Monday, January 14, 2013

Stuff That Lasts

No, I’m not writing about love, faith, friendship, or any of that great stuff.  I really do mean STUFF that lasts.  Yes, it’s shallow and soul killing to be materialistic, but there’s lots of stuff that’s necessary to life and not materialistic at all, like tools, warm clothing, food, and shelter.  That kind of stuff.

It all started with a new pair of shoes.  Truthfully, it started before that, with a worn out pair of shoes.  I despise malls (a post for another day, I’m sure) so I began looking for a new pair where I always do, online.  The shoes I wear the most, especially for work, are Doc Martens.  I stand for most of my 8-12 hour day, and Docs have been the very best shoe for me to do that in.  Add to that the practicality of being long lasting (5-12 years for most of mine) and the fact that the boots make me look cooler than I am, and it’s a win.  While searching, I read some of the comments. (I know, never read the comments.)  Several said something like, “they’re OK, but not as good as my old Docs that were made in England.”  It could be the rosy glow of nostalgia, could be imagined after seeing that they were made in the third world, or could be true, either because they’re made in the third world, or because the whole product line is being made differently than it once was, regardless of where the factory is.

I decided to investigate.  I went to the Dr Martens site and found some interesting information.  Most of their shoes are made in Thailand.  They have a great statement explaining their take on social responsibility and how they work with their Thai factories.  More interestingly, they carry a line of Made in England footwear.  Each item is a little more expensive, but that would be worth it if the commenters are right about the better quality.  Then I found a glorious thing, a section of the website titled For Life Isn’t this what I really want?  I mean, I’ve known for years that Dr. Marten and I have made a lifetime commitment, but up until now it was only common law.  Here was the chance to make it official.  Yes, you can buy a pair of Docs that are guaranteed for life, and will be repaired or replaced for free (plus a handling fee to mail them to England).  But here’s the thing, they’re not made in England, they’re made in Thailand.

So begins the soul searching.  Why do I think I prefer products made in the first world to those made in the third?  I certainly made this choice when I bought a car.  I try to do it other times too.  This isn’t about American labor, which I’m part of, since the options are England or Thailand.  There’s nothing inherently wrong about employing Thais.  I’m sure they’re good people.  They have to be to make, eat, and appreciate such good food.  They need jobs just like the rest of us.  For me it boils down to 3 things.  First world countries generally have the highest safety standards for their workers, I abhor supporting companies that move their manufacturing to the third world in order to save money by no longer complying with those safety standards, and I tend to believe that the quality is better from a first world factory.  But let’s examine that last one.  Here’s a company that has gone out on a limb to guarantee a product for life, including free repair or replacement if/when it fails.  That’s a big promise, and one that could cost them money.  It’s to their advantage to make these their very best made shoes.  In fact, they go into some length about what they’ve done to make these a top quality shoe.

Assuming that Dr. Martens is following their own policy about factory conditions, there’s no inherent virtue in employing the English over employing the Thai, and in the long run, I’m most interested in getting a shoe that will last for more than 10 years before it needs to be replaced.  My first replacement pair will put me ahead of the game financially (i.e. For Life costs more than a standard shoe, but less than twice as much) and more importantly, the longer my shoes last, the fewer of them I’ll have to send to the landfill over the course of my life.  For me this is the best part of a lifetime guarantee.

I became environmentally aware? conscious? nut job? somewhere in the range of 10-12 years old.  It was the mid-eighties and the biggest environmental issues were energy use, land use, and landfill space.  I was really engaged by the last two.  Our planet is only so big, and frankly has too many humans using and disposing of too much stuff.  Land use issues are the main motivation for my vegetarianism, recycling, composting, and a part of why I have chosen not to breed.  It’s also why I’ve replaced many of the disposable items in my life (paper towels, tissues, cotton balls, “feminine products”) with washable, re-usable items.  At the age of 12 I would have happily informed you that disposable diapers take up the most landfill space, with “feminine products” in second place.  Now everyone is on about carbon footprints, but that’s only part of the issue.  Someone did a study claiming that disposable diapers and cloth diapers had the same carbon foot print, so it was ok to use disposable.  I’m sorry; did we suddenly double the size of the planet?  Where do they think we have room for another big pile of disposable diapers?

As you can see, I’m passionate about making as little garbage as I can, so I went with the lifetime guarantee.  And I can tell you, I’m not sorry.  In addition to being made of long lasting materials, and built to be repaired (many cheap shoes are not) they come with Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam and an extra set of laces.  Both pairs of laces have metal aglets!  I’ve never seen shoe laces with metal aglets before!  Talk about built to last.
After reading the little booklet about taking care of my new purchase, I got excited and cleaned and polished all of my Docs. 

 All my Docs clean, wonder balsamed, and polished

Aren’t they pretty?

The Wonder Balsam is aptly named.  I can’t believe the difference it made for my shoes.  They all look like new again, even the sandals and the short black boots, which are both about 10 years old now.

All my Docs clean, wonder balsamed, and polished

As much as possible, I try to choose the longest lasting option when buying stuff.  I’m willing to pay more if it means I’m buying the thing once instead of once every few years.  So I own a Rainbow vacuum cleaner that I expect to outlive me, and a Mini Cooper I hope to drive for 20 years…you get the picture.  And I’ve been taking care of the stuff I already own—making it last, just like the shoes.  I’ve been fixing stuff around the house that got mysteriously chewed.  I “re-soled” my felted slippers.  I’ve made arrangements to have my vintage mechanical watch fixed.  Oh, and speaking of lifetime repair or replacement guarantees, I may have just bought rather a lot of Tupperware.

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