Artificially distressed sneakers spark controversy

Italian sneaker brand Golden Goose sparked controversy with the sale of a new sneaker, featuring artificial duct tape, fake dirt and broken laces. Many took to social media calling the shoes poverty appropriative. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Journalist

As the world progresses into a far more socially aware era, some feel that the fashion industry glamorizes a worn or “grungy” look at the expense of those who for whom distressed clothing is not an option. Italian sneaker brand Golden Goose, recently released a $530 pair of “Super Star Taped” sneakers that feature artificial dirt, fake duct tape and broken shoe laces. The description of the shoe on Nordstrom’ describes the shoes as a “distressed leather sneaker in a retro low profile” with “crumply, hold-it-all-together tape details.”

Upon hitting the market, the sneaker was immediately flagged by customers and sparked controversy on social media, calling the shoes poverty appropriative. Appropriation involves the taking of a concept, practice or idea and using it for one’s own gain, without the permission or condonation of the owner. Appropriation has been prevalent the media for different reasons, most often because of racially appropriative behavior by white celebrities utilizing prominent elements of minority cultures for their own gain. More recently, other forms of appropriation have been recognized and criticized, such as poverty appropriation.

Many took to social media remembering pre-grunge times when worn out sneakers were far from being a status symbol. In other words, the $530 pair of sneakers make a spectacle out of the challenges that impoverished individuals face.

“Okay maybe I’m being dramatic but I remember seeing kids getting harassed and made fun of endlessly in school for having shoes that looked like this,” Twitter user @broookedanielle said. “This is extremely distasteful.”

From a fashion standpoint, Dr. Loryn Divita, associate professor of family and consumer sciences said these shoes are an example of apparel that allows the wearer to convey temporarily a certain message to the world — one of carelessness and relaxedness, without relinquishing the status of an expensive shoe.

“They have enough money to spend on clothing that is extremely faddish that they know they won’t be wearing next season,” Divita said.

Divita also said that fashion items like the sneaker, inspired by street style, are examples of the “Trickle-up” theory, which suggests that trends and practices of lower income groups are eventually embraced by higher income groups.

“This [Trickle-up] enables insider fashion consumers to feel like outsiders even though they really aren’t because the shoes’ price makes them inaccessible to most people,” Divita said. “Only people who recognize the fashion code that the wearer is sending will be able to identify those shoes as expensive designer shoes, which is what the wearer wants — to be recognized by the specific audience they are trying to attract while being overlooked by those people who don’t know the signal.”

Dr. Richard Easley, associate professor of marketing, offered a slightly different understanding of the sneakers through the lens of a consumer behavior called “parody display.” This theory of consumer behavior suggests that buyers deliberately avoid status symbols and seek status by mocking them. Rather than simply wearing expensive sneakers, the buyer feels he is turning away from the common trend of pristine sneakers, while still wearing an expensive sneaker.

Easley also suggested that the sneaker stands out from other shoes on the market which offer an individuality to the buyer. The mindset behind the purchasing of the $530 sneaker is to “impress” others by purchasing such an “expressive item.”

Nordstrom responded to the concerns of customers on twitter saying, “We appreciate your feedback. We’re always looking to bring in new, different, and unique products. We realize taste is subjective and not every customer will like every product we carry. Rest assured your comments were shared with our teams. Thank you.”

Nordstrom has not removed the sneaker from their online store.