This article was written by Nick A., an Essex County, NJ Middle School Student.
The following article is a part of a new series, “Listening to Youth Voices in the New Year.” Each Sunday, articles written by Essex County Middle School students will be published, each week relating to a new topic. You can learn more about this series here.
As a 13-year-old who loves sports and being active, I often find myself buying athletic sneakers. Many people at my school are interested in the business/culture of shoes as well. I thought it was only natural to write about a topic that interests me but also sheds light on class and racial divides.
Over 1,200 people are killed over sneakers each year in America. Out of a country comprised of 319 million people, that may not seem like a lot. That is still over a thousand people whose lives are ended because of a bundle of leather and plastic that someone else wanted. Consumers must begin to question and take action against the unethical means of producing the shoes we wear. Prices of sneakers are too high, not enough pairs are made, and companies such as Nike pay their factory workers such meager wages that they can’t even pay for the products that they make. Large companies abuse the power that they have and need to step up and make a difference.
A significant reason that there are so many crimes relating to sneakers is because prices are expensive and not affordable for most people. These types of crimes happen because of people that don’t want to pay such high prices and see crime as the only way to get the sneakers they want. This type of logic is why these senseless crimes exist. Mike Epps, an actor and sneaker collector, once stated that “It didn’t surprise me that kids would become violent and really ferocious about these shoes, because the way [companies] market them, they market them as if they’re the dream.” What Epps failed to mention was that the companies market them, and then sell them for prices usually exceeding $200. Any person can walk into a sneaker store, but not everyone can spend hundreds of dollars on a shoe. That is the reason why so much misconduct happens over sneakers. Those who might have less money still want the shoe, and sometimes they see crime as the only way to get it. Big brands that sell these shoes can lower prices to help alleviate crimes related to sneakers.
There is also an intentionally low supply of sneakers to make people want them more. This shortage of a desired product causes a lot of crime. Companies such as Jordan Brand, Nike and Adidas routinely release only thousands of pairs of some sneakers. When a sneaker releases, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people wait in lines near stores, or on websites that will often crash because of traffic. A Fortune article quoted “Enrique Zamora… began waiting in line on Monday morning to ensure he’d be the first to purchase them.” The sneakers released on Saturday, six days after he began waiting. They also were were limited releases and can fetch anywhere from $800 to $1,500 on the resale market. With scarcity and prices like that, it’s no wonder people go to such lengths for sneakers. Crimes happen because of this desire for the limited shoes and the desire not to pay for them. These are the obstacles that companies can help us surmount by making more pairs of shoes. This will lead to less people committing crimes because it won’t be as hard to find the shoes you want.
Companies that make these sneakers abuse their power in other ways. They exploit their workers by paying them so little that they can’t even by the products they make. According to Worker’s Liberty, Nike workers in Vietnam make twenty cents per hour and have been physically abused in the past. Workers don’t have health insurance or any other benefits. In an eight hour day of work with horrible conditions, they make only $1.60. When a worker’s daily salary is less than what we have in pocket change, then there is a problem. The workers were interviewed and estimated that the cost of three meals in Vietnam is $2. Consequently, most workers can’t eat three meals a day. With those statistics, it makes it seem petty that we are killing each other for shoes that others have labored over with such oppressive conditions. Sneaker companies need to pay their workers more and provide dental and health insurance. This might even result in higher sales, because people would view them as a more credible company to buy from.
Too many crimes happen over something as trivial as sneakers. These crimes are important to stop not because the sneakers are worth it, but because the 1,200 people dying every year are. Sneaker companies abuse their power by marking prices too high, making too few pairs and not treating their workers well. Others may think that the companies are now doing enough. They may think that online buying and worker equity agreements help. However, when workers are still protesting and over a thousand people a year die, more still needs to be done. We can make a difference. Emails to executives and boycotting the products of unethical companies can make a huge difference. Together, we can help stop the unethical acts that go into making our shoes.