In the past few years there has been a growing presence of environmentally conscious dance apparel, ranging from shoes to leotards. This is a great advancement, but although they are available there is still a lack of implementation. Ballet is heavily rooted in tradition that goes back hundreds of years, so it is going to take a lot of effort to change current practices. There are also a handful of companies that dominate this market, which poses another barrier to smaller institutions such as the Cynthia King Dance Studio to gain widespread support. These factors should not be discouraging, though. There is so much opportunity for the dance industry to be far more sustainable than it is now. What is important is that products intending to strengthen the relationship between dance and the environment do it thoroughly and not spread misleading messages. Yes, these ballet shoes use a synthetic material in the split sole in place of leather. But the rest of the shoe is mostly cotton, which has negative impacts on the health of the environment, the workers, and the consumer. I am assuming that they do not use organic cotton, as I believe they would be sure to use that fact as an advertising point. They could also be much more clear on what their vegan certification actually means and how and where this shoe is produced. Overall, this product is a step in the right direction, but there are many more steps that need to be taken in the production and marketing processes for this to be as sustainable as possible.
There are many choices for dancers when it comes to ballet shoes in terms of brands and material used. The two major options are leather and canvas, but some studios do not allow their dancers to choose what type of shoe they use. When that opportunity is given, though, they usually choose canvas due to its aesthetic benefits as opposed to leather. There are notable environmental benefits to canvas as well. Most people are aware of the affects cows have on the environment when they are alive, such as greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond this, the process of leather production uses immense amounts of energy and water. This contributes to the increased release of greenhouse gases and marine eutrophication (an overabundance of nutrients that causes algal blooms and other excessive plant growth) from wastewater. We see here that canvas ballet shoes may have a lot going for them, but just because a shoe is made of canvas does not mean it is completely sustainable. The biggest issue here is the use of cotton in the canvas. The Cynthia King Vegan Ballet Slippers are comprised of a lightweight stretch canvas, 100% vegan synthetic split sole, and delicate cushion at the ball of the foot and heel. They chose to emit the drawstring that would normally be found in a ballet shoe and replaced it with an enclosed stretch binding. Apart from this and the fact that the split sole is not made from leather, there is nothing differentiating it from any other canvas ballet shoe. Canvas usually includes a combination of cotton and linen, so the stretch canvas used here is likely made from these materials as well. They do not specify what the vegan synthetic sole or cushion is made from.
As the company does not disclose much information regarding the contents of this shoe, there is a lack of detail available on how it is constructed. This shoe includes three major parts - the canvas shoe, synthetic split sole, and elastics that go over the top of the foot. A great deal can be derived from the production of canvas, though, which largely consists of cotton. It is becoming increasingly apparent that cotton, the material we heavily rely on in many aspects of our lives, has serious environmental impacts. First of all, cotton requires immense amount of water, and this water is used inefficiently. The cultivation of cotton also results in a lot of water pollution. The chemicals used to produce and dye cotton products often contaminate river systems. There is a human sustainability issue at play here as well. The many dangerous pesticides used to treat cotton do not go away in the production process. There is a good chance that petroleum scours, heavy metals, flame retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde are present in these ballet shoes. The people involved in this process are not treated fairly, with the continued presence of child labor and struggle to compete with US subsidized cotton. Perhaps the most important element in how these shoes are made is the fact that they are vegan. It is true that the split sole is a leather alternative, but this product claims to be cruelty-free. There are even the words “cruelty free” on the bottom of each shoe. The only certification these have is PETA-Approved Vegan. This means that it is made from vegan alternatives to animal-derived materials. On the other hand, cruelty-free means the product and its materials were not tested on animals. There is no official certification saying these ballet shoes are cruelty-free. Additionally, the PETA certification is fairly weak. Companies only need to complete a short questionnaire, the vegan promise statement, and pay $250. This is not very hard to do and there is no regulation after these steps are taken.
These ballet shoes are produced by the Cynthia King Dance Studio, and they do not specify by who or where they are actually made. The facility is located in Brooklyn, New York and operated solely as a dance studio for many years before creating products of their own. Cynthia King herself has been a professional dancer since 1978 and does not seem to have any formal experience in cruelty-free, vegan, or sustainability fields. She does support a few nonprofit organizations centered around healthy food and established an artistic scholarship in her name at the Boston Conservatory for a student “who embodies compassionate and cruelty-free living”. As a company, they sell the “Rebelle” ballet shoes along with three T-shirt styles. They also make many broad claims in terms of their cruelty-free message and clearly use pathos to convince the buyer that these are good for animals and the environment. They mention the destruction of habitats and pollution of water for leather production, but the cotton used for canvas results in these same issues. Finally, these shoes are a little more expensive than the average canvas split sole ballet shoe. They sell for almost $29 while the closest competitors range from $18-24. The intention is for people to switch to this shoe that is supposedly better for the environment, but there is an issue of accessibility that arises when it means spending up to $10 more.