Have you ever been asked such a completely wrong question that you know that any further conversation on the subject was only going to make the matter more divergent?

Saki opined years ago that ‘A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation.’ But the operative words are a little. And applying this erudite pithiness to conversational matters suggests that if one only knew to what extent that they thought they were being misunderstood then it would be very possible early on to quickly correct the misunderstanding. Conversely, if the misunderstanding was either too large or too prolonged then no amount of explanation would suffice.

So yesterday while showing someone my new women’s moccasin their first question was to ask me what they cost. That sounded (almost) like a fair question. A bit abrupt perhaps, so I tactfully said that it depended on where they were sold. Different countries have different shipping costs, different tariffs, and different taxes. He said, no – what do they cost to make?

That I didn’t like so much. I was thinking one, that is none of your damn business and two, how is that really relevant to this beautiful new shoe? To this conversation? Like an irreversible broadside, it’s a conversation killer. I mean, where do you go after the cost is so rudely thrown on the table? If he were buying then we’d be negotiating. Otherwise it’s just a nosiness that serves no beneficial purpose.

But he persisted so I gave him a ballpark on what I thought they should retail for. Then explaining (reminding) that the wholesale price was half of the retail price and that cost was [more or less] half of that. With that explanation I tried to obliquely satisfy the question but like a dog with a bone he wouldn’t let that be the end of it.

He then asked wouldn’t they be cheaper if they weren’t handwoven but instead were just plain leather? A dull throb began to commence behind my right eye as I began to grasp his line of reasoning. Without even bothering to understand my market direction I was being given what amounted to instruction on how to cut my costs.

I knew what I was about to say were wasted words. And like it or not, I was consciously entering into another one of those frustrating La Brea Tar Pit conversations. A conversation so pointless that the more you say the more difficult it is to extricate one’s self.

I reluctantly stepped ankle deep into the muck by agreeing that the shoes, given the handweaving, were in fact expensive to make. I said there was no getting around that. I then pointed to several of the shoe shops surrounding the plaza and said that there were many dozens if not hundreds of types and styles of women’s moccasins you could buy where the retail price would be less than my manufacturing cost. Especially if they were constructed from either a synthetic material or mass-produced from a cheap plain leather. I went on to try to explain that we – Sahara Sandals – were not trying to compete in that bargain bin market.

The argument that came back was that good business was always driven by seeking to cut one’s cost and lower the price. I set my coffee cup down, took my glasses off and massaged the bridge of my nose. I said, yes, that I couldn’t agree more; hoping that this particular subject was reaching its endpoint. But no. The next broadside was that the shoe would look better if it had some dangly, decorative hardware to dress it up. He went on to tell me how cheap that hardware was in China.

By this time the tar was waist deep so struggling was futile. So I tried again. I picked up the shoe and put it behind my back. I said forget I made this. But just say that you want to buy something that looks like this; with the woven leather, in this style. Where can you do that? He shrugged. I gestured towards the plaza, can you buy them here? No, I said that to my knowledge there is only one company in the world that makes a moccasin in this style, with a similar weave. And they hand make all of their leather products in Italy.

I pulled the shoe out from behind my back and then said, now there are two companies; us and them. The differences being, theirs retail for $600 and have thin leather soles that are slippery and quickly wear out and these which will retail for $150 and have a thin recycled airplane tire sole; which aren’t slippery and don’t wear out so quickly.

So which is the better value proposition? Assuming that all other things were more or less equal, is that internationally recognized luxury brand name stamped on their shoe worth $450 more per pair? William Gibson once quietly observed that, ‘Far more creativity these days goes into the marketing of products than into the products themselves.’

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the Italians don’t make great shoes, because they certainly do. But a $450 differential just for the brand name seems more than just a bit arrogant. Which leads me to believe that there is room to offer comparable products to a new market that is less status conscious.

And in doing offer style and comfort but without sacrificing the more important moral imperatives that certain discerning individuals are looking for. Namely, a logo-less world, a rejection of mass-produced, the preference for long-wearing artisanal materials, and slowing the rate of consumption by purchasing better quality clothing less often.

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