Kalle Lasn’s Adbusters, the counterculture magazine known for spurring the #OccupyWallStreet movement, has released a redesign of its popular Blackspot sneakers.
Why is a magazine in the shoe business? Even Oprah, the Queen of everything, doesn’t have a shoe line. I caught up with Lasn over the phone recently to discuss the Blackspot sneaker, corporate culture and the future.
A filmmaker, author, activist and committed anti-corporate visionary, Lasn has been heading up Adbusters for more than 20 years now. In the heat of a major backlash against Nike about a decade ago, the Vancouver-based Adbusters team came up with the idea for making shoes that were free not only from the sweatshop conditions that were plaguing Nike, but free from the paralyzing stronghold of the corporate marketing agenda. “In one of our brainstorming sessions, instead of whining and complaining about Nike, we thought, let’s take away their market share and go head to head with our own shoe,” he said. “It excited our whole office.”
Lasn and his team got to work on the idea and realized there was great potential, not just in taking a share of money away from the corporate shoe business, but in empowering individuals to understand that there were other options besides the corporations running the fashion and shoe industries. “Isn’t it kind of tantalizing to try and ride on the mega ‘corporate cool’ and launch your own brand?”
Blackspot is marketed as the “Unswoosher”—a blatant dig at Nike. The goal of the shoe is to “dethrone the Nikes, Adidases and Reeboks out there by jamming the global shoe industry with a new paradigm of #truecost brand liberation,” according to the shoe’s website. But Nike in particular claims it has been making big strides in the last fifteen years to turn around its supply chain and business practices. I asked Lasn if he thought Blackspot was still relevant in the face of Nike’s commitments to sustainability and labor conditions. “Why should I get hooked on top down mega-corporate cool initiatives? What about indie brands working from the bottom up,” he asks, seeming unfazed by Nike’s apparent changes. It’s still a massive corporation, regardless of how it has modified its supply chain or business practices he insists. “In the future we can build a new indie kind of cool, made up of dozens of little brands like Blackspot. Going indie is the next step after going local for food. It’s time for a movement to take away power from the mega-corporations.”
It’s the idea, of course, that spurred the #OccupyWallStreet movement in mid-2011. What started as a suggestion in an Adbusters email, turned into a global movement. “Some people think #Occupy had its moment in the sun that spawned class occupations around the world and then fizzled out. We never saw it as being this one catalytic moment, we only saw it as one step along the way,” he said. Blackspot and the indie business revival is the next logical step. It excites Lasn. “This strong gut feeling in so many people, it gave birth to an idea that things today just don’t compute. Things are still rolling out of those great moments when people slept in parks and became politicized. There are still more great ideas to come,” he says confidently.
As an open source concept, Blackspot can be co-opted by anyone wanting to use it. Lasn envisions Blackspot Antipreneurism going a long way–restaurants and clubs, even credit card companies taking away lending models from the big banks. Adbusters may not be a fashion company in the truest sense, but it was among the first to embrace this small-scale fashion ethos more than a decade ago. Today, Etsy is filled with empowered hyperlocal manufacturers and designers, and a scroll through EcoSalon’s own fashion section illuminates scores of small-scale clothing, textiles and accessory makers offering high quality alternatives to the corporate fast fashion options. Even personal care items are experiencing a small, handcrafted renaissance.
As for the shoe itself, it’s had a bit of a redesign from the original. The first pair of Blackspots I owned looked a lot like a low-top shoe any old Chuck would wear. (They sadly met their maker at Burning Man 2012. RIP.) They lasted quite a few years, and were great conversation starters—especially the red tip, which is designed for “kicking corporate ass,” and is Lasn’s favorite feature, of course.
The new shoes are being manufactured in Portugal by a family-owned small shoe operation known for small-scale vegetarian shoe production. The Blackspots are made with organic hemp fabric and recycled automobile tires, “something Nike would probably never do,” says Lasn. The 100 percent vegan shoe resembles a tricked out black Chuck Taylor high top. It feels a little bit ‘90s, and looks a lot like something you’d expect to see on the feet of anti-corporate youth. It wears a bit bulky, and if you need support (I have really high arches), you’ll want to throw a good insert in there. I found the old design to be more comfortable and supportive for my feet. But it doesn’t take away from the real purpose of this shoe, which is, of course, not comfort or couture. It’s a reminder that we don’t need much on our feet–certainly not a corporate dictum–to get us where we’re going. “People who buy Blackspots like the absence of political and corporate baggage that comes with them,” says Lasn. “What if we all go indie? What will the future look like then?” Based on the shifts we’re already seeing, thanks to Lasn, Adbusters and #Occupy, I’m guessing it’s going to look a lot like he envisions. It seems clear that we’re heading towards a leaner corporate culture–one that empowers local and indie producers. One where we leave our shoes at the door. If we wear them at all.
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Related on EcoSalon