Delicate China

If 2009 was the year to forget, then 2010 just might go down as unforgettable—for our industry and the world.

As everyone tried to define the “new normal” (no one I have spoken with really quite has) and adjust to the consequences of the great financial collapse set in motion more than two years ago, the common thread was this refrain: at least the world hasn’t come to an end. Let’s all give a shout out for Armageddon being put on hold—temporarily.

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If 2009 was the year to forget, then 2010 just might go down as unforgettable—for our industry and the world.

As everyone tried to define the “new normal” (no one I have spoken with really quite has) and adjust to the consequences of the great financial collapse set in motion more than two years ago, the common thread was this refrain: at least the world hasn’t come to an end. Let’s all give a shout out for Armageddon being put on hold—temporarily.

However, there were still plenty of doomsday scenarios unfolding before our eyes these past 12 months. The devastating earthquake in Haiti kicked the year off tragically and the subsequent collateral health crises have only compounded the island’s suffering. Then came last spring’s BP oil catastrophe that spewed millions of gallons of muck into the Gulf of Mexico. The incredible ineptitude that ensued by the crassly out-of-touch oil execs and slow-to-react officials in our own government did little to reassure us that this spill might be a one-time disaster. Global warming, depletion of natural resources and epic man-made screw-ups—just how much more abuse might Mother Nature be willing to take?

In comparison, the problems in our industry don’t seem nearly as catastrophic. But we have not been without our challenges, be it trying to decipher the wants and needs of a cautious consumer haunted by record unemployment, grappling with a contentious retail-wholesale relationship that ideally should be beneficial to both sides, and dealing with the elephant in the room: China. Specifically, its labor shortages, factory closings and rising currency rates. Adding to the woe was a mold epidemic due largely to poor storage and shipping practices by inexperienced factories. The overall point being: When more than 90 percent of an industry’s production is sourced out of one country, that country’s sniffle can be a crippling illness and, for those vendors unable to find dependable sourcing alternatives, terminal.

Many industry execs I have spoken with have gone into colorful detail about the challenges, frustrations and headaches China’s growing pains are inflicting. Yet despite the tremendous travel required—not to mention the political deft necessary to negotiate dependable sourcing partners and the logistical wizardry required to get product onto store shelves—they still love their jobs. The reward in our business is not purely monetary. Like millions of people the world over who simply adore shoes, there’s something infectious about what we make and sell that’s just not easy to shake. And that’s a terminal condition of the best kind.

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