Tis the season! ARGH.
This morning Amazon sent me a ‘promotion’ email alert announcing that Black Friday deals start TODAY! While, in the United States the onslaught of commercialism related to Christmas began in earnest about a month ago, the fact that the ‘full throttle’ of what has come to be known as Black Friday – the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday – is already upon us makes me weary and a bit angry. Hyper-consumerism is also ugly, stupid, counter-intuitive to economic stability and growth and dangerous. Dangerous?
Let me back up a little.
I find buying a present for the sake of giving a present pointless in the extreme. If a gift is going to be purchased at ‘retail’ then I believe it should have a higher purpose than simply satisfying some obligation driven by marketing and established by shareholder value and corporate profits. I am one of those people who ‘surprise and delight’ for no reason, and all year long. I buy the best quality I can afford of truly meaningful things that always tell a story whether the gift is meant to comfort, tap into something the recipient aspires to be or something latent in their potential I see screaming to manifest.
A gift somehow stopped being a tendresse du Coeur (thoughtful expression of your heart) and more about satisfying the acquisition of ‘stuff’ in the midst of the hype that started, in earnest, in the 1980s when “greed is good” was echoed by all the Gordon Gekko want-to-be’s; that should be sufficiently unacceptable to stop the madness (it hasn’t been). Even as Patagonia launches a campaign asking its client base to stop buying, their sales subsequently skyrocket! Which if you think about it is damn smart marketing, yet leaves me disturbed about the cachet that a brand can have for millions of thoughtless consumer ‘sheep’ – because no one is ever going to convince me that 95%+ of Patagonia’s customer base is actually making an “ethical choice”. This is the chicken and egg syndrome of business models driving society or society driving business models, just as parents teaching values at home but having an expectation for schools to do it if they don’t; ‘we’ are partners in supply chain management, product offerings and consumption.
What’s worse from the perspective of any right thinking person is the decimation of integrity around our consumption, (largely) our purchases no longer support someone in the next town over who has crafted something useful, perfect in its one-of-a-kind nature and beautiful. Someone who is fundamentally our neighbor, someone who, in our supporting their productivity, creates subsequent ripples of economic value across a width swath of our global community based upon purchases they make for raw materials as well as for their own needs and pleasure – the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker are all in “it” together. As all boats rise on a flood tide doesn’t it make sense that in ensuring that your neighbors have both boat and paddle that you also would? The point nearly EVERYONE is missing by flocking to the mall and not paying acute attention to the label and its country of origin of our purchases is that we are, as the expression goes, shitting in our own bath water (apologise if this offends any readers, I know this is a bit more harsh than how I normally express myself)!
I am not suggesting to give up gifting, not at all. Being a consumer needn’t be an ugly thing – but in our fast paced lives it requires us to take stock, function in a state of THOUGHTFULNESS, MINDFULNESS AND AWARENESS! Embracing the ethos behind these attributes would ensure that our purchases originated from an ethical place which also created value.
The disruption to local economies in the face of hyper-consumerism has also created a void in cultural heritage in virtually every society on the planet, something I live with on a daily basis in abating the haemorrhage for Scotland through Thistle & Broom. As we become ever more homogenous traditional skills such as the hand embroidery of silk-on-silk of Chinese robes, the handknits of Norway, Scotland and Ireland, Hungarian felt-work, colourful bangle bracelets from India and Pakistan made of glass or resin set with mirrors, lace from Belgium, France or Italy wrought into lingerie, Japanese rice paper, supple goat skin gloves from England, Madeira or Port from Portugal, single point of origin Fairly Traded chocolate, tea or coffee, meaningful expressions of appreciation all which add inherent value to their glocal economies are losing out to Old Navy! Could someone please explain to me why a cheap garment made in a sweatshop in the Far East where children toil, are denied an education (which presumably the purchaser would want for their own kids), working in rat traps of buildings has any cachet at all – regardless of the sports team logo emblazoned on the front or how inexpensive it might be? (ewww).
Rather, if you are reading this in the States, wouldn’t you REALLY rather own a fabulous, Made in USA sweatshirt? One made by your ‘neighbors’ who are well paid, take pride in their product, which is also made of American cotton? See, I thought so! But this rant isn’t really about the great job which American Giant does with their product line – which is brilliant, I even Tweeted about it last December when Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote his story – and it’s also profitable and enjoys resonance with a consumer more aware of the impact of their purchasing choices. “The story went viral, and we did $600,000 in sales in 36 hours. We sold out of everything, down to the shelves,” American Giant (Bayard) Winthrop recalls. “When I called our e-commerce folks the morning the article was published, they said 75 orders had come in in the 30 seconds since I called, and it accelerated from there.”
This is about the general decision to not value what is authentic and created with pride is about all of us – everywhere – and our purchasing decisions. It’s not simply time to really consider how much stuff we ‘need’, how more becomes disposable because it is worthless to begin with but how as we substitute material for ephemeral moments with our families we negate efforts in sustainability and corporate social responsibility everywhere. I challenge you shift your perspective to see the bigger picture, to check labels, to vote with your wallet. In becoming more conscientious you will be less of a dangerous threat to your own livelihood, to the economy in which you live and the world as a whole – in cooperation your presence can foster sustainability or in complacency speed our collective ruin.
- Matt Walsh: If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem (huffingtonpost.com)
If you enjoy my blog please share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschi. To order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you!