My brother’s first job was in the shoe shop.  He was about 15.  Dad brought home this piece of machinery along with buckets of leather pieces, and my brother would sit at the machine and use it to punch rivets into the leather.  It was fun to do and when he would let me, I would take a turn.  I now realize that I was often doing my brother’s work for him.  When he got his license at 17, he was able to buy a brand new car.  A yellow Plymouth Duster with pinstripes.  I’m taking credit for the pinstripes. 

My first job was also in the shoe shop the summer after I graduated from high school.  I was what they called a “stitcher”.  Do you know those little pieces of leather that hold the pennies in loafers?  My job was to sew the ornamental stitching around the edges.  When I had a case done they would be inspected and then passed on to the people who attached those pieces to the uppers.  This was also a fun job and I liked it.  Sadly, I wasn’t very good at it and was spoken to a couple of times about my uneven stitching.  I’m sure my boss wasn’t all that sad when I left for college in the fall.  Little did he know I’d be coming back in a year for another go at it.  I was much more mature by then, though.  Snicker.

But I digress.  On with the history lesson.

Bass Shoe was sold to Chesebrough-Ponds in 1978.  They were famous for Ponds Cold Creams and other beauty products.  Why they wanted a shoe factory I couldn’t say, but things continued to roll along fairly smoothly.  Then, in 1981, President Reagan lifted the quotas on imported shoes and cheaper shoes from overseas became available.  American shoe companies, in order to compete, began moving their production overseas.  The companies that maintained factories in the US cut jobs and payroll.  My father lost his job in 1987 when Philips-Van Heusen purchased the company and again slashed jobs and payroll.  Bass closed their last factory in 1998, letting go of its final 350 workers, one of whom was my brother.  Over the course of 18 years, about 1,200 people employed by this one company lost their jobs.  That number does not take into account Dexter Shoe, L.L. Bean or Eastland Shoes, all of which also employed large numbers of workers and also laid them off.
You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this.

Yesterday, I came across a story about Tom’s Shoes.  It caught my attention because I’ve been seeing the company name here and there and wondered…what’s so great about Tom’s Shoes?  Do they make you fly?  Or run faster?  Do they never wear out? 

None of the above.  It turns out that Tom’s Shoes does nice things for other people and so lots of nice people buy his shoes.  They’ve become quite trendy.  This is the story:  Tom’s CEO, Blake Mycoskie, was traveling in Argentina and in the process of helping out a local organization noticed that many children did not have shoes.  Wanting to help, he ordered a bunch of shoes from a local manufacturer, took them home to America, and sold them with the idea of using the proceeds to buy shoes for the children back in Argentina.  Flash forward, and now he has a booming business selling these fabric upper/rubber-soled shoes, and for every pair of shoes he sells, he gives one pair away to a child in a developing country.  He goes by the title of Chief Shoe Giver and now spends much of his time on the lecture circuit.  And giving away shoes.  It is a nice story.  He seems like a really nice guy.

But it made me think:  None of his shoes are manufactured in the US.  The pairs he gives away are not, with several exceptions, given away in the US.  The shoes he sells here go for about $55.   Developing countries are the main recipients.  We are the target market.  Tom’s Shoes marketing strategy works because we like the idea of buying something that helps someone else.

Can we stop being trendy for a minute?  Can we stop and think about this?  For just a minute?  So many people have lost their jobs, and many, like those in my hometown, have lost them to overseas manufacturing.  And it is not just them.  It is also the generations following them-those kids saving to buy their first car, go to college, or to get married and support a young family.  Those people that, given a choice, would prefer to stay in their hometowns, close to their roots, but can’t because the jobs do not exist.  We are no longer a country that makes things.  We are a country that buys things and we are targeted as such.  We are a country of consumers and borrowers.  Somewhere, a marketing director is saying, “Market it to the Americans.  They’ll buy it.  They’ll buy anything”.  And his Bosses are saying, “But make it in Korea”.

How long can we keep this up?  And, oh God, when do we start thinking like patriots?  Are the desperately poor in our own country less deserving than the poor in developing countries?

I’m not putting down Tom’s Shoes. I think what they are doing is compassionate and executed with the very best intentions. What I’m saying is that I could buy a pair of Tom’s Shoes and feel good knowing that a kid in another country is getting a pair of badly needed shoes, or….

  • I could buy shoes that are manufactured in the US (yes, there are still some companies manufacturing here-Soft Star Shoes is one) and know that I am helping to employ an American during a time of rampant unemployment. That would make me feel good.
  • I could buy a pair of flip flops, possibly made in China, and donate the remaining $45 to my Community Foodbank. Or to my church. Or to the out-of-work, homeless veteran on the street corner. That would make me feel pretty good, too.
  • I could forego the new shoes altogether and donate the entire equal sum to the National Relief Charities, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of poverty-stricken Native Americans. I don’t really need new shoes, anyway. 

