Welcome to Further Details, a series dedicated to ubiquitous but overlooked elements hidden on your favorite products. This week: the fuzzy soles on new Converse Chuck Taylors.
You just received a fresh pair of Converse Chuck Taylors and straight out of the box you notice something a bit strange. The soles are… fuzzy? You’re not seeing things. Well, you’re not seeing things if you’ve bought a pair of the Converse Classic Chucks and not the Converse 1970s Chucks. Otherwise, you might want to get your eyes checked.
Felt is a strange “feature” to have on a shoe, let alone a part of the shoe that grinds the pavement. So why is it there? The answer comes down to, of course, profits.
Tariffs play a huge role in margins and tariff percentages can vary widely depending on the item that’s being imported. For a U.S. company importing shoes from China, that can be as much as 37.5 percent. That’s not nothing, especially for a company that does as much volume as Converse.
Instead of paying such high import tariffs, companies can use a loophole in the system to shell out considerably less. Known as “tariff engineering,” importers can modify a product it imports in order to reclassify it into another category which has a lower tariff. In the case of footwear, slippers have a very low tariff compared to shoes — 3 percent to about 25 percent.
According to the patent for the sole Converse uses — which curiously features images of footwear that look way more like slippers — the “shoe with slip-resistant, shape-retaining fabric outsole” invention is a way for a shoe to keep its shape, keep its grip and remain quiet with each step. Essentially, it’s a sneaker with a fabric sole attached to a conventional rubber sole. But in the law’s eyes, the fact that the Chuck Taylor’s soles are over 50 percent felt classifies it as a slipper.
So, what do you do about the fuzz? Well, avoid slick surfaces at first. The partly-furry soles will give way to the grippy rubber pretty quickly, but they’ll make things a bit slippery fresh out of the box. If you can’t wait, you can always scrub off the hairy bits with some sandpaper. In the meantime, you can call your Chucks new house slippers.