Markets in everything, American Indian edition

by on October 4, 2007 at 2:12 pm in History | Permalink

I’m mystified by Joel Waldfogel’s claim — and Nike’s claim — that, until now, there have been no markets in shoes just for American Indians.

American Indian shoes have been produced and traded for centuries.  Most of all they have been produced by American Indians.  Some of them are called moccasins.  Here is a bibliography of writings on American Indian footware.  Here are native American clothing stores, which also sell shoes.  Here is a craft manual for how to make American Indian footwear.

And of course plenty of companies make extra-wide and extra-large shoes, though of course not for American Indians exclusively.  There is the Mexican market as well, which caters to many "indigenous shapes," although admittedly on the shorter side. 

I like Joel’s book but I think he is far too pessimistic about the prospects for diversity in the modern world.  It’s also worth noting that if any group has been victimized and robbed by government, and driven into partial isolation, it is the American Indian.

J.P. October 4, 2007 at 2:22 pm

Excellent point. But also, the point of the article is: “People always say that governments fail and that markets do much better. But look! Markets also fail!” Even putting aside for a moment that extra-wide shoes are available, isn’t the point that markets eventually adjust? And if somebody wanted to market to American Indians, they would likely do very well for themselves? Isn’t that how any successful product begins? By appealing to a small crowd?

Hank October 4, 2007 at 3:18 pm

I don’t understand the premise on which Joel’s article is based. The free markets can’t (shouldn’t) give me any good or service I desire at my desired price. Native Americans have always had access to wide shoes at the cost of making it themselves. The free markets allow that if there are a handfull of others who also wish for wide shoes, they can collectively obtain them for less than that price.

gb October 4, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Hate to state the obvious, but shouldn’t a Wharton Professor know that the billion dollar bill for a new drug is a combination of patent compliance costs and FDA regulations, both provided by the government in the service of “innovators” and gullible citizens?

Brad Hutchings October 5, 2007 at 3:16 am

Here’s a hint about what is going to happen to the shoes… The Natives will buy them retail because Nike will only channel them there. Most of them will then be sold for hundreds of dollars at shoe collector sites like and Or traded in person at the dunkxchange (Orange County, NYC, Miami, San Fran shows). A close friend of mine runs that show and I’ll be sure to ask him about the Native shoes. I do know that sneakerheads will tolerate a shoe that’s a bit too wide or long if it’s unique and interesting and they can color coordinate it with their clothes.

Oh, and this is exactly what Nike planned and consistent with how it has kept the brand strong for two decades. Native American sneakerheads are in for a serious windfall. Good for them!

wood turtle October 5, 2007 at 1:32 pm

I also have extra wide feet, and from experience, the shoe market is for the masses of medium width size, not for the individual who is not medium width.

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