What It Looks Like When A High Fashion Brand Exploits Poverty

September 20, 2018  |  

Italian brand Golden Goose recently came under fire on Twitter for their Superstar Taped Sneaker. The shoe takes the distressed trend to the next level with the front of the shoe being detailed by “crumply hold it all together tape” (the description via Nordstrom.com).

The real kicker beyond the fact that these shoes resemble what someone who can’t afford shoes and forced to make them go the extra mile by taping them; they cost $530.00. The review section is even more disgusting, with purchasers holding the discretionary income to buy these dumb as hell shoes.

One customer, signed, Jakob Brooks, raved,  “The tape is truly designer-grade, nothing like the tape you’d get at an office supply store, and the way the grease, grit and dirt is so perfectly applied has all my friends drooling with envy each time I make an entrance.” The desire to look poor is just dripping through his review. He added, “I wish they’d added some more damage to the shoelaces, perhaps some frays or even a partial tear on the tongue that the lace would loop through…” The lust at poverty without even realizing the insensitivity of the comment is peak white privilege. If you wanted to know who was actually buying these shoes, it’s Jakob Brooks. Nikko Soxx thinks she’ll be the “hippest gal at the mall” as she “can’t wait to pair these fashionable beauties” with her “‘No Fear’ shirt, flannel, and oversized jeans.” This is peak 90’s.

The distressed look has withstood fashion and has the foundation of denim as support as it’s a forever staple across global fashion. Jeans are meant to be lived in and worn in jeans used to be simultaneous with hard work and the Americana lifestyle. I ponder if the hipster movement and the aspects of it that glorify and co-opt a culture of poverty is helping to grow this fashion niche. These pieces are being sold at stores like Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman, which boasts, “About 70% of people in the US with assets of at least $30 million live within 50 miles of a Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman store.”

Unfortunately, Golden Goose isn’t the only brand that is using poverty as an art form in their collection. French fashion house Maison Margiela is selling beat up looking sneakers for $1645.00 at Bergdorf Goodman’s, a store that is a subsidiary of Neiman Marcus. A company where according to their IPO filing, “more than 40% of NM shoppers value their total household net worth at $1 million or higher.”

The distressed style is being taken to the next level when brand new clothes are being sold as “vintage” with holes strewn throughout it as if mothballs attacked the piece like it’s been in your grandmothers’ attic for 20 years.

Givenchy is selling an oversized “distressed” t-shirt for $725.00 on Net-A-Porter. The editors’ notes detail it as a “soft cotton jersey” that is “distressed all over to create that ‘coveted’ worn-in look.” Coveted? The t-shirt resembles a hand me down, something that lower and middle-class families do amongst children to save money and combat how fast they grow and expensive they are. It used to be if you had holes in your shirt it was because you couldn’t afford a new one, now high fashion is mimicking poverty. It’s insensitive and prejudicial to the poor to play in this socio-economic hemisphere without acknowledging, combating, or sympathizing with the very culture you are temporarily appropriating.

(Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images)

While kids are being made fun of and being beaten up for their thrift store like clothing (that’s now a trend), football player Victor Cruz was wearing this shirt while parading around Paris Fashion Week in 2016. This glorification of “poverty chic,” should be making people ashamed of themselves.

Kim Kardashian West popularized this on Instagram with her polaroid-esq photographs in a lower, middle-class home with barely anything on the walls and minimal furniture. This is a true issue for people who are living paycheck to paycheck and trying to save to not only furnish their place, but also keep a home over their heads.


West also shared a photo of herself cooking an Atkins friendly dinner in a kitchen that looks like she’s somewhere in middle America vs of living in Calabasas. This obsession with cherry-picking parts of poverty to glorify for likes, monetization, or even art is problematic to the fight against poverty and the ultimate representation of capitalism and classism.

…and it’s not just poverty. Even the middle class working culture is being appropriated by high fashion. Balenciaga released a Crock-like platform shoe for $850.00. A shoe that working professionals like nurses and medical techs use because they work 12-hour shifts are being recreated in ways that a working person couldn’t wear or even function for their jobs. They then created a Crock-like pink stiletto heel. I’m exhausted.

This all feels like a spoof from Zoolander. I can’t help but laugh at the Zoolander’s arch nemesis, Mugatu and his fashion line, Derilicté. While Mugatu is fictional, John Galliano is a real-life fashion designer who had a couture collection go down the runway for Dior in 2000 that he admitted was inspired from homeless people he began observing while taking up jogging. Designer Christian Lacroix admitted to Vogue, “It’s terrible to say, very often the most exciting outfits come from the poorest people.” There is a certain creativity that’s birthed out of poverty. When you’re back is against the wall or you have limited resources. You are undoubtedly forced to become more innovative.

(Photo by Randy Brooke/WireImage,)

In 2017 at Men’s Fashion Week, Japanese designer Daisuke Obana, creator of the menswear label N. Hollywood created a fashion frenzy sending homeless inspired designs off the runway. Obana told Hype Beast before his show that he was inspired by “their ‘inventiveness,’ and how a plastic bag can be used to carry possessions as well as serving as a waterproof shoe covering when it rains.”

(Photo by Randy Brooke/WireImage,)

One of the coats had the words, “be safe” and “survive” decorated over them.

Fashion is an art and can envoke play, fantasy, and more. Inspiration often comes from a multitude of places, specifically the street and travels to the runway. However, the objectification of others disadvantages is demoralizing and dehumanizing. The popularization of the Golden Goose shoe is just one example of how capitalism permeates throughout art and culture. The fashion industry and the monetization of poverty is a trend that needs to be stopped.


Danielle James is Head of Fashion and Beauty Partnerships for HelloBeautiful and MadameNoire. She’s the Founder of Model Citizen, a peer-to-peer shopping platform that allows women to shop each others’ closets. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter: @TheIslanDiva. 




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