Earth Shoes. “They are good for your posture and good for the earth”. How convenient is that? Finally some inventor did the right thing, designed a prosaic object such that both entities that came in contact with it benefited enormously [environmentalism]. And at that time there were no forums, no social media, no websites, no internet to “rise up and reveal the lie”.
On April 1, 1970, a new shoe shop opened its doors for business on East 17th Street in Manhattan. The owners, Raymond and Eleanor Jacobs, soon began to see throngs of hippies flocking by on their way to Union Square to celebrate the first ever Earth Day. In a flash of brilliance, the Jacobses wrote a sign advertising “Earth Shoes” and stuck it in the storefront window. What used to be plain footwear suddenly became a generational phenomenon; for the better part of the next decade, so-called Earth Shoes were a staple of the American environmentalist’s wardrobe.
The Earth Shoe phenomenon was not just a right-place, right-time aligning of the stars. It was the first—and perhaps the most successful—case of green-stamping. Now a well-established practiced, green-stamping involves marketing a product for its environmental benefits. Seems simple, yes? The problem lies in the discernment between true sustainability and fakery. The case study of the Earth Shoe can help shine a light on our own susceptibility to false green-stamping, and let us see clearly the consequences of being duped.
The manufacturing of Earth Shoes, as you can gather, had no connection whatsoever to the environmental ideals promoted by Earth Day. However, the podiatric craze was filtered through the underlying fabric of a broader social movement, and so it was accepted without much fuss. It survived for so long because of its unquestioned linguistic connection to early environmentalism (perpetuation by cultural contact high, if you will).