Custom-Made Sneakers That Reveal the ‘Inconvenient Truth’ of Slavery

An exhibition titled ‘Tongue + Chic’ is held at Phillips London showcasing more than 20 pairs of sneakers designed by leading artists. We have introduced a few highlights in the previous article: Phillips' ‘Tongue + Chic' Sneaker Exhibition in NYC Featuring KAWS and LeBron James. This time, we are going to reveal a unique pair of sneakers.

What’s so special about this pair of custom-made shoes? The selling point of the shoes is not about the materials used or designers of the shoes. The secret of the shoes is that it tells the inconvenient truth about slavery. Earlier this year, YouTube star Jacques Slade unboxed the pair of sneakers in front of an audience of millions.  

As Slade opened the box with a cover written ‘handmade’, he found the word ‘slavemade’ was underneath the packaging. The packaging also carries messages like ‘there are people working around the world for little or no pay, controlled by threats, debts, and violence. We call it by many names, but it amounts to the same thing: modern slavery’ and ‘71% of fashion companies indicate that there is probably slavery in their supply chains.’

Every part of this pair of sneakers shows the real price which is different from the price tags that we usually see. Let’s take a look at some hidden facts.

  • The sole (left): less than 2% of slaves will be rescued
  • The sole (right): every 30 seconds a person is enslaved
  • Shoe leather: modern slavery exists in 161 countries and counting
  • Underneath the sole (left): US$150 billion illegal profits made each year from slavery
  • Underneath the sole (right): 5 dollars is the cost of a child slave today
  • Shoelaces: 57,000 (the estimated number of modern slaves in the US)
  • Tongue: there are 40,000,000 slaves in bondage today – more than in all of the recorded human history
  • Heeltap: 25% of slaves are children
  • Price tag: US$90, the cost of a slave today. $1,300, the cost of a slave in 1840. $40,000, the cost of a slave in 1840, adjusted for inflation

The sneakers were featured in a high-profile anti-slavery campaign on behalf of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Commissioned by TBWA\Chiat\Day NY and handcrafted by the Shoe Surgeon, they will be offered at an online auction at Phillips and all proceeds will benefit the Foundation’s anti-slavery initiatives.