Day 80 of the Shoe Challenge – Cruel Shoes

Gucci Steel Heeled Stilettos

Once upon a time I lived in this flat in Paisley:

See the Living Room (far right of the picture)? My sister and I were strictly forbidden to enter. My dad had two very nice Le Corbusier chairs in there which one or other of us gnawed chunks out of, hence the ban.

Naturally, we slithered in there frequently for the thrill of it. There was a walk-in cupboard in the Living Room, about 4 feet deep by 3 feet wide, possibly more.  It seemed pretty huge at the time, like a cave. Cupboards are great places to hide in and think in and this cupboard had the extra bonus of housing a fur coat. My dad bought it for my gran. I have no idea what kind of animal it once was.

Possibly my gran thought the coat was a cruel thing because she never wore it. So it lurked silently in the cupboard except on the  odd occasion when I’d wear it around pretending to be a bear. When my parents sent the fur coat out to join me in Sydney a few years ago I was at a loss about what to do with it.  The coat remained unworn in public until very recently. I wore it round the house from time to time, remembering the cupboard, being three foot tall and growling under my breath.  It smells of camphor and stale air but still looks quite shiny (see below).

It is macabre to think that it had once belonged to an animal at all. Like many city people, I have never witnessed the violent death of an animal and the meat products that I buy are packaged in neat, gore free packets. The only things that I have deliberately killed have been cockroaches and (oh the irony) the odd biting ant on my yoga mat.

I wore it to a friend’s house for a cocktail party a couple of weeks ago with these Gucci steel heeled stilettos shoes that I have been on the hunt for on and off for 10 years. One of the guests thought I looked like Cruella DeVille.

You even have her hair” he said.

He’s right – I do. The style anyway. The white is well covered. Or so I thought.


Then SiouxsieLaw tugged on the remaining ethical bone in my atavistic legal body by commmenting on my last but one blog thusly:

You have officially killed any thought I had of going shoe vegan. But that probably is a good thing.

But is it really a good thing Siouxsie?

A while back, I tweeted that Shoe sales in Australia had gone up this year by 26% (Relief spending up on little luxuries) and my anarchic writer friend Stinginthetail suggested that I had spearheaded a mini-shoe boom via Twitter. At the time, I was quite chuffed. Now I feel like some evil death peddler.

Basically now I worry that with every pair of leather shoes that I buy,  I further demonstrate my lack of any deep or real compassion for other living creatures. Being a shoe obsessive fully implicates me  in the usual range of lethiferous, vain, rapacious and merciless human vs animal behaviours.

So for a couple of weeks now I have been  sitting and thinking and thinking and sitting and feeling guilty and wondering how not to.

Some of the sitting and thinking was done in lotus listening to my yoga teacher talk about yamas. Yamas (and niyamas) comprise part of the Hindu, Jianist and Buddhist codes of conduct for living a mindful life. Yamas comprise ten thou shall not do imperatives we should apply in our dealings with the rest of the world and are roughly equivalent to the 10 Comandments.  The Sixth Comandment is, for example: “ thou shalt not kill”.

The First Yama is Ahimsa – a prohibition on the killing or injuring of living things.

The application of Ahimsa, like the Sixth Comandment, is interpreted entirely differently depending on the person that you speak to. (Which is lucky because the beastie under that shoe looks like something that I’d try to step on too after shrieking loudly).

In the Jain religion, for example, the meat, leather, and dairy industries are tangibly, economically and hopelessly intertwined.  No milk, no meat and absolutely no leather is mandatory and the ideal Jain (and possibly Hindu and Buddhist) diet is a vegan one. Jains take pains to avoid  hurting even small insects.

On the other hand you have the Christian religions, like Catholicism, which embrace and congratulate the concept of bloody self-sacrifice and martyrs. Catholics are an odd bunch though, speaking from personal experience, and not to be relied on in ethical debates.

Leaving the mental Catholics aside (sorry Dad) ethical utilitarians of all faiths will tell you that if you are going to kill an animal, the very least that you can do is to have the good manners to use every single bit of its horribly murdered carcass for a useful purpose.

