Why Skate Shoes Will Never Be Made In The USA

One of the most vulcanized models of all time, the Nike SB Janoski.

One of the most vulcanized models of all time, the Nike SB Janoski.

Over the course of this site’s existence, we’ve received a number of e-mails from skateboarders who are interested in buying skate shoes from here in the good ol’ US of A. We’ve scratched our heads, done endless google searches in hopes of finding some off-set shoe brand that makes skate shoes here in the USA, but we’ve always come up short.

After hours of frustration, we decided to survey those who would know best: skate shoe designers. We asked them if skate shoes will ever be made in the US and we finally have an answer: No. Skate shoes will probably never be made in the USA.

Why? The simple answer is cost.

It’s incredibly expensive to make a shoe here in the US, especially one that can actually handle the abuse that skateboarding footwear dishes out. Since footwear production has primarily moved to Asia, the factories and materials needed to make a shoe here in the US don’t exist. Therefore, you’d have to build or adapt a factory to be able to produce a shoe for skating. With that, you’d have to import the materials from overseas, and even if you did both of those, which are extremely expensive in their own right, the factories would have to meet or surpass all the US Environmental ordinances – which is extremely unlikely.

Considering the majority of the skate shoe market is made of up of vulcanized footwear, it further proves why skate shoes will never be made in the US. We’re not really sure if you’re aware of this, but vulcanizing a shoe is one of the most environmentally unfriendly processes of any manufacturing on the planet. To find a vulcanized factory whose emissions don’t directly kill the environment/ozone layer and doesn’t employ child labor is extremely difficult overseas, making it virtually impossible to imagine here in the states. Considering those are the common/staple factors that play into running a vulcanizing factory, there’s no way one would ever be allowed to exist in the US today.

Furthermore, because vulcanized footwear is so big with skateboarders, there is literally no way to produce those types of shoes in the US. But let’s play the hypothetical for a moment and think that every skateboarder in the US switched to cupsole shoes today. If that were the case, it would literally take every skater in the US to wear the same skate shoe in the same color to make it cost effective enough to produce a USA made skate shoe. You have to remember, the US is a small fraction of the the global skate community (outside of the US, the rest of the world makes up to 60%, if not more, of the remaining market). With that in mind, the US buys a small amount of the total skate footwear produced each season, so in order to get a USA-made skate shoe that wasn’t $150 dollars or more, you’d need to produce 10,000 + pairs to make it a profitable venture for a shoe company.

If your favorite company even entertained the idea of producing their footwear in the US, here is what would have to happen:
With the cost of making a set of outsole molds (anywhere from 50K-100K per mold) and upper patterns in all sizes, that company would have to sell 15,000 pairs of just one model, in one colorway, just to break even. More over, the price of that shoe would HAVE be $149.99 retail. Not exactly hitting that $70 sweet spot that you and the homies love. That would approximately cost the company $1,125,000 just to manufacture & sell to shops at the wholesale price of $75 for each pair. And that’s a basic shoe, like an Accel or any other cupsole that’s currently on the market. If they made a P-Rod 9 in the states, you’re talking an estimate $250 retail or more.

Given all of this information, we can’t fathom the idea of any skate shoe company taking on this incredible task. This honorable cause will more than likely continue to be a fantasy, as skate shoe companies are businesses at the end of the day, and considering the finances behind creating a “Made In The USA” model, we don’t know any business that would enjoy simply breaking even on costs. The next time your parents, peers, or friends huff and puff about the unworldly conditions that exist overseas and how we should do something about it, let them know the severity of the cost: our beloved skate shoes.

Comments

  1. jpk

    December 16, 2015 5:09pm

    wasn’t aware of the vulc relative to pollution aspect.. unfortunate and yet unsurprising about the child labor cost as well.. good job. Curious.. what makes the cupsole any less toxic.. if it is at all..

    Reply
    • Steve

      December 21, 2015 6:55pm

      You’d have to use something other than vulcanized rubber to make it less toxic. Vulcanization (essentially making rubber more durable) involves changing the chemical/molecular composition by adding sulfur. The shoes also have to be baked in a kiln to seal the rubber which requires a huge amount of heat (that typically has to be generated by burning fossil fuels). A cupsole just involves gluing the shoe to the upper, so you don’t have as much in the way of CO2 emissions or energy consumption.

  2. will

    December 16, 2015 6:05pm

    Good article! Was super interesting. Maybe Nike could finally win over the non-corpo people if they made skate shoes in America. Hahaha

    Reply
  3. matt pm

    December 16, 2015 10:28pm

    I didn’t know that about the vulc-pollution thing. ^ and yes, unfortunately Nike would be the only one to possibly be capable of making such a move.

    Reply
    • Thomas Harding

      December 16, 2015 11:06pm

      I would imagine New Balance Numeric would be more likely as NB already runs a US factory for their running shoes. On the flip side, NB probably doesn’t have the sales to justify US production and keep the cost low. Even the US made running shoes they currently make are a good bit more expensive than their standard offerings made elsewhere in the world.

