There’s a new language appearing all over product marketing nowadays and I’ve dubbed it Sustainish. Here’s an example:
We are constantly trying to do things better. When it comes to our leather production, we’ve mindfully approached the process to make our leather sneakers in the most sustainable way possible. Our supplier operates under strict local and international environmental standards (ISO 14001). Their sustainability action demands that 100% of the water that is used in the leather process is reused and treated (with zero chemical waste output). They use solar panels as their primary source of energy. Plus, they also produce electricity from hydro-generated and thermal energy (both renewable sources).
Ah, shades of S’Well, the magic sustainable bottle-maker whose products are also made with solar power and recycled water and zero waste in A MYSTERIOUS PLACE THAT NEVER SEEMS TO APPEAR ANYWHERE NEAR THE MARKETING MATERIALS. And so it is with Cariuma, a new sneaker brand “from Brazil” that describes its procurement processes in hyperactive detail right down to a picture of the device used to get rubber out of a tree but which suffers from a sudden and convenient case of amnesia when it’s time to discuss where their “supplier” is.
Anybody want to guess at the provenance of these Brazilian sneakers?
Born in Brazil (but citizens of the world), the founders of CARIUMA are former shoe execs who left their corporate jobs to pursue a more inspired path. Together, they embarked on a world tour to answer the question, “what do we do next?” With a shared passion for sneakers, craftsmanship and the warm, inviting culture that raised them, they decided to build a different kind of company. A company whose practices are better for the people and for the planet. Our small, but mighty team is spread throughout Los Angeles, Singapore, China & Rio.
Let me fire up the old Sustainish-to-English translator… chug, whirrrrr, pop BOOM hummmm…. and feed that paragraph in… there’s a tape coming out the other side…
So you had a couple of people making a half-million bucks a year off the insane shoe-business margins that let Nike sell a $25 shoe for $185 but half-a-million bucks a year doesn’t get you a condo in Manhattan or a NetJets card so they decided to grab all the money. Because they are “citizens of the world” their Monkeysphere doesn’t include any normal human beings of any sort so they have no qualms at all about ethics-washing products from yet another Chinese sweatshop.
I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but the Cariumas of the world are designed to generate a few high-net-worth people at the expense of, say, five hundred American jobs. This is a variant of the process by which all the locally-owned IGA grocers in Middle America were put out of business and replaced with Dollar Generals. The IGA created one upper-middle-class person (the grocer) and several middle-middle-class people (the butcher, the baker, the managers). Those people lived in the community and spent money in the community. Dollar General, by contrast, employs one manager, who makes about sixty grand a year, and pays everybody else eight bucks an hour. The selection is worse than it was in the IGA, the food is lower-quality, but the prices are the same. Where does the extra revenue go? Why, it goes to the investor class. This is part of the “financialization of America” and it is why this country is turning into Brazil…
…right down to the fact that it’s apparently too expensive, and difficult, to make sneakers in either the United States or Brazil. Is labor cheaper in China than it is in Brazil?
It is not. However, it would be no end of trouble to actually build a sneaker factory in Brazil. There would be bribes and construction delays and labor trouble and all sorts of people trying to wet their proverbial beaks. It’s far easier to call China and sign a contract. Which is what the folks from Cariuma did. They followed the blueprint of a modern company:
(People with good resumes) + (venture capital looking for a 100-bagger) + (cheap design from recent graduates of West Coast schools) + (mysterious overseas factories with zero oversight) = A NEW BRAND!
You don’t actually create any value, employ any of your fellow countrymen, or make anything that has any real reason to exist. It’s all churning, all a cheap marketing trick to sell disposable garbage. The final insult is that the Cariuma products are priced about level with Allen-Edmonds dress shoes during any one of the Wisconsin firm’s twelve-times-yearly sales. It’s no cheaper to buy a “Brazilian” sneaker from China than it is to buy an American-made brogue or blucher. So where does the extra profit go? To the founders, who will buy expensive homes and attend expensive dinner parties and talk… in Sustainish, obviously. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”