Don’t be a Mikey, World.  We don’t have to eat everything we’re fed. Charity comes in many forms.  Some less fashionable than others.    

Thanks for reading this one.
Chicken out

  24 comments for “Don’t Be a Mikey….

  1. Anonymous
    October 27, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Instead of Nike, buy New Balance. Great sneakers still made right here in Skowhegan Maine, people.
    Think Globally. Act Neighborly. Like the Chicken says, folks both near and far need help.


  2. October 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Hi GG-I did read about NB having several factories in the US (in addition to overseas manufacturing) but didn't realize there was one so close to home! That's great. Thanks for the support (as always:-))


  3. October 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    very thought-inspiring post…
    A yellow duster with pinstripping, eh…I'm pretty sure he was the most popular 17 year old, paper or shoes, in town.
    Great post Chicken! Glad you're back and have stayed. I was scared you were leaving us…where would this world be without Chicken!


  4. October 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Hi there, Sandra-thank you. What is going on with the manufacturing industry in Canada? I wondered about that as I was writing this but haven't had time to research it.


  5. October 27, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Loved hearing about your shoe-making past! Really, I found it very interesting and you've given us all a lot to think about with this post.


  6. October 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Really interesting and well put, C. I like the idea of Tom's Shoes work, but I have issues, too. Now this is gonna make me sound shallow, but those shoes are hideous and don't seem like they last very long. If I'm really eager to help the shoeless in developing countries (and I do think it's a stupendous cause) I'd really rather just send the whole $55 over there and not have to wear those shoes I don't really need. It's like when Amnesty International sends me a broken useless ball point pen each time they ask me for money. How many of those pens have a I paid for instead of helping people?

    And yes, I wish we did more to buy locally. I think we don't understand the real costs of goods. Oh crap you have me even crankier than I was before I read this post.

    But yes, you're right on. And I'm afraid to look up where they make my Merrels.


  7. October 27, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Betty-I liked writing about it. Good times:-) Thanks.

    Elly Lou: I don't disagree (or think you are shallow), but I didn't want to put them down in the email when they are doing good stuff. I just wish they would give some of those shoes to NRS. They need shoes, too. I love the Soft Star shoes, though. They look so comfy. I'm going to look up Merrels. I'll bet they are cool. Like you.


  8. October 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I completely agree. Even when we think things are made in America, we find out that only a very small part is made here, or the parts are just assembled here. I can't imagine a time when things were really made in the US and you didn't have to think about (I think I was born around the time the Duster was fashionable). I am also always very suspicious of people who do such GREAT things as it appears Tom's is doing. Sadly, in our country, there is always a catch.

    I am a big fan of Bass and I had no idea that they were bought by Chesebrough-ponds. I remember that name on the lotion we always used: Vaseline intensive care lotion!


  9. October 28, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Hi Sparkling-yes, that's the very Chesebrough Ponds, alright. And then they sold out to the Izod shirt people. Thanks for reading and hey, I was already a teenager when the duster was popular. You youngster!


  10. October 28, 2010 at 12:59 am

    LOVE this post! You have an interesting past! Our way of thinking in this country is twisted…


  11. October 28, 2010 at 1:22 am

    The sad thing is that it is expensive to buy American, and if you don't have a job, or maybe even if you do, you have to stretch every dollar. And yet, if we don't start, we're stuck without a paddle. It's a conundrum for sure. Thanks, Missy


  12. October 28, 2010 at 1:51 am


    You always hear that we should buy American and yet, we go for the deal, we go for the convenience since it's more difficult to seek out an American product for the sad reason that there isn't much left that is American made.

    But when you write this very personal post on how it has affected some of those closest to you, it brings it right to the heart of why we should do this very thing. I vow to buy American whenever possible. It's far too important not to.


  13. October 28, 2010 at 4:38 am

    I loved this post. Thank you for taking the time to write it.


  14. October 28, 2010 at 4:42 am

    I like it when Chicken gets on her soapbox! Yeah! You raise some really interesting points. And I agree with Elly Lou about Tom's looking hideous and not lasting long – but I agree with you even more about putting shoes on poor little American feet. And ALSO, maybe our government shouldn't tax the hell out of companies and force them out of the country. I sense myself getting up on my own soapbox, so I'm gonna back off now. 🙂


  15. Anonymous
    October 28, 2010 at 5:05 am

    Growing up, I would get one new pair of shoes a year. Every fall, the week before school started, we'd make the rounds to the 4 shoe stores, trying on that season's wares. Knowing that the selection would need to last the school year the choice was not made lightly.

