Lola in The Guardian: How Adidas trains us to be slaves to fashion

[Originally published in The Guardian]
Adidas has pulled Jeremy Scott’s controversial slave-shackle hi-tops – but not without revealing the true state of consumers
It took me a good few minutes to really look at, deconstruct and mentally digest the image of the purple, white and orange trainers that had been posted on Adidas’ Facebook page.
These weren’t just any regular hi-tops. These had been especially created by the designer Jeremy Scott, with an extra special detail on them: a bright orange plastic cuff, designed to look like a shackle, with a chain connecting the trainer and the cuff, on each ankle.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. A shackle immediately brings to mind slavery and prisons; neither is very glamorous. Not only is there the violent transatlantic slave trade (which still has ramifications in the present and is a deeply upsetting topic for many people) to bear in mind; there is also the issue of the global modern day slave trade, which, according to the latest figures, enslaves more people today than were enslaved during the entire 350-year history of the transatlantic slave trade.
There’s no doubt that Jeremy Scott, despite his assertions to the contrary, was making a statement about the enslavement of human beings. If he wasn’t, he would not have used a shackle-like ankle cuff – with all of its implications. There’s also no doubt that Adidas, which happily showed off the shoes online, had no issues with his idea. It seems odd that a group of presumably intelligent people would have green-lighted these trainers with no idea of the potential fallout.
Beyond the immediate knee-jerk responses, though, Scott appears to have designed a pair of trainers that actually carry a deep social statement about the enslaving nature of consumerism. At the same time, Adidas has revealed a great deal about how it views its customers.
Rather than simply getting upset, we could actually use these trainers as a teachable moment, especially for young people – their target market. Those shackles might spark a discussion about the character and psychology of consumerism today, and the relationship between brands and consumers. 
We all know that brands seek to turn shoppers into so-called “brand evangelists”, who will display allegiance and loyalty, avidly show off their products and tell their friends and family about a company’s products. Now, we could discuss what Adidas is really saying when it encourages its buyers to wear a chained cuff on its ankles. Adidas has taken the idea of being a slave to fashion and made it palpable: now, it actually wants its customers to physically demonstrate their consumer-serfdom.
We could also use this moment to become more informed about how these products are made. Adidas has its own version of slaves working to make such goods – in the form of low-paid workers in sweatshops. Not only does Adidas want to make buyers its slaves, but it also seems content to work producers that way, too. And for the younger people who would buy these trainers, we could ask whether, in this economy, anyone needs to be more enslaved to material goods, psychologically or physically.

Teach students financial literacy

Barack Obama’s new student loans legislation won’t help young people who have grown up accepting that debt is the norm

After graduating from Cambridge, I considered doing further study in America. I checked out some of the top colleges and looked into how much it would cost to study at them. I was looking at a minimum of $40,000 – per year – just for tuition alone. It was off-putting to say the least. First, I had already had a degree from one of the best universities in the world that had cost me £1,500 per year; to pay $40,000 per year to go to any other college seemed absurd. Second, it would have meant taking out further, huge loans with commercial interest rates, which I was unwilling to do.

Most American students don’t have that choice if they wish to study. I have a few American friends who graduated with debts in the region of $100,000, and went to work in professions which pay them an annual salary which is nowhere close to that. They will be paying those loans off for a long, long time – and goodness knows what the actual cost of the loan is when you take the interest into account. If you want to go to college here in the US, especially a top one, you’re looking at a minimum of around $50,000 per year to do so.

There’s no doubt, therefore, that the student loans legislation – which cuts out private lenders as the middlemen in federal lending – that has just gone through Congress will provide some relief to the many millions of American students who are considering going to college and taking out federal loans in the future.

But ultimately, the new measures – which were put in place to assist students financially and to provide greater access to higher education for more students – are lacking a vital component. In fact, it is like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. The gaping wound is the increasing level of financial illiteracy of my generation and those coming behind. President Obama has talked about being on the side of students rather than banks. If he is, he needs to start implementing financial literacy into the education system – and soon.

Despite this legislation, a large number of college students will still continue to take out private loans, some of which are known to have practices and terms similar to those which fuelled the sub prime crisis; students are also defaulting on their loans in larger numbers.
Basically, it matters little whether or not there are lower interest rates if one does not know how to manage one’s money or make beneficial financial decisions in the first place.

Whether we were raised in the US or the UK, we have been brought up in a consumer culture in which easy credit and unaffordable debt have become the norm. The economic crisis is a large-scale reflection of the normalcy of individual debt in modern day society. Student loans are the first introduction many young people get to the world of debt. For American students even this is compounded due to the expensive nature of college. At the age of 17 and 18, young Americans have started to learn that it is OK to borrow tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. And of course that amount increases for those who do graduate studies. After getting their first taste of it, they will go on to take out credit cards, huge mortgages, car loans and other types of credit. Although it is said that there is “good” debt and “bad” debt the reality is that debt is debt and the people who generally benefit most from it are the creditors.

This student loans reform was tacked onto the healthcare bill, and both healthcare and student loans have similarities. Just as Americans would benefit more if they took care of their health preventatively, people would also benefit from being financially literate in advance of making decisions involving large sums of money. Without financial literacy, which involves not just the hard facts of money but also the emotional drivers of people’s financial management, we will continue to see economic crises, as people who believe that unaffordable debt is normal continue to make economic decisions based on that faulty premise. It is time for financial literacy to become as important a part of the education system as English and geography.