Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Ode to Chaco Sandals. Farewell, Fallen Friends...

After nearly 11 years of faithful  and trouble-free service, I finally threw out my old Chaco sandals.  The soles were worn through and the straps were starting to get pretty frayed in some spots.  Here they are moments before I tossed them in the big trash can outside.

So why is this worthy of a post?  Mostly because I was sad to see them go and I thought an online memorial service of sorts would ease the pain of their passing.  You see, I wore these things EVERYWHERE I possibly could for the last 11 years.  Well, except for 2 years while I was a missionary in England, but still, that's a long time!  Even when I lived back in Canada I wore them as long as the snow didn't cover the tops of my toes, which was usually from late April until mid October.  I've done yard work in them, forded streams in them, gone boating in them, hiked through Japser and Banff in them, walked miles around Paris and through the catacombs in them, and just plain sat around the house in them.  Like green grass and mosquitoes, the appearance of the famous Chaco zig-zag tan lines on my feet, like a solar mark of Zorro, were a sure sign that summer was in full swing.  They fit me almost as well as my own skin and never gave me a moments trouble.  They have become the standard by which I will judge all other footwear until such time as some other pair of shoes manages to last longer, trouble free, in perfect comfort, and with the same degree of utility (all of which is doubtful).  I thought I lost them once when we moved to Calgary for the summer and I was forced to buy an inferior pair of Nike sandals but they turned up when we moved again and we were reunited.  Throwing them out today was almost an emotional occasion.  I felt like I was betraying an old friend, like the kid who had to shoot Old Yeller.  I really wanted to keep them for their nostalgic value, but I kept thinking of those mentally ill "hoarders" on TV clutching bags of trash while brave interventionists try in vain to reason with them.  I suppose keeping on old pair of shoes doesn't guarantee I'll wind up a hoarder, but that's the trouble with slippery slopes.  They're slopes, not cliffs and they usually start off with the gentlest of declines.  Oh, and they're slippery.  Sorry, getting off track here...

My father thought I was crazy paying $105 (plus 7% GST, thanks much Mr. Mulroney)  for my Chacos back in 1999.  He gave me the same look he gave me when I told him I wanted a North Face backpack for school after destroying 2 cheap ones in 3 months.  I had to pay for it myself since it cost 3X as much, but it survived 6 years of abuse through high school, some university and summer construction jobs.  During a recent visit to see the grandkids, my father admitted he never thought my Chacos would turn out to be such a good value and wondered where he could get a pair.  It was a victory so small and quiet as to almost go
unnoticed, but a victory nonetheless.

I've already bought a new pair of Chaco sandals, and yes I suppose I'll have the chance to make some memories in them just like the last pair, but therein lies another sad story.  You see, my old Chaco's  were proudly made in Peoria Colorado in a small factory where craftsmanship and service were evident.  You could send your old Chacos back to the factory and they'd resole or otherwise repair them as needed.  Well, when I was shopping for a replacement pair, I discovered to my shock and dismay that since 2009 all Chacos were now produced in China like everything else.  The company's general manager said the decision was made to move to China because they can be produced cheaper, they have fewer defect rates, and the Peoria factory just didn't have the machinery capable of producing future designs.  Somewhere else I read that the savings per pair was only about $7, but maybe that's not true.  If in fact the move to China was necessary for the survival of Chaco sandals, then I guess I'm grateful, but it's a hollow sort of gratitude.  I'm not American, but there was something nice about buying a product that was made here.  Yeah, I'm sure their materials were purchased from overseas and it pretty much came down to assembly only in the Peoria factory, but it was something anyway.

I won't go into an anti-China rant or anything like that because I believe it's every consumer's fault that the vast majority of our consumer goods are made in China.  At some point, or perhaps gradually, North Americans decided they didn't want mundane factory jobs, but still wanted to buy stuff for cheap.  I guess that's why American universities have an abundance of useless degree programs filled with students who would be better served by good trade schools and it's also why the Chinese make all our stuff.  It's not like the Chinese held a firecracker to our collective heads and forced us to move production there.  We wanted more for less, and the Chinese provided it.  I shudder to think what will happen when the Chinese (and India, Taiwan, etc.) decide THEY want to be educated and have a higher standard of living.  Who will make cheap crap and shiny things for white trash?  When they don't have any competition, what's to stop them from raising their prices to raise their own standard of living?  And rightly so I suppose.  But I digress...

My new Chinese-made Chaco sandals look pretty much like the old ones.  I got black straps this time.  The footbed is a little thicker, the outsole tread is a little more aggressive and the straps are a little wider, but they're unmistakably Chacos.  Construction and materials look pretty much the same, so I guess I can hope they'll last as long as the old pair.  I'm disappointed to report that they still cost the same as when they were made in America, about $100.  Whatever savings were realized by moving to Chinese production certainly aren't being passed onto the consumer.  I hope you sleep poorly at night on a lumpy pile of filthy cash Mark Paigen, founder of Chaco.  As for me, I guess I'll march on, as it were, with new sandals that doubtless are functionally adequate if not special.  

So farewell American Chacos, you were one of a kind.  I'll try not to think of your slowly decaying soles lying at the bottom of a heap of common trash in some landfill in Texas.  If by some chance the resurrection of inanimate objects is permitted in the next life, my old American Chacos will be on the short list along with Linkin' Logs, the green blankie I dragged around everywhere as a little kid, and my 1992 Subaru Justy.

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