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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Probing the Mysteries of Shoe Prices

Shoes. Shoes. Shoes. They are like the weather; people complain all the time but noth­ing is done about them. Shoes, in fact, for all their many problems have been largely ignored by the consumer movement. Consumer Reports, by way of illustration, has only conducted one test series on shoes and then only “Boys’ Shoes” as the article is titled in their September, 1970 issue.

Most of the news coverage on shoes relates to the durable struggle over the extent of shoe im­ports which the government should permit to enter the country and take away markets from domestic shoe manufacturers. But along that oral American grapevine that usually escapes chronicling, people are relating their miffs about shoes — domestic or imported — in more per­sonal terms.

“I can’t find a pair of shoes that fit me.” “My shoes hurt.” “Have you seen what the flimsiest of shoes are selling for?” “My shoes are disinte­grating faster than the price of repairs.” “I can’t believe what my children’s shoes are costing these days and I won’t even mention the quality.”

THESE ARE THE WORDS of the articulate sufferers, the people who see themselves as vic­tims of the marketplace. More sorrowful are the silent sufferers who endure the callous whims of the shoe designers with interminable pain be­cause they are victims of style. These are the persons perched on platform shoes or the resur­gent spike heel. These are the stiff-upper-lippers whose feet are contorted into tapered points in order to replace comfort with agony.

Who are these tyrants of the feet? Millions know the names of hundreds of men who hit base­balls, throw footballs, dribble basketballs and slap pucks. How many people know the names of the men who design the shoes that incarcerate and torture the innocent?

Other questions are pertinent. Why does price have so little relationship to quality and durabil­ity? The price of ladies’ shoes seems to be di­rectly proportional to the footwear’s gain in fra­gility and loss of utility. Veterans remember how long lasting shoes could be in the armed forces, especially the Army boots which even now can take you almost around the earth for less than $15. And what about the groups whose mission it is to protect the shoe?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) receives data forwarded by hospitals that relate to injuries attributed to shoe causes in part or in whole. This is no trivial cause of hurt day after day and more than platform or spike heeled shoes are involved. On more than one occasion, specialists in the coefficient of friction between floors, pavement and shoes have gath­ered to exchange knowledge under the auspices of the American Society for Testing and Materi­als. Inadequate shoe friction is often an acces­sory to many slips and falls around the country. CPSC has not yet given the public a progress re­port on its findings or intentions.

PODIATRISTS, WHO KNOW in detail of the wrongs inflicted on their patients by shoe design­ers and manufacturers are reluctant as a group to challenge this system. Occasionally, as did the New York Podiatry Society, they will warn Americans that they are “squandering more than $200 million a year on worthless and dangerous over-the-counter remedies, foot supports and abrasive devices.”

Individually, they will fret over the stylistic ex­ploitation of women: one podiatrist asserted that “in the majority of podiatry offices, the ratio of female patients seeking relief from their painful feet must be two, three or four to one. The major difference between women and men that could produce this ratio is shoes,” he concluded. But no concerted action for change has come from those specialists either.

Making the shoe industry more sensible must be preceded by more sensible consumer under­standing of the industry’s abuses. Few people even know what to look for in quality, proper fit and safety when they go to buy shoes. But it would not take more than a few concerned people — consumer, podiatrists, enlightened shoe sales­persons and shoe store owners to start a drive that would relieve millions of people from the pain in their feet and the penalty on their pocket­books.