Wear: The trouble with jute

why make shoes from disposable fibers?


Sandal season is more complicated here in Minnesota than one might expect. In winter, it is clear what we need: sturdiness, impermeability, coverage, insulation.

In warmer seasons, for me, footwear gets a bit dicey.

Historically, I have always required nicer clothes in summer than in winter. This is because I used to teach a lot of summer classes and needed to present myself as a self-contained expert versus my default, a bedraggled slob hiding beneath my parka. Further complicating this was the fact that I taught teenagers. It was important that I look authoritative and polished, but also comfortable (teaching is sweaty work) and with a touch of style.

So: sack dresses, cotton skirts, flowy tops, denim jackets. To round out the look, I always wanted a real cool pair of sandals. In my view, you can tell a person’s style and taste with two things: handbags and footwear. Cheap shoes and pleather bags combined with my normal thrift store threads or Target-brand tank-tops just demoralized me. I spend the good money on sandals.

For a while, this meant clog-sandals. The wooden heel, the curved sole, the nubuck leather toe caps and straps. I love how Sarah Jessica Parker wears Swedish Hasbeens with jeans. Especially in red, which is a color I rarely put near my face.

I started my clog sandal journey with Troentorps, in shamrock green. Fantastic shoes. Durable, toes covered, heels low. From there I sort of lost it in pursuit of all things with wooden heels. I found my posture was better and my back hurt less when wearing these old school shoes. Finally, though, the craze came to an end. One day while I was going through my closet and pulling out things to donate, and my kid said, “All of your shoes look like cutting boards strapped to your feet.”

Well, that was some cold water.

I didn’t dispense with my clogs, of course - the comfort and ease cannot be beat. But I came to investigate other leather offerings with flatheels, and therein I discovered my hatred of jute.


Jute is a fibrous plant that is grown in Bangladesh. There are lots of things I’ve learned about it but where the rubber meets the road, really, it’s just an old dried plant. And old dried plants do not cut it for me when we’re talking about footwear. Because footwear, inherently, is meant to go outside. And even in Minnesota summers, outside is not a kind place. Outside is wet and muddy. The tar on the roads that get resurfaced in the warmer months doesn’t play. Humidity is real in the land of 10,000 lakes. Maybe in Bangladesh, a shoe made of jute has a chance but when I consider the tsunamis that have killed so many in that part of the world, I just imagine all those bodies piling onto the shore, the jute hanging pitifully from the heels of the dead.

This isn’t a great direction to take an essay about sandals, I realize. And clearly, given the global labor market at play, it’s probably true that folks from that region scrape out a living making fun footwear that rich folks like me dither about in their ample free time.

But damn if jute isn’t on every pair of sandals I’d love to buy! Damn if that itchy-looking shit isn’t plastered all over the shoes I wish I could make my summer staple.

When I first started dating Adrian, we went someplace that had wicker furniture, a restaurant, perhaps, or someone else’s living room. As we lowered ourselves into the creaking seats, he made a face.

“This shit?” he said, settling warily into place. “This shit won’t work for me.”

Having grown up in a house where my mother was constantly re-caning the dining room chair seats from her grandmother’s old dining set, I instantly understood.

“You can’t raise four boys in a house full of wicker,” he continued. “That shit’ll turn into a pile of matchsticks in one second flat.”

I feel similarly about jute and shoes. If I’m going to pound the pavement in 90 degree weather, I need a shoe that I can count on. Something that’s not busy unraveling and shredding the second I take it out of the box. Shoes that feature jute look like a dare. Like something you’re wearing to be cheeky—do you really mean to walk around a big filthy city like that, your backless espadrilles smacking the ground and gathering dust and dirt with every step? Your precious feet, which carry you everywhere, are supposed to rely on some feathery shit that’ll rot after a hard rain? No.

I like to countenance shoes by how hard they’d be for a dog to chew up. Jute-festooned shoes wouldn’t take Jelly more than a minute to destroy.

When it comes to clothing, there are certain items that are not negotiable. So, fuck underwear. Fuck raincoats. Fuck faux fur purses and spindly heels spangled with rhinestones. Fuck rayon crocheted swimsuit cover-ups and fuck you, jute, for ruining what could be a long and beautiful summer romance.

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