That is the proper pronunciation of Adidas, not uh-dee-das. Don’t believe me? Go ahead. The German multi-national company has an office in Vietnam about an hour drive from where we were staying in Ho Chi Minh City. Andee Hendell, another App State graduate, works as the Footwear Development and Commercialization Manager for Adidas Group as well as the 3D Computer Aided Designer for Reebok, owned by Adidas. Andee graduated from App State with a degree in Industrial Design and previously worked with Adidas in Boston. All credit goes to her for getting us in on our very own episode of, “How It’s Made: Adidas Shoes”.
Okay, so no, there wasn’t a camera crew and you won’t see me scurrying out of frame on The Discovery Chanel BUT it was close enough to the real deal. Our second day in Vietnam started off at Andee’s office at Adidas and factory tour where we were hosted with a plethora of snacks and enough double espressos to waken the dead. The little lady making the espressos deserves a post dedicated solely to her business practice of not “outsourcing” and finding ways to increase “output’. I’m talking about how she whipped up 7 double espressos like she, in fact, was trying to wake the dead. I offered my assistance but she did not want to outsource. I tried to set up the the teaspoons and plates for her, but a polite tap on my bum told me that was only decreasing her output. After I sort of chuckled about it, I realized that it wasn’t even in the slightest way funny. Without saying a word it was like she was trying to say in the most polite way possible, “You’re my guest and you’re in my way. Let me do it for you”. I was laughing because there was a gap in cultural understanding. There really is no sense of “personal space” and in order for her to work efficiently, she took the shortest path from point A to point B, a straight line, even if you were smack dab in the middle of that path. My ignorance turned into remembrance as I pictured my Oma cooking up a storm and acting in the same fashion.
While sipping on the fine crafted espressos made from the lady who’s name unfortunately goes unknown, we were overwhelmed with all things Adidas. We were debriefed on the overall history of the company, how a family feud between brothers sparked the birth of two rival companies, Adidas and Puma. I found out that Adidas Group consists of Adidas, Reebok, Rockport, and TaylorMade. Then we learned about specifics regarding that factory including the number of employees, the history, the layout, and what they produce. Andee also gave us a preview of our “How It’s Made” episode by running down the design end of things. We were able to see quickly how a shoe goes from thought, to paper, to model, to market.
By this point somebody should have given me some running shoes and started filming because the espresso was in full gear. We could have filmed the next Adidas commercial at a record low cost. However, we were off to the factory which in all honesty, I needed to be caffeinated to take everything in. We witnessed shoes being made that would not reach a consumers hands for another two months. I’m pretty sure I saw Dr. Brown and his DeLorean somewhere around the corner. We saw the future.
We metaphorically hopped into the DeLorean with a tour of the fabric inspection unit where every roll of fabric must be tested for quality purposes. Leather has a grading scale that must be met to be considered premium and ready for use. All of this is being done by real human hands, mind you. Then we went off to the assembly process. This is the first time I’ve seen a true Henry Ford-esque assembly line in full swing on such a large scale. There were various groups making different shoes but each group strives to meet a 100 shoe per day average. When you take into consideration the fact one shoe touches the hands of 300 people before it meets your own, you might better understand how fast they were moving. IT WAS INSANE! If you could picture a department store gutted out and then installed with rows and “divisions” for each process of production, you’d have to multiply that by 12.
I know by this point you’re probably sitting uneasy. What are the conditions like? Was I walking through a sweatshop? I feel happy to say that the conditions in this factory, while not true for all factories, were relatively safe given the industry. The workers had access to water and restrooms nearby. The conditions were clean and organized. All employees receive free lunch and on-site housing is available to those who want it. Most importantly however, is that the workers receive above average Vietnamese salary which I previously mentioned is around $197. All things considered I still was in awe with the level of production and for lack of better words felt like a complete a** for owning more than one pair of shoes.
Begin to consider with me that one pair of shoes touches the hands of 300 workers and the average American has 19 pairs of shoes. Let’s just say, on average, those shoes cost $80. That means that for the 5,700 workers that went into making those shoes, each person is only getting paid $.26 per shoe and yet we complain about the cost. But what are we actually paying for? What is the true cost of a shoe? Once you can think of that, what about everything else that you own? You might argue that the answer would be to mechanize everything but then you’ve just left 22,000 workers without a job, and that’s just one factory.
As you can imagine, I left there feeling torn. At one end I felt guilt but at the other, pure and relentless awe. It set me back on a path of minimalism, one that I had got lost on after my trip to Costa Rica in Spring of 2014.
We finished at Adidas in the early afternoon and had our first taste of local young entrepreneurs at the Bên Thàhn Market. The scene was far too overwhelming and full of vibrant personalities that I couldn’t take a picture. So you can visualize, the market is flourished with spices, clothes, knock-off purses and sunglasses, food, and various souvenirs. While it can be fascinating and you may want to touch everything, you better refrain in the morning. There is a belief that if the first person to touch something in your booth doesn’t also buy it, you will have a bad day for business.
Outside of the market, the scene was a little less obstructed by salesmen and women. However, persistence remains in the select few. Street vendors with various products will stare you down while trying to persuade you to buy their product. In this case it was a woman who wanted to sell us FayBans after we just purchased roughly 8 collectively.
We later went to the ONLY microbrewery in all of Vietnam, Pasteur Street Brewing, opened by an American from Clemson followed by some much anticipated and long awaited Pho at one of the largest restaurants I’ve ever seen. You can read more about the Pho