The beginning of your single first step in those ballet flats is a journey of a thousand miles, as the saying (doesn’t) go. But, why should you care whether your glittered flats came from inland China or the coastal region? And does it really matter if the truck your pumps arrived on had a GPS system or not? Read on for all the answers you’ll need about your footwear’s supply chain, from raw material to your front door.
The problem with shoes
First of all, you have to acknowledge the challenge the industry faces before you can examine it closely. Shoe styles change quickly. Think of all those times you’ve tried to hold out for a shoe to go on sale only to realize it’s already been moved out? You can try to pack your shoe wardrobe with classics, but even those get updated multiple times per season. The supply chain has to keep up with this demand.
Designers may know a couple seasons in advance what will become popular, but the supply chain can only move so fast. Here’s a breakdown of your shoe’s journey.
· Raw materials are purchased and shipped to a factory
· Factory workers produce the shoe
· The shoes are moved via truck to the nearest shipping yard
· Ships take them to the U.S., usually the West Coast
· Trucks take them to a distribution center
· Different trucks take them to individual stores
From there, they sit prettily on the shelf, waiting for you to buy them. But, a million tiny things can go wrong on the way. Here’s what might concern you about your shoe’s journey.
Safety standards slipping
To no one’s surprise, most of the manufacturing happens in China, and more specifically, in the coastal regions. This allows short land routes and easy access to ships. The Chinese government is pushing to build factories inland, but their infrastructure can’t support long-range transportation. Beyond the potential of a rise in prices to deal with the added drive across China, there are also some safety concerns.
Each time a factory opens, its management and workers need to be trained in product safety. This training is especially important overseas, where safety standards may be different. In the United States, there is a plethora of EPA safety mandates that keep both workers and products safe. Overseas, individual companies often dictate safety standards. It’s a problem for workers, obviously, but it’s also a problem for consumers. You can check out shoe manufacturers on GoodGuide.com for information about individual practices.
I know â€” you’re already turning off lights when you leave the room and you’re recycling when it’s mostly convenient. But, did you know that the trucking industry (and thus, some of your store-bought goods) is doing its part to be greener?
Recently, the government passed a mandate that all trucks must have this green technology in their cabs by 2016, so expect to hear more about it in the coming years. In the meantime, rest assured that many distribution companies are using fleet tracking GPS systems. They’re similar to your car’s GPS system, but instead of choosing the shortest route, fleet tracking systems choose the most fuel-efficient routes.
So â€” other than being the gorgeous green goddess you are, why should you care about fuel efficiency on vehicles you’ll never see? The price, of course! The less money the trucking companies spend on distribution, the less they have to charge shoe companies. The less shoe companies have to spend on distribution, the more savings they can pass onto you! This is especially relevant for online-only retailers like Zappos and 6pm.com.
You already know that everything that goes into designing a shoe is complicated, from getting the exact right amount of studs on an ankle boot to the curve of the heel on a pump; a lot goes on in the shoe world. But, now you know a little more about what goes into getting them from the designer’s mind into your hands. Use that knowledge for good, and support responsible manufacturing and delivery.