    Then, as you said, sometime in the 80s shoes became cheap, and much more accessible. And I was able to get lots and lots of shoes through out the year.

    Want to hear something crazy? I still have the “last” annual pair of shoes I ever bought. Yes, I do. Caramel calf skin leather cowboy boots. Bought in 1982 at Thom McCann in the Yankton Mall. They were 32 dollars. I'm guessing that is the equivalent to 90 bucks today. They were made in the USA. The shoes still look as good as the day I bought them.

    Wish I could say that about ANY of the shoes I have bought in the past 5 years.

    Good post Chicken.



  16. October 28, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Couldn't agree more. Australia outsources EVERYTHING to China. Most of what we buy is made in China, Korea, Thailand or Vietnam. Our orange industry is almost broke because we import oranges from somewhere else. It's madness.

    Most of our iconic brands are now owned by foreign companies.

    You know what else we could do – stop buying so much stuff. We dont need it. Western society is being driven by the idea that we need things to be happy. It's about time it stopped.

    Sorry – I just felt like a rant – I'm so over consumerism and people who dont care so long as it's cheap and trendy. It's time we looked at the bigger picture.


  17. October 29, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Oh, I love this post. I live in metro Detroit – talk about outsourcing our livelihoods. When the auto industries went down the tubes EVERY OTHER industry in this area was touched by it, because it's all connected.

    What will we do as a country when we can't afford to buy anything made somewhere else?


  18. October 29, 2010 at 12:30 am

    damn girl, way to cut through the bullshit. i've definitely been gagging on something and it's this cheap marketing propaganda. i grew up in johnson city, ny. we were home to the endicott johnson shoe factory (EJ shoes). yep, all my family worked their until they went belly up (and thanks for that history lesson, btw. now i know why). the area was prosperous. and then it became depressed. just like its coal-mining neighbors in scranton and wilkes-barre, pa. why don't we make anything anymore or at least support our own communities and country! so much greed and so few ethics.

    let's get actually ingenius and adopt some of your alternatives.


  19. October 30, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Would love to see this printed in a national publication. Considered submitting it to one?


  20. October 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Hi Joann-thanks and I've made the vow, too. Revolt. Revolt.

    FC-I try to be wary of the soap box but sometimes I can't help myself-thanks for reading.

    Hi CB-One advantage of the shoe factory lifestyle is that we did have lots of shoes, but I can still relate. We shopped in the fall and the spring for clothes and they were momentous occasions. Those boots sound great. I always wanted a pair of caramel colored Frye boots. Remember those? I think they still make them in the US, too.

    QIMP-I agree. My house is full of stuff I didn't really need. This has definitely been my year of cutting back. I'm getting very used to not going in stores. Frees up a lot of time, actually!

    Suniverse: I was also thinking of the auto industry as I wrote this. And feeling guilty about the toyotas in our driveway. Although, I think they have factories in the US. I'm not sure, though. Buying American really is a commitment that requires a certain amount of homework.

    Patty Punker-it's nice to hear from another “shoe” family reader:-) We just need to think for ourselves a little more, I think, instead of being led by the marketing geniuses out there. There were already companies doing what Tom's is doing on some scale, but I'll bet we'll start to see a lot more.

    Hi Daffy-what a nice thing to say. I've never submitted anything before but why not. Can't hurt to try. Thanks for the suggestion.


  21. Anonymous
    November 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Chicken – you can release your toyota guilt. Not only do they have several LARGE factories in the US – most Toyotas sold in the US are made here – and a lot of the parts they use are make here, too. In fact, the factory where J works does the majority of their business with Toyota. So, see? It's okay. The groceries you're buying with your Toyota payments are mine.
    Oh – and I second the motion for publication. How about Huffpo or Salon?


  22. Anonymous
    November 1, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Ooops, I meant “made here”, not “make here”. Caffeine hasn't kicked in yet.


  23. November 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Hi GG-s'okay. I knew what you meant. Glad to hear about Toyota. Makes my Monday a bit liess hypocritical. I hope you liked the peanut butter. It is organic. Thanks for the suggestions and will check them out


  24. December 2, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    You are one smart chicken. I like your thinking on this.

    I like to support local business. When we got new carpets, I bought from the small-town carpet store just eight blocks from my house instead of going to the big chain. If we were to get new couches (which we really need but can't afford right now) I would go to the family-owned furniture store down on main street (about 10 blocks away).

    And just a thought here perhaps the Ponds Cold Cream people were looking to streamline their business — you know, test their products on animals and then use them for leather for the shoes? Is that terribly wicked and politically incorrect of me, because that is the first place my mind went? This was back in 1978, right? This was before people got all excited about animal rights. It coulda happened.

    xo -El


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