Honesty is the best policy and it’s my policy. I’ve said it before: I’m not clever enough to lie. If you asked me if you had a booger on your face, I’d tell you. I might even tell you if you didn’t ask. That’s the kind of guy I am.
This is why it really pisses me off when someone says to me, “Every step of the way you’ve been deceptive and lying.”
Pat is an executive with Deckers and he’s talking to me from somewhere in California. Pat doesn’t like me because I showed up at the factory, the factory that someone at Pat’s company gave me the address to, which makes Teva, UGG, and Simple shoes, all owned by Deckers.
PAT: “Who gave you the address of the factory?”
ME: “Your Teva office did. I called them last week and the guy who answered the phone asked his manager and they gave it to me.”
PAT: “Give me a name.”
ME: “I don’t know his name. I’ve talked to no less than 8 people at Teva and Deckers in the last week.”
PAT: “No one would give out that information. It’s not supposed to be public.”
ME: “Well, they gave it to me. All of the other companies I’ve been working with have their factories’ addresses public. I don’t see why visiting the factory is such a big deal.”
(NOTE: Few apparel brands actually own their own factories. Like Deckers, most of the brands contract with a factory that makes shoes for many different brands.)
PAT: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all day, not caring if some tourist shows up at a factory. We don’t cater to tourists. We don’t make our factories’ info public.”
ME: “I’m not a tourist.”
That’s all I can say. I want to explain to him that visiting factories isn’t much of a vacation. Neither is staying in modern Chinese cities with metros and McDonald’s, no beach, no mountains, nothing but hot weather and smog.
PAT: “I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of things. I know when I’m being lied to.”
I try to walk Pat through the events of the past few months (below the cut I’ve pasted an email to Pat that explains all of my interactions with Deckers), but Pat will have none of it. He doesn’t let me get in the first sentence,
PAT: “I’m the one asking the questions?”
What follows aren’t questions but accusations about how I cleverly manipulated and deceived everybody. As if I had used Jedi mind tricks on the employees of Deckers and the people who received me at the factory.
Everyone at Deckers had been pleasant to work with, not incredibly helpful, but pleasant. I believe they helped me as best as they could. Pat, on the other hand, was skeptical of my purpose from the start and I respect that. The quest is weird. But if you don’t want anything to do with me, just say so. Don’t string me along.
I get the feeling that they were just waiting for me to disappear. I didn’t come all of this way to disappear. I don’t work for The New York Times, hell I don’t work for anybody, and no one takes me seriously until I show up on their doorstep. When I acted on the information they gave me, they weren’t happy. Even with my being completely transparent, I was in a no-win situation.
My presence and my purpose annoyed Pat from the first time I spoke with him. I was a nuisance and probably up to no good.
The realities of the shoe business aren’t pretty and Pat doesn’t want us to think about them. This is why Pat doesn’t like me. But there is one thing Pat should know: I like wearing shoes. I like not having sharp objects poke my feet. I like having a little arch support.
Pretty much every bit of footwear I own was made in China. I’m guessing yours was too. Who am I to damn the brands and the factories who make my shoes?
Sure, if the workers at the factory were having their fingers lopped off as I watched, or they were being whipped, or 10-year-old kids were slaving away, I would write about it. But I guess, and Pat knows, that this isn’t the case. I’m sure the working conditions are acceptable.
Still, Pat doesn’t want us to think about our shoes. He wants us to buy them, wear them out, and buy another pair. Pat doesn’t want us to think about the people who make our shoes and what their lives are like. How they often work 15-17 hour days and sometimes don’t get a day off per week. How the man and wife that I met live a costly 13-hour train ride away from their 14-year-old son. How they live on a few dollars/day.
Pat doesn’t want us thinking. I don’t blame him.
I Googled Pat and up popped his contract with Deckers. I felt bad for looking at it. I wanted to call Pat and say, “Dude, do you know your contract is online? You should really get that taken off.” Now, I don’t know a whole lot about big business, but I’m guessing that as a public company, Deckers has to make public the contracts of their executives. But to show up through a google search?! That seems a bit too public.
Not really, I know how much Pat gets paid, kind of. I know his base salary, but nothing about his incentives. I won’t reveal Pat’s salary, but I will say that Pat ain’t hurting. If we just take Pat’s base salary, in 3.2-days he earns what the workers who make his products earn in an entire year. And Pat, if you are reading this, I don’t have a problem with that.
Pat lives in California where life is expensive. I’m sure he has nice things. He lives the life that he is used to. He makes what he needs to make to maintain that life. I’m sure that Pat’s life isn’t that much different than my own. He probably knows how to surf and I don’t, his car is probably nicer and newer than mine, his air conditioning probably isn’t broke and if it did he could pay cash for a new one, and his television likely has a few inches on mine.
I can’t damn Pat’s lifestyle without damning what my own is about to become. And I think I’m really going to like my new life with Annie in our house with our precious little kitty, Oreo.
I believe that Pat earns every cent he’s given. Without Pat, and people like Pat, the workers who make my sandals may not have a job at all. A job that the workers sacrifice being with their only son to have.
See Pat, I’m not so bad. I’ll still wear my Teva flip-flops. It’s not like there’s a pair of sandals out there being made by middle-class Americans.
But I was thinking…
The world is really screwed up.
(Note: The Deckers’ corporate office in California didn’t respond to the email below the cut nor any other correspondence I’ve sent their way since Pat and I last talked. The China office was polite enough to invite me back into their office, but they said that is all the access they were allowed to give.)