Some weeks ago, Balenciaga launched its Paris Sneaker collection. These are mostly what look like well-loved versions of Converse high-tops, and run for $495. But the collection's done the whole round of social media because of an ultra-distressed limited-edition version, of which it's selling 100 for about $1,850 a pair:
@BALENCIAGA just put out a new brand of “distressed” shoes for sale- at $1850. Their choice to put these shoes on sale at this price allows rich people to wear poverty as a costume and cosplay the experiences of the poor - those forced to wear shoes like this out of necessity. pic.twitter.com/ZAgJHLOPrw— Tim Scalona (@ScalonaTim) May 11, 2022
The brand has mostly laid low as people expressed all their feelings (probably best exemplified by what's happened on Weibo), but did state that the purpose of all this was to "suggest that Paris Sneaker are meant to be worn for a lifetime."
This whole "fuel capitalism by scorning capitalism" vibe is in keeping with creative director Demna Gvasalia's "creative activist" title. In March, broken iPhones served as Balenciaga's formal invitations to Paris Fashion Week.
But this story isn't really about Balenciaga. It's about the Salvation Army, which, alongside agency Cloudfactory Amsterdam, created its own collection of distressed shoes.
"Truly Destroyed" rides the Balenciaga hype wave with a more variegated collection of distressed shoes, all for slightly less than Balenciaga's own limited-edition Paris Sneaker. Among the Truly Destroyed, Fleur's truly destroyed heels will set you back about $1,500. A fun series of bullet points describes the nature of the shoes' distress: "Detached heel. Blood residue. Scratch marks. Not suitable for walking. One size too small for Fleur."
Maybe you'd like something you can walk in. Sam's truly destroyed winter boots fit the bill: "Distressed shelter-hopping look. Burnt fabric. Moldy interior. Extreme tired look. Allows cold in."
Like Balenciaga's, these shoes are a limited-edition run. But unlike the Paris Sneaker, they've got a sizable supply chain: They all belonged to homeless people, who wore them for years. You can't get more authentically distressed than that.
The Netherlands currently has about 32,000 homeless people, according to Thamar Keuning, head of marketing and communications at the Salvation Army ReShare and Leger des Heils ReShare in the Netherlands. The Salvation Army has gathered clothes and textiles for reuse for about 135 years; 10 outlets in the Netherlands resell them.
"Of course, the fashion world is all about how clothes and shoes look. The creativity and variety that comes with it can be wonderful, as is high fashion, or Balenciaga for that matter," Keuning says. "However, it is also sometimes at odds with what clothing means to most of the people we deal with, and that is purely functional. The destroyed shoes of a homeless person opposite the high-fashion products of this fashion industry literally and symbolically reflect the inequality in the world."
While the shoes won't save you much in coin, what you spend will go further than investing in Balenciaga's dystopic commentary on fashion. "All funds raised, every euro cent, will go directly to the Dutch Salvation Army's mission to help people in need rebuild their lives," Cloudfactory MD Sandeep Chawla tells Muse.
"The situation of homeless people is not trendy, nor newsworthy," creative director César García adds. "It's getting somewhat better, but the Salvation Army ReShare still has to fight for more attention and help to solve and prevent homelessness. So when a brand like Balenciaga decides to make extremely worn-out sneakers trendy, we had to jump at the opportunity. It's about hijacking the conversation and trying to get a meaningful message across. Not at the expense of Balenciaga, but with thanks and respect to them—building on the shoulders of giants."
Partner: The Salvation Army, Leger des Heils ReShare the Netherlands
Creative agency: Cloudfactory
Production: Unit C.M.A., representing Carli Hermès