  4. Pierre

    December 17, 2015 12:30am

    There are skate shoes made ​​in France but with preorders etc…
    It’s not really fashionable …but everything is possible… but it is more complicated

    Reply
  5. al

    December 17, 2015 1:09am

    That sucks about the environmental side affects of making vulcs. Might have to go back to skating cupsoles.

    Reply
  6. steve

    December 17, 2015 1:33am

    You guys are so anti vulc it’s corny.

    Reply
  7. Cody

    December 17, 2015 2:35pm

    The vulc process is all about melting the rubber on the foxing to the outsole, and then gluing the sole to the upper. Every component aside from the stitching on the upper requires either melting or gluing which produces toxic effects.

    Reply
  8. Chris

    December 17, 2015 4:31pm

    I would like to hear more about how they make vulc vs cupsole shoes. Its interesting to hear how much goes into making a shoe we tear to shit in a few weeks.

    Reply
  9. BenBobby

    December 18, 2015 1:42am

    On a related note:

    Adidas just unveiled a Busenitz CW made in Germany.
    Full grain leather.

    Pricepoint: 250$

    It looks quite beautiful, I bet the materials are superb, and I’m willing to pay 250$ or more for a good shoe. But not for something I’ll tear down within one month…

    http://www.highsnobiety.com/2015/12/16/adidas-skateboarding-limited-edition-busenitz-scheinfeld/?utm_campaign=SF+Highsnobiety&utm_source=Facebook&utm_term=Social&utm_medium=social

    Reply
  10. Aidan

    December 20, 2015 4:17am

    here in AUS we do have to pay $150 for our skate shoes, you guys don’t know how lucky you are that almost the entire range of skate gear in the states is half the price we pay here, the struggle is real

    Reply
    • alex

      December 21, 2015 2:44pm

      You do realize that $-AUS is not the same as $-USA? According to today’s rate, $150 AUS are equal to $107 US.

    • Cody

      December 22, 2015 5:46am

      That’s true, but your minimum wage is more than double ours so it balances out

  11. allaner

    December 31, 2015 7:25pm

    Vulc shoes are made cheaper than cupsoles. That’s why it makes me laugh that the Nike SB Zoom Janoski is so pricey lol.

    Reply
  12. Ros

    March 16, 2016 4:24am

    So you guys are more bothered by vulc production than you are by child labor? I would have figured the opposite.

    Reply
  13. KJ

    April 19, 2016 1:50pm

    really late to the conversation here but didn’t New Balance buy a skate shoe company and specifically say they were going to make the shoes in the USA?

    I think it’s kind of silly to say you ‘cannot’ have decent skate shoes made in North America. Lots of companies are using recycled tires as treads, combine that with some nice breathable canvas and proper support points along with a good leather or suede ollie guard up front and you have a shoe that can totally be made here, avoids ‘vulcanization’ issue entirely, although btw I think that’s bullshit because PF Flyers are made in the USA and they have vulcanized rubber

    Reply
  14. BK

    July 24, 2016 5:39pm

    Great piece justifying skate companies use of child labor to maintain a high profit margin.

    Reply
  15. HK

    August 23, 2016 5:31pm

    Are you sure your final answer is no…..Check this out
    https://www.pfflyers.com/Made-in-USA/50068,default,sc.html#?start=0&sz=24

    Reply
    • Dallas

      October 15, 2016 4:40pm

      Those are literally the $150 he stated in the article.

    • sandy

      March 15, 2017 3:44am

      this is an old comment- but they arent entirely made in the USA. Plus, there are no factories to produce the shoes at if you aren’t owned by new balance! LOL

    • Anne

      June 7, 2017 8:23pm

      Thank you for this link to PF Flyers! My son wants only Made in USA skate shoes. As far as I can tell, the PF flyers are all made in Boston. It does not say “partially made” in US. If they weren’t made here, they could not claim it. Glad to find this shoe and $65.00 on this site or cheaper on other websites.

  16. bob the mob

    September 10, 2016 11:40pm

    I guess the dozen odd tire manufacturing facilities in the US including the one in my hometown don’t exist? Or use something other than vulcanization to manufacture tires (hint: they don’t)? Talk about speaking from ignorance…

    Reply
  17. William David

    March 5, 2017 4:56pm

    The vulc technique is all about melting the rubber on the foxing to the outsole, and then gluing the sole to the upper. every factor other than the stitching on the top requires both melting or gluing which produces toxic effects. http://skateshophome.com

    Reply
  18. D. Kenny Allen

    September 24, 2017 12:43am

    Never say Never. If skaters get truly aware and demand shoes that don’t exploit human beings or overtly stress the ecosystem, by spending their $ on manufacturers who do neither…the numbers will drive production practices to improve. Money motivated change. Effecting positive change does cost in the short term, so are skaters truly conscientious humans are narcissistic bargain shoppers who don’t give a flip about their fellow human beings. Big opportunities to make a difference.

    Reply

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