The Story of the Shoemaker
There was once a boy who grew up devoting his every free second to his love of fine footwear. He longed for his own shop where all of his shoes would be made with the finest level of craftsmanship uniquely made for the feet of each and every customer. With persistence and dedication, his dreams came true. He opened up a shop in the town square. All the townspeople spread the word of his talent. They would say to each other, “These shoes are so durable they could last a lifetime … and oh how unique!” The shoemaker’s proudest moments came when he saw the elated faces of his customers who would leave his shop with a brand new pair of shoes, boots, or sandals. All was well.
As the years went by, the styles changed, and this kept the shoemaker busy learning different techniques but he was never as busy as the first few years his shop was open. In fact, his sales were dropping at a steady pace year after year. Puzzled by this, he stopped an old customer off the street who hadn’t been in since the shop had opened.
“It’s great to see you,” said the shoemaker. “Tell me, you are wearing the shoes I made for you on this very day after all these years … why haven’t you come back to see me for a new pair?”
The old customer responded cheerfully, “My friend! You an artist! My seams are still tight; the leather retains its shine. My wife even enjoys their smell! Ha! With such a great pair of shoes, why would I need anymore?”
The shoemaker, gladdened by such enthusiastic appreciation, thanked the man for his generous compliments and walked away feeling both a deep sense of pride and a fear for his family’s future.
There was only one thing he could do to maintain his current lifestyle so that he and his wife’s final years would be filled with the laughter and health of his learned children and not be a burden upon their own wealth; in haste he began making new shoes in the newest fashion and hit the road to sell to a nearby town. He kissed his wife and children goodbye and off he went.
As he set up shop in the town closest to his own village, he quickly came to realize that this town had no lack of quality footwear. Everyone he approached was uninterested because their own shoes were of comparable quality to those the shoemaker made. Desperate and feeling like a failure he began lowering his prices. He knew that he couldn’t go too low, because he had to be able to pay for the materials in order to make the shoes in the first place, not to mention he had to pay himself for the time it took to create them.
Hours turned into days until he became so frustrated he lashed out at a passerby “I wouldn’t be caught dead in your shoes!” he said. Look at them … they’re hideous!”
The passerby was startled. “What do you know about the style and quality of my shoes?”
The shoemaker brushed him off. “If you don’t know craftsmanship and style when it comes to your feet, then who are you to question me, a master shoemaker?!”
The passerby hurt and feeling silly for buying the pair on his feet asked if the shoemaker knew of a better pair.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Unfortunately your entire town is plagued with shoddily made shoes whose fashions are way out of style. You’re lucky that I am such an authority on the shoes you people deserve and are in desperate need of. My friend, you tell all of your family and friends to come back to this very spot next week because I will return with the finest of all styles and sizes and for a bargain price!”
Feeling somewhat relieved that the shoemaker had set him straight on the matter of taste and quality that until today, had never once crossed his mind. Now, not only did he worry about his shoes, but also whether anything else he owned was of poor quality. Surely, doesn’t he, a hardworking man with his own family … don’t they deserve to have the best, he thought to himself. And in thinking this he vowed to the shoemaker that come next week he, his family, and his friends would be in this exact spot in the square as the shoemaker had promised.
After returning to his wife and children to discuss his travels and intentions, the shoemaker's wife came to him with sound advice.
“You must not do this! Where will you even find the time to make all of these shoes you have promised … and with no profit to feed us … we’ll starve! You’ll just have to spend less time on the shoes or stop using such fine materials. People will not buy these second-rate shoes. They need them to last!”
“My dear,” said the shoemaker, comfortingly, “I know you are right, but you’ve seen how we steadily lose money over the years. And think of the children.”
His wife agreed. “It would be nice to send them off right once they come of age wouldn’t it,” she said.
They both agreed that the circumstances were not ideal but that they had to do what was best for their family. Cuts would have to be made somewhere. They worked night and day making many new shoes for the surrounding towns and cities beyond the towns.
Off he went and city after city he would convince the public that his shoes were better looking, longer lasting, and cheaper than any others. Soon, the shoemaker and his wife saw their profits expand beyond their expectations. However, they were working more than ever before. Their bodies would ache from performing the same movements day after day, and there were always shoes to be made. They needed help.
Two villagers were employed, as were their children. Each was assigned smaller tasks to speed up production. The shoemaker himself stopped making the shoes altogether and concentrated on sales and design while his wife figured out ways to cut out expensive leathers, dyes, and thread. Everyone involved grew weary, and made worse shoes than before. The shoemaker, rather than throwing them away, realized that these inferior shoes could be sold at the same price as his original shoes. To compensate, he would considerably mark up the shoes of slightly better quality.
