Dan Murphy: Statement Shoes

If more proof were needed that veganism is primarily a feel-better guilt eraser for a small slice of affluent folks in the U.S. and Europe, that evidence has arrived. And just in time for the holidays!

Before we dive into the details about yet another milestone event in Vegan Nation, a brief disclaimer: This columnist has long criticized veganism, not because most of its practitioners aren’t well-meaning, if unfortunately misguided, people trying to improve their health and better the lives of animals, but because the arrogance and cluelessness of the movement’s self-proclaimed thought leaders who wear their disdain for animal agriculture and meat-eating on their organic cotton sleeves.

That said, here’s what’s happening in the world of animal-free lifestyles, as explained in the form of a self-indulgent news release from Stella McCartney, daughter of the ex-Beatle and a prominent animal activist, touting a new version of her adidas-manufactured, Stan Smith-branded, vegan-approved tennis shoes.

In a review posted on the UK website LiveKindly.co, McCartney’s new kicks were described as “Eco-friendly trainers — made with animal-free glue — [that] include brightly colored rainbow laces [and] instead of Adidas stripes, punched-out rainbow stars” (see photo).

The article went on to note that “McCartney is passionate about environmentalism and animal welfare; she doesn’t use leather in any of her collections and avoids most other animal-based materials, including wool and fur.”

All of that’s in perfect alignment with the vegan credo, although I must point out that there’s not a lot of wool and fur going into tennis shoes.

But the real laugher in the article was the line that explained how, “After much convincing, adidas agreed to make McCartney’s dream come true and collaborate on vegan Stan Smiths.”

Yes, I’m sure her initial product pitch was fraught with tension and drama — especially as I’m confident the meeting began with Ms. McCartney addressing to adidas executives by saying, “Hi. My name’s Stella. Maybe you’ve heard of my dad? He was, like, one of the Beatles. Sir Paul McCartney. Also a billionaire? Yeah … he likes my idea.”

Mixed messaging

Of course, the goal of crafting these shoes is to attract a customer base of “young, conscious consumers,” the coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

In addition to lusting after trendy new shoes, I’d like to believe those “conscious consumers” are also energized by the challenge of developing solutions to global hunger, poverty, gender exploitation and ethnic marginalization, among a lengthy list of other existential issues.

Along those lines, I’ll give credit to Ms. McCartney for raising awareness about a minor, but enduring issue, one that pales in comparison to the list of crises noted above but that nevertheless deserves to be addressed: the fashion industry’s lack of environmental initiatives.

McCartney has positioned herself as a champion of sustainable fashions, although her efforts in that vein seem to be more show than go (although isn’t that the unofficial motto of most fashion designers?).

For instance, earlier this year, Vogue magazine noted that she had the models displaying her creations waltz down the runway adorned with temporary tattoos bearing such slogans as “earth day every day,” “vegan,” and “regenerate.”

Wow. Talk about turning an entire industry upside down.

And even her hook-up with a bona fide tennis legend is tainted with the equally legendary McCartney ego.

That’s because the Stan Smith brand refers to the former American tennis star whose career peaked back in the days of wooden rackets and all-white attire. Smith certainly qualifies to have his own brand of shoes: He was the world’s No. 1 ranked competitor in 1972; a two-time Grand Slam titleist in singles and a five-time champion in doubles; a successful coach after he retired; and a 1987 inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

But in what can only be labeled as serious hubris, McCartney’s vegan shoes feature two portraits on the tongues: Stan The Man on one shoe and McCartney herself on the other.

Nice touch of humility.

Of course, the irony here is that although these shoes were manufactured as an homage to a tennis superstar, it’s quite likely that almost no one who purchases them will at any point in their lives pick up a tennis racket and actually expend any energy playing the sport to which Mr. Smith devoted his career.

These shoes aren’t made for walking; they’re designed to be “seen” by the right people at the trendy events to which vegan hipsters inevitably gravitate. They’re about making a political statement, not about pursuing an athletic activity.

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. The new Vegan Stan Smiths? Although they’re marketed in the UK, they’re now available on eBay for only … wait for it … $460 a pair.

Merry Christmas!

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, an award-winning journalist and commentator.


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