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Shopping for shoes is a minefield



Editor's blog | Featured | Opinion | Retail | Sustainability

By Stephanie Zillman

This week I’ve been rattled by two separate, but related, shopping experiences.

On Monday morning whilst out for some morning exercise, the sole of my trusty sports shoe finally gave way. With the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory disaster top of mind – I took to Google to quickly search for an ethical sport shoe.

I just wanted to find a nice little list compiled by an independent body, that had thoughtfully done the research for me. Such a list would tell me which brands had question marks over their worker conditions and the sustainability of their materials, and which didn’t.

However to my surprise, the all-knowing Google returned few tangible leads.

On a list compiled by Shop Ethical, there is just one shoe and retail brand that has managed to achieve the tick for its supply chain practices – the Australian brand Etiko, which Dynamic Business recently profiled. Unfortunately, at this stage the brand does not manufacturer running shoes.

Despite high-profile reports on sweatshops in the 90s, the major sports shoe brands have repeatedly failed to prove their manufacturing practices are up to scratch, and the independently compiled 2013 Australian Retail Report recognised this.

Out and about on Tuesday, I happened to walk past a diamond retailer. A sign on its window display declared its jewellery to be ‘fairly’, ‘ethically’ and ‘sustainably’ sourced. The innocently written sign (presumably there to advertise to customers that they needn’t worry, no blood diamonds were to be found within) summed up my sports shoe dilemma in a nutshell.

On the one hand, I found it somewhat demoralising that such a declaration was even necessary. It should go without saying that exploitation of workers and the environment have no place in a business model. Yet sadly for some, they still do.

On the other hand, thankfully it is small business leading the charge for change. And that’s why I love my job. I am continually inspired by the sheer innovation inherent in Australia’s business community. For this reason, I’m quietly confident that one day soon that same list will be dotted with options.

I’ll also be continuing my sport shoe research, but for now, it looks like I’ll be super-gluing that sole back on.

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