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The secret of the soles of Converse All Stars

No, it's not a matter of adherence to the ground

The secret of the soles of Converse All Stars No, it's not a matter of adherence to the ground

It would be difficult to find a sneaker model more famous, imitated and long-lived than the Converse Chuck Taylor. The design of the shoes, in fact, has not changed much compared to the original one, born when basketball player Chuck Taylor suggested to Converse changes to the structure of the Non-Skid model to make it more flexible and tight to the ankle. An often overlooked detail of the Chuck Taylor, however, is their sole, which unlike that of the other sneakers, has an unusual mixed grooved and checkered structure covered with a very light layer of felt that gives it a strange texture to the touch, as soon as it came out of the box. According to many, the sole has this design to give the shoe a greater grip on the ground – but the real reason could concern something much more trivial: customs tariffs.

The vast majority of American sneaker brands produce their footwear abroad, usually in Asian countries, where the cost of labor is significantly lower than at home. Now, to get those sneakers produced abroad, brands have to pay customs tariffs that vary according to the product that is transported: sneakers have a tariff equal to 37.5% of their value, but this is not the case for slippers that instead have a very low tariff, of only 3%. The soles of the Converse have in fact been patented to be covered for just over 50% by a light layer of felt – and as soles covered with textile material, in the eyes of the law, they are in all respects slippers. Going to look at the patent for the sole, registered on Google Patents, in fact, the design used in the illustrations is much more similar to that of a slipper than to that of the Chuck Taylor we know – nevertheless, most of the Converses we own at home no longer have that layer of felt, which wears out almost immediately after they are used. 

The discovery of the patent has been attributed by various sources, including Business Insider, to Jeff Steck of the Gazetc blog – which to date turns out to be offline and unreachable. Other sources refer instead to an article called Tariff Engineering and America's Favorite Shoe published on the blog of the University of Puget Sound in 2019. A Reddit user, however, disputed this information citing a 2017 ruling that can be read online in which it is written that the Chuck Taylor All Star 70 is classified instead as a sneaker and that its customs tariff is 20%. The same Reddit user also points out how the Jawbone company has lost a lawsuit against US customs related to the Jambox, imported as a Bluetooth communication tool but marketed as a speaker – and that therefore if the shoe were really classified as a slipper, Converse could not advertise it as a sneaker.