I do look occasionally at cruelty free, vegetarian shoes and have tried to reconcile my love for quirky shoes and sky high heels with my love for yoga.

To date, the biggest gripe that I have about so-called compassionate shoes is that many of them are made of polyurethene. PU is truly horrible stuff. Faux leather reminds me of faux meat veggie mince.

Both are possibly even more horrible than the real thing. So if If I am going to buy a right thinking vegan shoe, it better not pretend to be a bit of an animal.

That said, there is no harm in trying to be a little more ethical in my shoe purchases. There are some compassionate, cruelty free, ethical and elegant shoes being designed out there. I looked.

Hetty Rose Shoes, for example, make some funky shoes to order from recycled leather car seats and upholstery fabrics. These are exquisitely made, bespoke shoes and are accordingly quite expensive. The good news is that Hetty Rose has launched its first Ready To Wear range with prices starting at £150 (Source: Shoeperwoman)/

Bespoke Kimono Shoes (Copyright Hetty Rose Shoes)

Terraplana on the other hand is a bit more affordable if a bit less interesting.

Possibly the most interesting pair of compassionate shoes that I have found to date are these (by Rina Shah):

Rina Shah - Cruelty Free Shoes

The big problem for me is that ethical shoes, like foot friendly shoes, are just so damnably virtuous looking. I am a shoe fetishist. I love heels. High, high heels.

Heels do not figure in any vegan shoe collection other than Stella McCartney and I am far too Scottish to spend that money on something that doesn’t smell of leather.

So, if there is any resolution to my shoe and fur dilemma it can only be for me  to consider how to reconcile my passion for high heels with mindfulness.

Therefor for me ahimsa means (largely) buying shoes and clothes second hand from vintage shops, charity shops and online marketplaces like Etsy and eBay. If you  (like me) can’t stand the thought of wearing someone else’s shoes rest assured that a bit of cleaning with disinfectant/hand sanitiser takes care of the bacteria quite nicely.

If you cannot bring yourself to wear second hand shoes,  buy deadstock. Deadstock consists of brand new but forgotten shoes. The ones that pop up in the sale sections of the newspapers.

Alternatively, if you cannot buy anything but new footwear, the thing to do when you do this is to spare a thought for the poor animal who gave up its life (and its skin) for us to have better looking legs, a spring in our step and an extra couple of inches in height.

The poor bugger did a bloody good job.

Day 79 of the Shoe Challenge – I can see (shoes) clearly now the (jingoistic haze) has gone

Full Leather Troika

A few of you have been shoe shopping with me.  You know my hatred for synthetic shoes – PU, PVC, synthetic leather, leather look , pleather, imitation leather. I get terribly disappointed by good looking, expensive, non-leather shoes. If it doesn’t smell like leather I might as well be wearing plastic bags.  There are a few pairs of non-leather shoes in my collection though. Occasionally I fall for a cheeky little detail or some bright flowers. Also, it is hard and probably pointless to get non-rubber gum boots.

Generally, therefore, I would suggest that the more leather that a shoe has going for it the better. The nadir of leathery-ness is the triumvirate – leather upper, leather inner and leather soles. Footwear boasting the Full Leather Troika is expensive, high maintenance and completely impractical for inclement weather but your feet can breeeeeaaaathe inside and they smell of leather, not sweaty feet which is a bonus.

My husband, ever practical, has always insisted on me getting rubber stick-on soles for all my leather soled shoes. In fact, he’s been known to whisk shoes off me on the day of purchase to take to a cobbler. This precaution is not so necessary in Australia as it was in Scotland and since re-soling massacres the line of most single soled shoes I tend not to bother now.  If worst comes to worst and the shoes are horribly mutilated by torrential rain it appears that I can always sell the results to an ahem, specialist and extremely NSFW websites with an interest in weathered, well worn and abused shoes like this one.

