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Blackspot: The Anti-Brand Shoe

Blackspot: The Anti-Brand Shoe

After producing the sneaker, Blackspot came out with another model, the ‘Unswoosher,’ a boot also made of organic hemp whose sole is made from reclaimed used tires.

September 19, 2007 —

In the 1990s, anti-sweatshop campaigns exposed Nike and other major shoe corporations’ use of sweatshop labor to make their product.  While Nike, Reebok, and others have attempted to restore their image through public relations work, activists tried to turn the tables on a system that leads to sweatshop labor.  In 2003, after Nike purchased Converse, a shoe that symbolized the counter-culture to many people (and that was made in the U.S. by union labor), the magazine Adbusters decided to produce their own brand of shoes, called Blackspot.

“The idea that you can whine against Nike, you can bite at their heels, you can try to boycott them and all the rest of it,” said Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters.  “But it’s possible also to develop an anti-brand that uses their multibillion-dollar cool and subverts it in some way and actually reduces their market share—and then uses that money to fuel the sort of ideas and campaigns that we believe in.”

After producing the sneaker, Blackspot came out with another model, the ‘Unswoosher,’ a boot also made of organic hemp whose sole is made from reclaimed used tires. The shoes are for-profit and Blackspot hopes to expand its operations into other areas of commerce and to continue its “corporate ass-kicking.” Each shoe comes with a share of stock in the company, allowing owners to vote on the website on new ventures and what to do with profits.

In March 2006, Forbes magazine ran a condescending article on the Blackspot shoe regarding the difficulty Adbusters was having in marketing, selling, and promoting the shoe.  The magazine stated that only 20,000 Blackspot shoes had sold since 2003 and that Nike and other corporations have little to fear from the “anti-brand.”

Some people have criticized Blackspot for not producing their shoes in American factories with union labor. Others have criticized founder Kalle Lasn for creating a brand and corporation after riding the anti-corporate wave for years. In response, Lasn claims he is attempting to subvert the concept of the corporation.

Another company called No Sweat Apparel also produces shoes modeled after the old converse shoes and makes its shoes in union factories in Indonesia. The company’s CEO Adam Neiman has challenged Nike to follow his lead and produce a labor disclosure form, which Nike declined to do. Neiman began his own company after working for Blackspot as a contractor, where he sought out unionized factories in Asia. After Blackspot decided to open its factory in Portugal, Neiman began No Sweat at one of the Indonesian factories Blackspot had rejected.

In March 2004, Adbusters and Blackspot founder Kalle Lasn found himself in hot water after writing a piece in Adbusters stating that 50 percentof the “leading neo-cons” in the U.S. were Jewish and questioning how this may influence U.S. foreign policy. Lasn was charged with anti-Semitism by some and blasted by others, including many of his readers, who believed that Lasn’s foray into anti-imperial critique is moving too far from Adbuster’s stated goal of subverting the capitalist system.

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