promoting cultural understanding: a case of a misunderstood shoe

The current news cycle is replete with stories of the debacle that was the attempted release of a new Adidas sneaker, JS Roundhouse Mids. Designed by Jeremey Scott, the colourful hightop - which also included shackles - has managed to upset many who saw the shoe as racist and insensitive to the slave past of the African American population.

What ensued was a virtual social media firestorm which ultimately forced Adidas to cancel the shoe's release. "The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery,” Adidas said in a statement. “Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favorable and critical feedback. We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawing our plans to make them available in the marketplace."

My feelings on all of this are a mixed bag of potatoes. For one, I don't find the design neither particularly pretty nor practical. Shackles, hand cuffs or bondage of any sort do not a beautiful shoe make, and I certainly wouldn't want to be thus attached to my footwear.  But  my mind didn't necessarily go to slavery or racism. Mind you, while I have seen my share of troubles, slavery isn't a part of my historical heritage (or burden).  

Which is why, more than anything else, I believe this to be a case of a cultural misunderstanding. In fact, if we pay attention to the origin of the upset commenters on the Adidas Facebook page they appear to be largely (African) American, which although an important constituency for any sneaker producer, surely isn't the only one. The rest of the world may like or dislike the design, but isn't necessarily offended by it. That fact, however doesn't lessen the blow to those who are reminded of America's painful past by this (ugly) shoe.

Which leads me to an important conclusion: in today's day and age of global markets, social media, direct access and immediate communication, understanding each other's cultures and sensitivities is becoming an even broader concept than before, transcending geographic vicinity. The tools available to us, more than ever before, provide us with an incredible opportunity to tune in, educate ourselves and further promote cultural dialogue and understanding.



  1. Great piece, the article, not the shoes. I think the shoes look lame.

    1. Thanks bejbs! I think they are a feeble (and apparently a culuturally insensitive) attempt to imitate Isabel Marant wedge. xoD

  2. Love reading your blog...great stories!

  3. very interesting, I totally agree with you, I don't like the shoes but don't find them racist...

    1. Thank you for your comment Bri! Probably because that is not a part of our historical heritage. Similarly, Adidas execs who are not necessarily all American might feel the same. Nevertheless, as a global company in today's day and age you should probably strive to understand all parts of your customer pool. xoxoD

  4. These shoes were just a poor decision by the creative director and marketing... they should've known people would offended!

    Stop by and say HI!
    Confessions Of A City Girl

    1. Thank you for voicing your opinion. I hope you come back to read my answer (must re-think this commenting facility).

      Here is my 50 cents: while the said shoe designer is an American, the company (albeit a global enterprise) is German. I wonder how sensitive they could have been given that they are not Americans and maybe not as sensitive to the symbolism of shackles. I can say that, as a non-American, slavery is certainly not the first thing I think of.

      Culturally understanding all of your customers might not be an easy task for a global enterprise. I do believe, however that by maximizing the use of various social media platforms we can achieve a better cultural understanding of each other and grow to be ever more respectful of each other's sensitivities. xoD

  5. Personally, I find these shoes incredibly ugly. When I first saw them my first thought was "eww.....what an ugly design" not "oh this is offending my background" .Btw I am from the south of the U.S. and I am African American. The only way that I could be offended by these sneakers is if someone gave them a racial slur name. Honestly, I don't think this would have turned into a "race thing" if someone did not mention it in the first place.

  6. This was a very interesting post! Well said, Danina!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Creative Commons License
Fashionable in Montreal by Danina Kapetanovic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at fashionable-in-mtl.blogspot.com.