Combine a desire to create sneakers made in a factory that pays workers fairly with eco-friendly materials, and what do you get? The answer is simple: Adbusters Media Foundation’s Blackspot and Unswoosher sneakers. Adbusters is a Canadian organization that publishes the Adbusters magazine. Three years ago, Adbusters decided to produce the Blackspot sneaker which is made from 100 percent organic hemp. The soles are made from recycled rubber bands, and the toe caps are 70 percent biodegradable. The Unswoosher is also made from organic hemp, and its soles are from recycled tires.
Kalle Lasn, Adbusters founder and CEO, says they created the Blackspot sneaker because Nike bought Converse, and decided to create a knock-off of Converse sneakers using eco-friendly materials and ethical labor. “We’ve been whining about the sneaker industry and specifically Nike for a long time and we’re still very unhappy with that industry and especially with Phil, and have basically decided to out-cool him, get into the business and cut into his marketshare,” said Lasn.
The sneakers are produced in a factory in the Portuguese region called Felgueiras, an area with a 400 year old tradition of shoe-making. The same family has owned and operated the factory for three generations. Workers are paid between 420 and 700 Euros a month. The Portuguese minimum wage is 365 Euros a month. The workers also have 25 paid days off and two extra months a year, which ends up making their salary 35 percent above minimum wage.
Monitored by Robin Webb of Vegetarian Shoes in the UK, the sneakers are sold only in independent stores in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, plus on Adbusters website. Adbusters puts the profits from the sneakers back into its non-profit campaigns.
British newspaper The Independent characterized the Blackspot campaign as “earth-friendly, anti-sweatshop and cruelty-free.”
A different kind of company
Adbusters is an example of an antipreneur – anti-big business and anti-sweatshops. A June Business Week article characterizes antipreneurs’ marketing strategy as “targeted toward consumers who have grown cynical about buying products and services from larger companies, whose methods they deem irresponsible.”
“Cynical consumers perceive that most of the marketplace is bad, lacking in integrity, or not trustworthy, except for a few [often small or local] companies,” says Amanda Helm, a professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “But once they find a company they can trust, they are very motivated to stick with it.”
Lasn believes and practices “culture jamming,” which the website Abrubt.com defines as, “the viral introduction of radical ideas” by using a corporation’s “own resources – corporate logos, marketing psychology, clean typography.” The Blackspot sneaker is an example of culture jamming. The white spot on the shoe, the “anti-logo” as Adbusters puts it, is a take on the Converse logo.
According to Business Week, “One of culture jamming’s techniques is the deconstruction of large companies’ ad campaigns to expose what antipreneurs believe is their hypocrisy.”
Three years ago the Portland Tribune ran an article about Adbusters’ Blackspot sneakers. The article mentioned culture jammers, who “jammers try to critique corporate dominance and hyperconsumerism by creating parody ads.” The idea of culture jamming is to “undermine what Lasn calls ‚Äòmega-corporate capitalism, which seems to be the dominant form of capitalism these days,’ by picking on the athletic shoe industry.”
Adbusters choose to create the Blackspot and Unswoosher sneakers to embody culture jamming and antripreneurialism. As Lasn puts it, “Three or four huge corporations control that one industry. Adidas, Nike and a couple of others control over 90 percent of it,” he says. Or as the Blackspot Web site puts it: “Our business plan is to cut into his market share, unswoosh his swoosh and give birth to a new kind of cool in the sneaker industry.”