Shoes | porchlight - Indiana Public Media

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Regal Shoe Factory in Whitman, Mass.

I was there, and maybe you were too, when the disposable began providing cover for the fact that consumer products were not being manufactured to last as long. It’s when the combination of x’s and y’s started to equal more than you could possibly imagine.

Ink pens, razors for shaving, reading glasses became cheaper to make, cheaper to buy, and far cheaper to maintain because you couldn’t anymore. When the ink ran out or the blade edge became a little bit dull, the plastic item was instantly perceived as trash.

Not only were consumer products becoming increasingly impossible to restore, they were being designed in ways that discouraged and even prevented any repair. A manufacturer might use less durable materials at the outset or simply refuse to offer replacement parts.

Inevitably, the list of irretrievable goods grew and soon came to include the shoes we wear. With four kids who walked to school and a job as a visiting nurse, my Mom often made trips to our neighborhood shoe repair shop. I just loved going there with her. Big front window to provide natural light for the careful work being done. The sweet smell of worn leather. I especially liked the names of the products sold there: Cat’s Paw Rubber Heels out of Baltimore, Old Hickory Shoe Laces from a small town in North Carolina. And the many different shades of brown Esquire paste polish: Ox blood, Cordovan….My feet had wings.

A productive collaboration was in place then. I could maintain my school shoes with fresh laces and an occasional buff and shine, while the shoe repair shop could replace worn heels, even rescue soles. In the decade of the 1970s, domestic shoe manufacturing began to decline sharply in the United States, around the same time that quickly used up pens, shavers, and diapers, were getting tossed into landfills. Good news for companies that needed to sell more products every year to keep their stock prices high, just bad news for the planet that they and their customers happened to be sitting on.   


Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins, Deluxe

Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes. Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True

Old Brown Shoe, Beatles, 1967-1970

Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, Paul Simon, Graceland

Thirsty Boots, John Gorka, Bleeker Street

Get Rhythm, Johnny Cash, Greatest

California Shoeshine Boys, Laura Nyro, The First Songs

Peg And Awl, Carolina Tar Heels, Harry Smith Collection

Bad Sneakers, Steely Dan, Katy Lied

High Heeled Sneakers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Live

Sweet Virginia, Rolling Stones, Exile On Main Street