And so people had a choice of what class of shoe they wanted or could afford. And fortunately because of their quality being low, they wore out faster, and because all of the towns’ shoemakers were seeing much less business, they were also forced to use cheaper materials and similar methods to make them. If they did not, they would surely go out of business now that everyone across the land was trying to get this foreign Shoemakers shoes. And after awhile, no one questioned why their shoes were falling apart so soon after their purchase.
The shoemaker, in a quarter of the time it took him to become a skilled artisan and start his business, had now become a wealthy man. His wife and children had a future that was filled with promise and even more, they lived a life of luxury. No longer did anyone in the family have anything to do with the actual creation of shoes. Factories were built and soon employees were replaced with machines. To keep his legacy alive and to ensure a growing fortune, Mr. Shoemaker established schools that would train future shoemakers the Shoemaker way of design and craft. The Shoemaker family built Shoemaker stores in every village, town and city all across the country. Mr. Shoemaker was invited by government and royalty to discuss his dynamic approach to business to ensure wealth and soon, his ideas swept through native and foreign financial minds everywhere.
Life to the Shoemaker family became a success story. Of course there was always more work to do. More demands to be met. Always more … but for them it was well worth it.
One day, as he was off to his office for another meeting to discuss profits and upcoming budgets, a young man with a deep sense of sadness approached Mr. Shoemaker.
“Mr. Shoemaker.” the young man shyly began. “My family once had a thriving business. We came from a long line of master shoemakers and we know that your shoes are no good for people. They fall apart too quickly and lack any sense of artistry. Your shoe store and your factories have caused my family to become fractured. My father suffers from depression because he is too old to master the techniques of a new art … an art that he passed on to me and now I have no skill that is employable. It’s not just me, but also all of my friends whose families were all known as skilled artisans and now are left doing jobs that require no skill or craft. We have all become depressed. Our communities are crumbling. We lack pride, purpose, and knowledge. The trust we used to have in the quality of the goods we purchased has been lost, from the shoes on our feet to the bread that we eat. “
“You should work harder!” yelled Mr. Shoemaker. “And smarter while you’re at it! People don’t want fine things, and those that do, don’t want to pay the price.”
Startled at Mr. Shoemaker’s complete dismissal, his blood began to boil. “Not after you’ve convinced everyone that your shoes are the standard at which to be measured!” the boy countered. “We all know you’re a cheat Shoemaker! All of us craftsman, but no one will believe us. You’ve cornered the minds of millions and have them thinking that they are getting the best deals and the latest fashions Mr. Shoemaker. But it’s a lie! You’ve been circulating the same old trends using the same old cheap materials for decades! And now, many businesses have adopted your techniques. You’ve confused people with your lies Mr. Shoemaker. It’s not right!”
“Don’t you care about your family?” asked Mr. Shoemaker. “Don’t you want to succeed? I was once like you, a fine artist, barely getting by. I wanted something better for my children, dear boy. Don’t you see the choices I made were not easy, but to move forward, to secure a future that stood on solid ground …”
“You had to cheat your customers and communities far and wide?” The boy interrupted.
“They cheat themselves!” Mr. Shoemaker replied. “If they wanted to understand the trials of the craftsman then they would have asked. They would have purchased more to keep me in business.”
“They were craftsman,” replied the dumbfounded boy. “When you needed pots and pans, who did you go to but to the blacksmith? Your need for pots and pans occurred only 3 times in your life Mr. Shoemaker, but he repaired them didn’t he? Well the same goes for your shoes! And when you needed clothes for your children, wine to drink, music for dancing … your lies and your greed have turned us from craftsman to laborers who have forgotten how to recognize quality and care.”
Mr. Shoemaker turned and began to step angrily away. As he crossed the street, the boys’ last words echoed off of the abandoned shops, “You know I speak the truth!” He cursed the boy under his breath. Then, as he reached for the handle to his buggy, it broke off and Mr. Shoemaker fell back into a ditch filled with sewage.
For months it went like this. His food was too salty, a lamp fell apart, and a broom handle would break so on and so forth. His children hardly came to visit him and rarely kept their word. His employees showed up for work late or drunk and sometimes both. He avoided the town square as it began to fill up with bums and violence became a risk you could bet on, or at least, that’s what the newspapers told him.
And so he convinced himself that he had been naïve before. That people, for the most part, were just stupid or lazy and he just hadn’t noticed until now. Mr. Shoemaker became paranoid and hired guards and consulted with local authorities to do what ever needs to be done to remove troublemakers and vagabonds. He wanted hard working families to be safe in his community. Soon the hospitals began to fill up with suffering people that had, until this time, been only used for emergencies. Sadness and anger had gripped villages near and far. People shuffled through their day without hope for their future or proficient knowledge in any field, they could not solve problems on their own. Fractured families awaited the next meager pay check to pay for food that could make them sick and tired, wine to distance themselves from their troubles, and clothes … and yes shoes that would soon fall apart. They could not get ahead and they could not figure out why.
But that was a long time ago.
Edited By: Dylan McGonigle