So when I bought these Robert Robert shoes in truth I did not notice the brand – the are entirely leather, a true size fit for my (37.5) feet, of sensible 3 inch walking height. They even have laces up the legs to stop me walking out of them.

When I did some research into the brand, I didn’t manage to find out much more about the designer other than that ‘he’ has a new shoe label called Diavolina (which means Little She Devil an alternative moniker for the Minx if I ever heard one). From the look and the feel, I assumed that the shoes were made in Italy. I found out otherwise when reading the following conversation thread on the Vogue Australia Forum

Post 1 reads: Very impressed with Robert Robert Shoes, anyone else agree?

Most did but reading the following reply made me inordinately cross in a crabbit Scottish way.

Or at least this part made me cross: “I have always wondered about the quality, given that they’re made in China and usually the leather isn’t worked as well as in Italy or Spain.”

In part, I was cross because the post reminded me of an incident in a suburban Myer store a couple of months ago.

I had gone in for stockings.  The shop assistant, who in her range of extremely mobile facial expressions reminded me of Olive in on the buses, directed me towards the tights.

After a couple of minutes during which I had to repeat myself frequently, we had a surreal conversation concerning Gerard Butler, kilts and what she would do to any stray Scotsman that she stumbled across after a few sherries.

During this discomfiting exchange I established that by stockings I actually meant hosiery OTHER than tights. She then directed me towards the thigh high hold ups. As my friend Ally and countless other women will tell you – the term hold up is misleading and deceptive. What hold ups really do is stay up until you are walking down a crowded street at which point the elastic parts company with your thigh and the bloody things fall down.  So delicious though some hold ups like these Love Me Pin Up hold ups are – I can’t rely on them.  Then just at the point I was about to give up my odd new pal found a pair of black opaque stockings. No elastic.

You’ll need a Tall” she said briskly.

Are you quite sure” I said “I’m 5 foot 4, that’s not really very tall at all”.

No” she insisted “all our hosiery is made in China now” and then she sniffed unpleasantly “it is all really, really REALLY small”.  Small in this case, seemed to me to be a euphemism for wrongly sized and badly made. She then marched off to terrorise two Eurasian school girls looking at stripey leg warmers.

There is a commonly held assumption in Australia (and elsewhere) that everything that is manufactured in China is crap. “Made in China” is now generally taken to be synonymous with mass-produced, low-tech and low-priced merchandise.

People tend to forget that there is a rich tradition of craftsmanship and artistic excellence in China.

Embroidery is elevated to an art form in China.  I have a red silk dressing gown embroidered with birds (pictured above) that I keep meaning to frame. I bought it in the equivalent of a high street department store in Beijing.

The Chinese arguably have the one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished ceramic traditions.  My husband, who is a potter, has always been blown away by the Chinese contribution to ceramic art.  He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese and Arabic ceramics could talk you through the highlights of every ceramic dynasty if you bought him a nice lunch and a glass of wine.

One of the companies that he worked for after graduation specialised in making Scottish ceramic stuff for tourists including a Nessie ornament not unlike this one.

He tells me the story of a Scottish company that designed and produced a kilted garden gnome.  Apparently after making 200,000 items the company had had enough of gnomes and then sold the concept to a Chinese company.  The Chinese company now makes and sells hundreds of thousands of Scottish gnomes. It is not high art. It is not even high Kitsch but it sells.

One can only wonder what the workers in the Chinese factories who endure long hours and dangerous conditions in exchange for terrible wages think of it all. I reckon that they can’t believe the shit that they make for Americans, for Australians, for Europeans.

Most racism these days is insidious, under the radar, unadmitted.  It is both appropriate and far too easy to censure sportsmen like cricketers for uttering racist slurs. Somehow though to refer to a country and its products in derogatory terms is not so unacceptable. This is quite wrong.

We are all of us more prejudiced than we think. The casual bigotry of educated people is worse, one commentator has said, than a “bomb in Brick Lane”. It is about belittling more than attacking. More people who have to deal daily with ingrained prejudice than violence assault. Like those two girls checking out the stripey leg warmers.