Birkenstock Syndrome

A few weeks ago, I paid $900 NTD to repair my Birkenstocks. I’d only had these sandals for five months. This was the damage: a strap had popped, the inner sides near my big toe had degraded into some kind of corky-cliff face, and the bottom of my sandals looked as though they’d been ground down with rough-grit sandpaper. The pattern on bottom of my sandals also reveal that I walk funny. This fact is probably not a surprise to any of my friends.

When the store lady told me the price to fix them, my insides turned into an oozing puddle of sadness and I seriously considered not repairing them. I mean, I’d bought them for $1780 NTD, so I’d be paying 50% of the purchase price. What if I just kept on wearing the sandals until they melted into a little heap of debris, or threw them out and bought new ones? Wouldn’t that be more economical-ish? Maybe?

Let me digress away from money and to the things that I love about these sandals. I love these Birkenstocks because they’re made in Germany. Germany! Labor unions! Quality! Labor rights protections! It’s a good thing!

The second reason I love my Birkenstocks is they are dead-comfortable and hug my feet with endless piles of love during every footstep. I bought them the night before a trip to Thailand, and I wore them for a billion miles worth of walking. There was no break-in period because they were broken-in by the time I got off the plane in Thailand. Those sandals proceeded to elevate my feet with lovely arch support throughout the entire trip and for every month thereafter.

The third reason I love my Birkenstocks, is that Birkenstocks are now cool. Seriously, they are! The New Yorker told me so! This matters to me, because I could pretend to be super above this all, and not care if anyone else judges me. This would be a pack of fond imaginings and lies. I do care about not looking terrible when I walk outside, if it can be avoided. (Looking good would be even better!) Birkenstocks work well for this goal, because they fit extremely well with a particular fashion style that I’ve fallen head-over heels for: Japanese minimalism. Get in my wardrobe, clean lines! Get in there!

Ah, I was talking about repair work. Basically, $900 NTD is a lot of money, and it was really hard for me to justify spending that amount of money (nearly half the original purchase price) on a set of repairs. My decision finally came down to one thing: I bought these shoes as an investment. I was going to cost me money to fix them, but it was also going to cost me a heck of a lot of money to replace them with sandals of comparable quality and wardrobe functionality. There were cheaper alternatives, but Taiwanese night market purchases tend to – let us say – utterly disintegrate after a short period of regular use. The new sandals would not be made in Germany. They would not be as mind-blowingly comfortable. Also, economically, there’s Sam Vimes’ ‘Boots’ Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness to consider (I love this theory and this blog posts gives me an excuse to post it, and you can’t stop me!).

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
– Terry Pratchett, Men At Arms

I like good quality stuff. I like the fact that I can repair shoes and clothes in Taiwan. I think that out of the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” saying, that repairing objects fits squarely into the “reuse” category. Also, I kind of like fixing things that I use, because it feels like I can carry these objects – and their stories – with me a little longer.

I’m lucky that I can repair my sandals; they don’t have to become disposable objects, at least not for the moment. They can stay with me for a little while longer (once they come back from their four-week vacation to a repair shop in Taichung), and wander with me to places new and old.

Also, it’s been a few weeks, and they’re now fixed! I CAN PICK THEM UP TOMORROW! I’m a little excited. It’s pretty much too cold to wear sandals anymore in Taipei, but I might do it anyway. Just for a little bit. Maybe inside my apartment, where my toes won’t fall off due to the cold.

Birkenstocks! They didn’t pay me to make this post, but it’s kind of hard to avoid falling in love with something that hugs you 24/7 (even it is via your feet).