Sperry: the American original boat shoe, right? Dating all the way back to 1935, Sperry has been winning over the hearts of sailors and soldiers of WWII, families of all ages on the East coast, and preppy college students nationwide in 2016. Many have bought into the lie that because Sperry is the boat shoe of America, each pair is hand stitched with nothing but love right here in the USA. Well, take a look at the tag on one of your many pairs of Sperrys sitting in your closet…you might be horrified to find “made in China” or “made in Indonesia”. Here is a little piece of the process behind that “All-American” shoe of yours:

There are three major pieces to the production of creating a Sperry Topsider: getting the leather, dying the leather, and creating the rubber sole. 

Sperry is committed to treating the animals from which their leather comes fairly and will refuse to manufacture shoes in countries whom do not value animal rights or whom fail to meet Sperry’s expectations. For example, because of India’s cruelty towards animals and lack of value for animal life, shoes are not manufactured there. 

After Sperry receives the leather, the leather moves to the dying process. In order to get the desired color for the lowest price, the factories use the chemical CrVl, hexavalent chromium, which has been proven to lead to nasal cancers, sinus cancers, kidney damage, and liver damage. Though no direct correlation has been proven between factory workers and these diseases, workers in factories with CrVl have been known to experience kidney issues and urinary track infections. 

The rubber sole is the other significant piece of a Sperry shoe. There are two types of rubber: naturally grown rubber and manufactured leather. As you can guess, manufactured leather is what is used to create the soles of shoes. It is manufactured by combining several different chemicals which makes this an extremely dangerous job–harmful for both the employees working in these factories as well as for the environment. China and Indonesia are the two countries in which Sperry planted it’s manufacturing plants perhaps because of the lack regulations in place. 

There is no available information concerning what specific factories are used by Sperry in China or Indonesia for producing the leather, dying the leather, or manufacturing the rubber soles which obviously limits our ability to evaluate Sperry’s commitment to workers rights, workers safety, and/or environmental impact. 

“Why China and Indonesia?” you might be asking. As you might guess, it is extremely cheap to produce Sperry Topsiders in these countries—roughly $10. However, by the time these shoes spend somewhere between two weeks and one month making their way overseas and another week in the back of a truck, you are paying around $90 for each pair…time is money after all. By the time that pair of shoes get to you, you aren’t the only one paying—the environment is certainly taking a toll.

In an attempt to decrease the amount outsourcing and pollution, Sperry Topsider has a new line you may be familiar with: Made in Maine. This collection uses an entirely different process of production but you do pay for it at a mere $300 a pair. However, it is important to note that there certainly are benefits to paying this large sum of money: the factory in Maine uses a dying process involving far fewer chemical which is easier on their workers and easier on the environment. This factory is committed to follow regulations and has implemented periodic visits to the manufacturing plants. They are also committed to paying their workers fairly—the Made in Maine collection has led to many people coming out of retirement to work at these factories because of the excitement for the return to this “All-American” idea…many believe that “if we are an American original, we need to be making our original boat shoe in America.” 

All in all, Sperry Topsider has not proven to be ethically sound: socially or environmentally. The lack of transparency leaves us, the consumers, with a choice. It is up to us to demand transparency in order to ensure that workers have a voice, working conditions are improved, and this earth that we have been given is being taken care of. Who’s with me? 

Better World Shopper: D+

Written by Ellie Mulder