Fashion inspired by poverty capitalizes on people’s suffering

Expensive dilapidated sneakers display poverty appropriation


(Collegian File Photo)

By Timothy Scalona, Collegian Columnist

The effects of poverty on its survivors are far-reaching – they are altered beyond what is visible. Its effects limit the opportunity of the impoverished to transcend their socioeconomic background. They are caught in an ever-lasting battle with circumstance, impeded by institutional inequality. Prone to poor physical health and mental illness, lacking access to food and often suffering from family dysfunction or homelessness, day-to-day survival takes precedence. In my experience, we, the impoverished, are subject to the theatrical whims of those in control, dehumanized and criminalized by those with the privilege to accept the status quo. The power of poverty to irreparably damage lives should not be understated, and yet some consider it a fashion statement.

The “Golden Goose” Italian shoe brand in the past week has begun to sell taped sneakers, of which are marked by a faded dirt-colored surface and tar-colored edges, evident of the appearance of wear and tear, for the price of $530. The product’s description on their website states that the shoes’ “crumply, hold-it-all-together tape details a distressed leather sneaker in a retro low profile with a signature sidewall star and a grungy rubber cupsole.” This choice capitalizes on the suffering of those who truly live in poverty, selling the appearance of loss to those who have the financial choice and safety to purchase their pain. Glamorizing this situation while ignoring plight of its victims only contributes to the problem through the continued dehumanization of suffering populations. Instead of donating the funds to organizations that support and empower the impoverished, they choose to trivialize a circumstance in which they are complicit in many ways.

July Westhale, an Establishment writer, talks about poverty appropriation from another lens: the Tiny House Movement. She writes, “This background, this essential part of who I am, makes it particularly difficult to stomach the latest trend in ‘simple’ living — people moving into tiny homes and trailers. How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place? Because what those who can afford homes call ‘living light,’ poor folks call ‘gratitude for what we’ve got.’”  The “‘re-invention’ of things that have largely been tools of survival for poor, disabled, working class and/or communities of color for decades,” defines this practice; what the rich capitalize on in the spirit of a new trend, the poor use in the name of survival. The choice of Golden Goose to create and profit from seemingly dilapidated shoes at such an expensive price perpetuates this classist practice, normalizing poverty as a fashion trend. Even more so, the shoes are sold out, exemplifying the amount of interest in these items and consequently the need for change.

This is not the first time the company has come under fire for these practices, either. In 2016, they had sold a “superstar taped sneaker,” described as a “distressed leather sneaker,” for $530. Despite the criticism they had received, the company stated that it was “proud to highlight its pioneering role in the booming of the distressed look, one of the current biggest trends in fashion.” The continued sale of the “distressed” shoe insults the experiences of the poor and reinforces a culture of classism and inequality.

As a survivor of poverty, I recognize the lack of choice that those in our positions have in our day-to-day lives, whether that be in terms of access to food, clothing, water, education, transportation, healthcare and more. The image of dirtied and torn shoes — symbolic of unmet need — is reflective of an often-forced reality for those of said socioeconomic reality. Poverty is not a fashion trend. Selling their suffering encourages the dehumanization of the marginalized communities, as their experiences are turned into profits and are marketed to those complicit in economic inequality and classism.

Timothy Scalona is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]