I trailrun or run at the gym 4-5 days a week, so I go through a couple pairs of sneakers a year (though I do enjoy barefoot running too, when it's warm enough). But I'm picky about my shoes; I prefer sneaks made from eco friendly, recyclable materials, and I look for those that are Made in the USA. Why?
From the garment factory fires in Bangladesh less than a year ago, and tracing back to the Nike sweatshop protests when I was in college (a little over 15 years ago), I have seen a lot of promises and a lot of talk over the years—and not much real change in the apparel and shoe-making industry. I'm just not comfortable supporting businesses that, whether they are fully aware or not, end up using what amounts to slave labor to make the products I buy.
While working conditions in the United States are by no means perfect, we do have laws (and most importantly, enforced laws), workers' unions, and an infrastructure by which injured or abused workers can seek justice if they are harmed. Since most sneakers are Made in China, Indonesia, Korea or the Phillippenes, it's not always easy to find what I need, though there is one well-known company that is making their shoes at factories in New England, employing 1300 American workers: New Balance.
While the company does still make some of its shoes abroad, two factories in Massachusetts and three in Maine are the place where the company's commercial running shoes are made (and one in Boston produces shoes for the service industry as well). On the company's site, it states that in additon to the shoes made in the US, "We also purchase materials from many domestic suppliers, who employ over 7,000 workers locally."
I've been very happy with my last pair of New Balances (pictured above), though they are headed to retirement soon. I have plenty of Made in USA choices to pick from—including some great ones on sale. And since the sneaker is manufactured—and has domestic content—the overall impact of my sneaker will be lower too.
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