What if I tell you that a key to a ballerina’s flawless performance is all thanks to their shoes? Behind the sophisticated strides and stunts of ballerinas are their eccentric-looking shoes that take years of skillful mastery of shoe crafting to make– the pointe shoes. Pointe shoes, however, do not come cheap– in fact, a pair of one can range from $100 to $4000 depending on their quality and brand. With the average lifespan of a pointe shoe of 12 hours of continuous use, or an average of 3 months if a dancer uses it 1-hour a week, the question for sure will linger– “why are pointe shoes so expensive?”.
The reasons are primarily the manufacturing. Typical shoes are manufactured in massive quantities with cheap labor. Therefore, you cannot compare them with the cost of a typical shoe.
Tedious Manufacturing Process in the hands of expensive shoemakers
According to Bloch Dance 1932, pointe shoes are made of several materials, including satin, leather, cardboard, paper, and glue. These materials are not so costly. However, the shoe craft-making process is very demanding to produce a high-quality point shoe. All the shoes were hand-sewn and customized to provide the comfort it has to bring for the ballet dancers. On average, according to Emilie Murphy (INSIDER), 30 pairs of quality pointe shoes are made every day inside a professional shoemaking warehouse; that’s a small amount but only paralleled to its challenging crafting hours.
More so, cobblers who make the point shoes did not learn and master their craft overnight. It took them decades, even more than half of their lives to be in harmony with meticulous pointe shoemaking. It only takes a few centimeters of tweakings, sewings, and pasting glue to the shoes for them to differ in quality. According to the same source, veteran shoemaker Freed of London, who has been working with renowned ballet companies around the globe, including the likes of Royal Ballet in London and American Ballet in the USA, hired 24 artists to craft an average of 30 pointe shoe pairs a day.
Inside the pool of these 24 makers are veteran shoemakers whose experiences count up to 40 years. They are expected to work like a shoemaking machine using their bare hands, which is a lot of compensation in return. In addition to this, a single cobbler usually will start to work from the morning at 6 am to the afternoon at 3 pm. Their queue of shoemaking is prepared months in advance as they follow a systematic workflow.
From their hands, the makers will start to craft the pointe shoe, first by building the outer sole (the part of the shoe that contacts the floor when standing flat) with leathers and sometimes satin. It is then glued, and gun tacked to the soles with the satin fabric and canvas lining. The following process is building the block (the part which encases the shoes) using fabric pieces which according to some shoemakers, is the most challenging part to perfection. Then it will be tied down to the stitching area, which, as previously mentioned, will be done using their hand. This will determine the overall comfort of the shoes as the stitching adjusts its size and fitting. Throughout the whole process, the shoes remain inside out until the seaming of the sole. After all this, the shoe will be turned to its proper position, and the block is hammered to be shaped into its best size. Finally, the shoes will undergo a process called “baking” to enhance their durability inside the oven overnight.
Just imagine how long the process of making the pointe shoes is before it even gets worn by the dancers. The materials surely don’t come that much. Still, the years of experience and laborious adventure to sew the perfect ballet shoes make it an expensive shoe yet worthy of its luxurious price.
Low Supply and High Demand
With thousands of ballet studios worldwide, the demand for pointe shoes is surely correlative with this number. However, the shoes’ production rate was much lower due to their time-consuming needs. In addition, the sourcing of its raw materials from the suppliers to the factories is subjected to unstable price differences and other external fees like logistics and warehouse fees. At present, the delays in outsourcing the raw materials due to COVID-19 have added to its already expensive price.
As dancing schools have already opened up and recovered from the past restrictions, the pointe-shoe crafting industry is not yet aggressive in catching up with its rising demands. According to Miriam Jungsen (a ballet wardrobe head), significant numbers of dance companies and schools are prompting to open this upcoming July to August, and they have ordered a large number of pointe shoes. However, delays inevitably occur, causing discrepancies in the early season orders.
The past surge of COVID-19 cases from the countries producing the raw materials needed for pointe shoe production like Moscow and China, have significantly contributed to this problem. Several factories were put on rest, and some are permanently closed due to the already exacerbating health risk that the pandemic has brought. However, it can also be noted that the unequal supply of pointe shoes pre-pandemic has already been happening as there are only limited human resources to match its plummeting demands. It takes time for the shoemakers to craft the magic in every ballerina’s pointe shoes.
Various brands and their Individual Quality
Truth be told, most of the time, the consumers do not pay for the shoes but the brand that comes with them. Although, this is understandable as most popular and high-costing pointe shoe brands are living up to the expectations of their product’s general aesthetic and quality. Ballet shoes can be considered affordable at the price of a couple of hundred dollars as this is the standard price. Still, some brands like Josefinas Persian Blue Salt skyrocket their shoe prices to $4000. The Portuguese brand boasts elegance through its hand-sewn jewelry on the pointe shoe.
With different brands scattered through the market, different brand owners have their targeted consumers. A dancer can choose whichever shoes they may like, inexpensive or not, as long as their feet are comfortable on striding and breaking a leg for a good performance; it depends on their choices. However, do brands matter? It does to some, but to others, it does not. The common ground to all of these shoes is no matter how expensive their price is; pointe shoes are meant to be broken by the ballet dancer before they even wear them, as this will enhance their comfortability and mobility on the shoes.
Overall, the expensive costs of pointe shoes are reasonably applied due to the practice mentioned above. When combined with a highly sought-after product, the years of experience, brand-building, and raw material costs can cost a fortune. Pointe shoes, after all, are products rolling inside a business. The ballerinas unsurprisingly consume their prices as they are considered the beacon of their performances. Most of the time, comfort and excellence are luxurious– and in the world of ballet dancing, the pointe shoes brew their magic despite their high price.