Friday, May 11, 2012

Shoebox Mysteries

I recently ordered quite a few pairs of flats and sandals from Zappos, in hopes of finding a pair or two that won't destroy my feet. I'm still making up my mind; more about that later. Maybe.

Here's the more pressing question: what's up with the way shoes are packed in their boxes?  When I open a shoebox, anticipation, hope, and dread are often displaced by sheer confusion. Why is all this crap stuck inside and around the shoes?

Let's look at this White Mountain sandal, for example. Someone — in China — went to a great deal of trouble and some expense to design, create, and wrap a ridiculous amount of "protective" material around this shoe. But why? These shoes sit in a sturdy box wrapped in "protective" tissue, just as all new shoes do. There's also a piece of cardboard placed diagonally, to prevent the shoes from touching each other.

But, as you can see, there are wads of tissue stuffing, presumably to help the sandal keep its shape. Except that it has no shape; it's a sandal. It essentially collapses because it's nothing but a few straps attached to a sole. 

Note the cardboard form that's been shaped and put under the front straps, secured by additional, short strips of cardboard that are inserted into slits cut into the base after carefully being wrapped around one of the straps, on both sides. I see no purpose in this, unless it's to protect the sandal from the (useless) tissue wad that was stuffed beneath it.

Can you see that the two ankle straps were fitted with a special, white plastic brace to keep them from... what? I have no idea. And under those plastic pieces are little bits of folded cardboard to protect the leather from the protective plastic brace

Also note that the buckle is wrapped in tissue to protect... what? It? Me? I had to rip the whole thing apart to get the darn shoe on. And we're talking about a $60 shoe. One might expect a $600 pair of Manolos or Jimmy Choos to be protected beyond a flimsy sheet of tissue in their box, but not a pair of Chinese sandals intended to make heavy contact with dirty sidewalks, dirty dirt, and bare, potentially dusty feet.

So, what's the point of all these materials and associated labor? Do shoes go to war with each other as they sit in the dark in their boxes? Or is all this stuff designed to prevent them from procreating, so no one experiences the shock of also finding a baby shoe upon opening the box? 

Let's take another example. Here's a pair of Nine West flats, not a terribly expensive shoe:

Someone cut and shaped foam to fit neatly inside the toes and heels of these shoes. On top of that, the toes are packed with carefully shaped wads of tissue. Presumably, the foam in the toe was intended to protect the shoe from the protective wad of tissue, which theoretically protects the toe from becoming misshapen as it sits there doing nothing. Or whatever. That's my best guess. The heels are fitted with a block of styrofoam that appears to have been trimmed to the exact shape of the shoe. A notch was carved at the top, to hold a plastic stick that stretches from the back of the heel (where a specially cut notch helps it stay in place) to the wad of tissue at the toe.

What the heck? Are these shoes likely to collapse or deconstruct or something if they aren't trussed up like this? I don't understand.

Here they are, in their box, carefully swaddled in tissue with a hefty pad of brown paper to keep them separated, lest they horribly abrade each other. Or whatever:

My most plausible explanation so far is that some marketing drone came up with the idea that, if shoe manufacturers swaddled and "protected" their cheap, China-made products as if they were actually precious, fragile, and expensive, consumers would be fooled into believing they'd bought something more valuable than a pair of cheap, China-made shoes.

Huh. That actually makes sense. But I'm not falling for it and neither are you. Not in a million years. Which is probably about how long all that useless plastic and foam will need to decompose in a land fill.

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