by Nandita Batheja
Black Friday marks one of the biggest shopping days of the year, reaping revenues up in the billions. It also signals the beginning of the holiday shopping season: the busiest consumer period. But as conscious consumerism grows, brands and shoppers alike are increasingly turning away from conventional shopping frenzy habits.
Green movements and fashion activists are counter-capitalizing. For instance, Black Friday is now also used as a major anti-consumerism campaign day.
Patagonia pioneered the anti-shopping trend in 2011 with their famous “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign. Since then, they’ve played with various iterations on subverting traditional Black Friday behaviors. Last year, they donated 100% of their Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental nonprofits. Consumers resonated with their message so much that Patagonia ended up making five times the sales they predicted, resulting in about $10 million dollars.
(Image: Patagonia’s 2011 Campaign)
REI runs a similar campaign, shutting down all their stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Instead they encourage people to go outdoors, coining the popular hashtag #OptOutside. Consumers post photos and share stories that bolster the movement to be in nature instead of shopping for it.
Then there’s Cards Against Humanity; they’ve consistently played a Black Friday prank for the past few years in order to get consumers to wake up to the b.s. of materialism—sometimes literally. In 2014, they sold 30,000 boxes full of literal bull poop. Co-creator Max Temkin tweeted “if you buy the poop expecting it to be something else that’s not poop, you’re actually buying a valuable life lesson for $6.” In a longer explanation of the prank’s motive, Temkin touches upon what many nonprofits and social enterprises struggle with daily:
"We didn't know much going into this prank, but the one thing we did know is that there's no protesting capitalism . . .There's nothing you can say about capitalism that it won't subsume and sell back to you. So the really funny, radical thing for us isn't just to complain about Black Friday on Twitter, but to participate in a way that takes it to a point of absurdity."
While each brand has its own style of responding to the crisis of overconsumption and environmental waste, they share the same essential message: This Cannot Go On.
But now that the Black Friday boycotts have passed, do we simply discard the message and cave into the pressure of the gift-demanding holiday season? Black Friday might be one of the biggest shopping days of the year, but Super Saturday—the last Saturday before Christmas—is another high revenue explosion. As is the entire month of December.
Dr. Kirsten Broddle—head of the ‘Detox My Fashion’ campaign at Greenpeace—wrote an exposé that outlines the complexities and challenges fast fashion and consumerism are posing:
“Due to rising volumes of cheap, low-quality fast fashion, the second hand clothing system is on the brink of collapse. Technical solutions such as closed-loop recycling – which would make new fibres from old clothes – is nowhere near possible. Although there is currently much interest from fashion brands and designers and a lot of promising research, none of the technologies are commercially viable at this point. This means that, as the situation stands today, every garment we buy will eventually end up as waste, to be burned in incinerators or dumped in a landfill.”
At art & eden, we’ve had many conversations about how we ought to engage with the dreaded yet powerful holiday season. For us, of course we have hopes that our lovingly designed and organic children’s clothes make it into a number of gift boxes. We hope that boys and girls will open their packages and be delighted to find the drawing hidden inside for them to color in or paint. We hope they get to learn a little bit about our recycled packaging, and that they get to practice recycling their gift boxes as well. We hope they get to read the stories of the kids we donate vitamins and medicine to; kids just like them but who are really struggling to get daily nourishment. We hope they learn how we are all connected, and how what we do here can really help, or really hurt, someone somewhere else.
We also want them to feel empowered (not depressed!) wearing their new joggers or dresses. Our dream is to inspire them to think about how much is possible as they adventure through their holiday break with family and friends.
All that said, we also hope that they don’t get sucked into commercialism, materialism, present-fixations and a habit of buy, use, dispose, repeat. We also hope they spend quality time with other people, with nature, reconnecting to the sources that give us life and make us feel whole, teach us that we don’t actually need any of these gifts to feel joyous, dearly surprised or loved by the people around us. We think there’s something to all those Black Friday campaigns. What happens if we turn away from the stores and towards . . . one another?
Ultimately, each person has to determine what being a conscious consumer means for them. Maybe it’s a matter of voting with your dollar. Maybe you shop during the same seasons in the same ways, but you choose to support and purchase goods that are made ethically, organically, that are nontoxic and safe for your family and the planet. Or maybe you keep your eye out for goods that give back a portion of their proceeds to good causes.
Or, maybe conscious consuming simply means buying less. Maybe you don’t always shop organic or fair trade or green-friendly, but perhaps you switch out some gifts with handmade items or experience gifts. I know one of my personal favorite presents to both give and receive is an Adventure Day. I’ll write someone a handmade card and include a few dates as options for their day. Then when they choose one, I’ll design a day for us to do all the things they love most, keeping as much of it a surprise as possible. Those dates/gifts have certainly been the most memorable and love-filled for me.
Or, maybe conscious consumerism is even simply walking around with a greater awareness of how our shopping and corporate manufacturers are really wreaking havoc on the earth. Maybe it’s just a matter of starting a conversation about it with family and friends. Maybe it’s about becoming conscious. That is the first—and thus the most crucial—step we can take, isn’t it? By becoming aware, we tend to naturally, even subconsciously, begin to change our practices. Maybe you’ll inspire your loved ones to think twice about what they write on their wish lists, to recycle all that wrapping paper, to start reading labels and noticing how our stuff might be connected to climate change.
Or maybe you do all of those things and more. To me, what seems most important is building a culture around caring. It’s starting—even if in very small ways—to change our personal habits and to teach our children non-material ways of expressing their love, of celebrating, of having fun. Even if we just start there, that would be huge. And it would certainly give us a reason to enter the New Year with some cheer. If we can change ourselves, then I believe we really can change the world.