Golden Goose recently rolled out the Distressed Superstar sneaker and it is causing a lot of fuss on the internet. Golden Goose, the high-end sneaker company from Italy, is being accused of poverty appropriation. Something about the claim irked so I decided to think more deeply about it and started by looking up appropriation in the dictionary. I found the following definition: Appropriation- to take (something) for ones own use typically, without the owners’ permission i.e. "his image has been appropriated by advertisers".
Presumably it wouldn’t be appropriation if Golden Goose had received the owners’ permission? But who owns poverty? Poverty is a condition and not a thing that can be owned like a car or a pair of $500.00 sneakers. Thus to say Golden Goose is stealing or even appropriating poverty is patently absurd. So maybe the sticking point for the advocates against poverty appropriation is not about outright ownership (how could it be) but the choice of the symbols used by Golden Goose to create the Superstar Distressed sneaker; which they claim are “Insulting to homeless and poor people”. These symbols include distressed, ripped, torn, stained, dirty and duct tape as embellishment. Golden Goose’s response is that these symbols were chosen as an homage to the west coast skateboard culture. Regardless of who says what–no one owns these symbols and they will be used. The bigger problem is in the assumption that these symbols a) represent poverty and b) that the homeless and poor would be insulted. This is where poverty appropriation argument falls apart at the seams.
To argue that worn material with tears and stains represent poverty takes us back to over one hundred years ago when anti-poverty groups moralized that the poor were the dirty, unwashed class, and they were poor because of their laziness and moral turpitude. Since when are traits like laziness, and the state of being dirty class specific?
In fact the so-called signifiers of poverty: dirt, stains, wear and tear, and duct tape, might just as easily be converted to signify the lost arts of macGyvering and re-cycling; where re-using, re-cycling and re-purposing with duct tape are an antidote to our disposable world. There is something intrinsically important and satisfying in trying to stretch out the life span of an item instead of relegating it to the bin after a couple of seasons.
Instead of tearing a piece out of Golden Goose’s corporate hide for appropriating these symbols from the poor and selling them back to us at 585.00 a pop, we should be thanking them for providing an alternative representation of the meaning of wearing worn and used goods. So Golden Goose go ahead and keep producing sneakers that look like they were run over by rolling train stock; and Barneys–continue to show them off in your great cathedral of consumption and finally consumers: if you have $585.00 to spend on a sneaker, then good for you. The fact that you can is another conversation–but for now I am wondering if we need to be talking more about the value of re-using, re-purposing and recycling and the amazing uses of duct tape? I think Golden Goose may be having the last laugh on us.