Thirteen dollar sneakers. It sounds too good to be true, right? Well, that’s probably because it is.
To clarify: we’re not saying that the newly-announced $13 ALDI Crane sneaker is a scam. We’re not saying you’ll hand over your thirteen bucks and someone will just tear off their ALDI cashier disguise and run away with it.
No, the Crane is very real indeed – and therein lies the problem.
A new pair of sneakers for thirteen dollars may seem like a great deal at first, but the true cost is so much higher. To sell this kind of product at that kind of price point, two things must be true.
First, the production volume has to be unconscionably high – we wouldn’t even like to guess how many of these are being pumped out at some ethically sub-par factory somewhere to create the kind of margin that requires. Second, the material construction of these sneakers has to be an absolute horror show. There’s surely not an environmentally preferred material in there anywhere to keep these shoes at a net neutral in terms of their planetary impact, let alone anything that might make a positive difference.
At $13, there’s no way these are even leather – not a material choice we like to see, but one which can at least claim durability as one of its few pro points. (And even if it is, we dread to think from where that leather was sourced.)
No, realistically, there’s no chance that this shoe is anything but plastic – and there’s no dressing it up as a “vegan friendly” sneaker, especially not when you consider the production impact and the fact that, most likely, ALDI hasn’t gone out of its way to source a cruelty-free adhesive.
“In the long run, it’s going to be major corporation embracing better practices wholesale that pushes the price of higher-quality, more environmentally progressive products down.”
With all of the above in mind, at this point it feels necessary to address something – one of the most frequent responses to criticism of fast fashion: the idea that lower prices mean higher accessibility – sartorial democracy. That, essentially, people with a lower income can afford to buy these kinds of items and they deserve to have nice things.
Now, that isn’t exactly untrue. And arguments that, “actually, investing in a higher-quality product will save you money in the long run,” don’t really hold water when a person may never have the funds for that but can afford a lower-quality item right now.
But, in many ways, it’s still a false choice: sneakers – at least the $13 kind that ALDI are peddling; much like the particular kinds of “going out” fits which companies like SHEIN and BOHOO deal in – aren’t exactly a necessity. Hell, they’re not even a luxury, and it’s as much the case that everyone deserves better – better quality, better fit, better feeling – as it is that no-one needs these things at all.
Companies like ALDI – and, indeed, ALDI specifically – know this. If the Crane looks familiar, that’s because it’s a pretty shameless dupe for Nike’s Air Force 1 and, in producing a lookalike for the Swoosh’s $100 sneaker at a tenth of the price, it’s pretty clear what the German brand is up to. (There’s also prior form on this, with the supermarket chain having recently released its own version of Crocs earlier this year for the princely sum of $4 USD.) Releases like this are about creating false equivalency, giving people the idea they can have what they want regardless of circumstances and with no broader implications.
“The bulk of the blame rests on the companies churning out these low-grade products and, vocally or not, marketing them to people without the better option.”
Of course, We’re aware that this isn’t offering any kind of solution, exactly. We don’t have the answer to actual democratization of the fashion industry – not instantly, anyway. In the long run, it’s going to be major corporation embracing better practices wholesale that pushes the price of higher-quality, more environmentally progressive products down.
In the meantime, though, a $13 sneaker doesn’t help anyone.
Globally, 22,000,000,000 shoes are already consigned to landfill each year – 300,000,000 in the United States alone. With each pair taking 30 to 40 years before they decompose, it’s hard to even picture the mountain of slowly-degrading footwear, seeping chemicals into the environment or the impact on our climate of producing them in the first place.
And you can make a pretty solid bet that these will be joining them. That, after few months, when they’re no longer fit for purpose, they’ll be discarded with almost as little thought as went into making them.
That’s partly on the consumer, but – as is the case with so many things when it comes to the damage our planet is being dealt on a daily basis – the bulk of the blame rests on the companies churning out these low-grade products and, vocally or not, marketing them to people without the better option.
In the end, $13 for a sneaker – a $13 sneaker that looks kind of like a $100 sneaker if you squint, but which definitely feels like a $13 sneaker and which definitely holds up like a $13 sneaker under wear and tear – isn’t good for consumers and it isn’t good for the planet. Considering that, on average, each pair of sneakers pumps out 30 pounds of CO2 emissions during the production process – accounting for about 1.4% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions – adding to that number without a thought for the product’s end-of-life impact is basically unconscionable at this point.
At $13, the Crane sneaker is beyond mass market – it’s an ultra-market product. Yes, that means more people can own it, but that just isn’t the societal good that some would have you believe.
With a product like this, higher accessibility also means a higher number of products produced, churned out at high impact, and subsequently discarded when they inevitably fail on the consumer, sent to high-polluting landfill sites with little-to-no hope of quick or neutral degradation.
At the end of the day, $13 is just too high a price for a pair of sneakers.