*Note: There are many models of pointe shoes and many pointe shoe companies (I mean the legit ones). And really no point shoes are the same when each has to be custom made to fit the dancer. I chose Bloch just because it’s pretty popular, but I want to write about pointe shoes in general in this review.
Pointe shoes are not your typical consumer product but I hope people can appreciate the type of connection between the point shoe makers and the ballet dancers. Such relationship does not exist in most of our consumer goods unless we always shop from farmers market or small local shops where you know the maker of what you are purchasing. I believe this disconnect of the maker and user is one of the reasons why people produce and consumer at the expense of the environment. It is very hard to appreciate the product when we don’t understand what goes into them. Therefore, pointe shoes in general are responsibly produced and consumed. However, the disposal of old pointe shoes has been a challenge. Despite the simple materials, it requires extra work to separate them for proper recycling. The short life span of pointe shoes among the professional ballet dancers can cause many waste through the ballet season. Most of them ends up in landfill yet we are already running out of space.
Pointe shoes look small and pretty for many when the ballerinas perform their magical choreography and make everything look so effortless. However, point shoes in real life are very rigid and sturdy as it needs to be strong in order to support the entire body weight of the ballerina while dancing. The box of the shoe is usually made of densely packed paper harden by glue, layers of fabrics, and cardboard. Similar materials are used for the sole and the shank (the reinforced sole between the outer sole and the insole that supports the back of the feet. The rest of the shoe is made of leather, cotton, and satin. A new pair of pointe shoes usually don’t come with elastics and ribbons that tied around dancer’s ankle. Ballerinas need to sew the elastics and ribbons themselves. Regular cotton threads works well for less demanding people, but for professional ballet dancers who are in pointe shoes for long period of time, some would use dental floss instead of makes sure the thread don’t break as they sweat. Also pointe shoes are not made to last long. Although younger dancer don’t really have this problem, professional ballet dancer can go through one pair of pointe shoes almost within two days. Even with some intentional protection tactics, a part of pointe shoes usually won’t last longer for three days before it becomes completely dead. A professional ballet dancer can go through over a hundred pairs during one season. This has caused a lot of problems regarding the disposal of old pointe shoes. Even though there are services saying they can donate old dance shoes to people who need them, it is really not safe for people to continue dancing in dead pointe shoes as they are definitely more likely to be injured. They technically can be recycled as they are made of natural materials, yet it requires extensive work as there are multiple layers of fabrics and glued paper on top of each other. Old pairs add up quickly and most of them end up in landfill and take a long time to decompose.
Most pointe shoes are hand-made with the help of machines that allow the shoe makers to cut and sew faster. The process can not be fully industrialized because each dancer has slightly different needs for their pointe shoes to better fit and support them in training and on stage. Ballet dancers need the options to request for specific features including the length of the shank, strength of the box, and length of the vamp. Therefore, once dancers find the shoe that fit them best, they would stick to the same shoe makers for most if not their entire dance career. This allows them to build relationship with the shoemakers even though they might have never and would never meet each other. I really appreciate such kind of relationship and love how the product is able to connect the maker and the user unlike most mass produced products that intensify the process of alienation and causes the severe disconnect between the material and the abstract world. Sustainability is not just about the GHG emission and the environmental footprint because such perspective implies the separation between “nature” and “human being”. We are part of nature and we need to build the relationship with each other. I think the pointe shoe making process is a great example of SDG12 responsible consumption and production. It can not be applied in other cases but the process itself truly demonstrates an ideal when the artisans and people who appreciate their work both care about the before and during use of the product.
Because of the connection between the pointe shoe makers and ballet dancers, the How it’s made and Who makes it are deeply intertwined with each other. The brand does not matter too much when shoe makers are the heroes behind each pair of pointe shoes and the ballet dancers themselves also further customize the shoes after they get new pairs. As I wrote in the How it’s made section, the human elements of the shoe making process demonstrate a good example of responsible consumption and production process.