Tag Archives: shopping

What Price?

Who would think to  link a cheap pair of blue jeans at a local mall with a chemical spill near the Chinese city of Handan? It’s not likely that most consumers would give such a possibility a first thought, much less a second one.

Yet that is exactly what happened recently, and NYU professor and author Dan Fagin wrote about the chemical spill that  polluted the Zhouzhang River, Handan’s major water source. He also provides a brief history of how consumers and manufacturers add potential carcinogens to the cost of the goods we purchase. You can click here to read Fagin’s op-ed piece in its entirety.

We live in a complex global society, and yet we are inextricably linked with our sisters and brothers around the world by something as simple as the fabric of the gloriously colored cheap jeans on the shelves of retailers at our malls and big box stores. Someone’s health–perhaps even life–is a terrible price to pay for a pair of jeans that likely won’t last a couple of years.

How in the world do consumers decide whether a purchase is sustainable and just? What premium should one expect to pay? How in the world can a consumer who lives on a fixed income or who struggles to put food on the table even begin to add these cost calculations to the shopping cart? These are good questions and fair ones to ask. Unfortunately, the answers are not simple ones either.

This factory in Dongguan pays workers US$2 per day, including mandatory overtime. By Chinese standards this is a good wage.

Click here for a brief 2010 American Public Media Marketplace Business interview with Steve Chiotakas and Adrienne Hill about whether consumers will purchase sustainable fashion. According to Hill it’s tough to determine whether an article is truly sustainable fashion or a marketer’s green-washing. Sustainable fashion also faces the question of how to overcome its tree-hugger hippie-type image.

All of us can make a difference by understanding the true price of the clothing we purchase. We can make informed decisions that reflect our values and lifestyle. We can raise awareness without being judgmental. We can share ideas and resources, and we can work for a better future for all people by thinking about the clothes we choose to wear.

Beginning Points:

  • Think about your values. What motivates your purchases? What really matters to you? What core principles drive your life and decisions? Outline these values and principles and apply them to all future purchases.
  • Ask yourself whether you really need a new item. Can you make do with what you have? Can you trade items with a friend or have a clothing swap party? Can you refashion an article of clothing into something “new”?
  • Identify what role shopping plays in your life. Do you shop for recreation? Does shopping fill a need in your life? Do you simply enjoy the thrill of finding a bargain? Do you only shop when absolutely necessary? Do you find the whole idea of shopping challenging? If you shop purely for recreation, think of other ways that can fill your time and your need for fun.
  • Can you minimize your wardrobe to a few key mix and match items and bright accessories? Do you really need a walk-in closet full of garments, or a hundred pair of shoes? There is great joy and liberation in paring down your possessions to the things you actually use and love.
  • Can you buy “new to you”? Check out vintage stores, consignment shops, thrift shops, and charity stores. You might find older items of better quality or gently used items at a greatly reduced price. This option helps keep new merchandise out of the consumer stream and ensures existing garments will continue to be useful. Virtually all of my shopping is done this way, and I’ve found some amazing articles of clothing that I could never afford (nor would purchase) new.
  • If you must buy new, are you willing to do the difficult work of researching and paying the extra cost for sustainable, fairly traded items? Are you willing to buck consumer trends and high fashion vision for comfort and clarity of mind and purpose?
  • Check out companies like People Tree, Maggie’s Organics, Global Girlfriend, prAna, who are among a new breed of manufacturers and producers striving to provide quality clothing that makes a difference. Are they perfect? No. Are they an improvement over other options? I believe so.
  • Consider making this statement your consumption “mantra”: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. (Thanks, Katy Wolk Stanley!)

Photos by lifecreations and Ed-meister. Thanks!

 

Thankful I’ll be Home on Black Friday

Disclaimer: I begrudge no one the experience of shopping on Black Friday. If that’s your thing or your holiday tradition, go for it. To each his or her own.

I, however, won’t be engaging in any retail recreation or therapy on the day after Thanksgiving for several reasons that range from ethics and justice to simplicity and supporting local businesses. I’m thankful to be able to opt out of the consumer hamster wheel and choose a different way to spend the day. Here are my reasons.

1. Because we keep Christmas giving simple, there is no need to rush out and save a few cents (which is generally what it amounts to once the value of my time and fossil fuel is figured in). I don’t take pleasure in shopping, so there is particular incentive to hold this day sacrosanct for consumer activities. I would much rather stay home and read, write, play games, or watch a movie.

2. I find myself resenting the retail world’s ever-increasing competition to be the first, the earliest, and the most sensational. You can now shop Black Friday deals before the day even officially arrives. I find it equally annoying that the Halloween candy was competing for space with Christmas decorations before the little witches and goblins had a chance to don their costumes.

3. It’s pretty tough to balance giving thanks for abundant blessings one day and then obsessing over wants before the sun rises on a new morning. Whatever happened to being content? Or even simply letting your food settle before thinking about what to consume next? We in North America are incredibly blessed. Why not savor those blessings a little longer?

4. When I do shop, I prefer to do so locally, supporting independent businesses whenever possible. I also like to give gifts that are consumable, practical, or revolve around time and experiences. We make our own jellies and other canned goods to give. Other good options are handmade soaps, candles, plants, and wearable art. Best of all are gifts of time: concert passes, a certificate for dinner and a movie, or a coffee shop gift certificate. My favorite gift last year was a $5 stainless steel serving spoon. Hey, it gets used almost every day, and I get to tell the gifter repeatedly how much I like it!

5. Finally, I’m just stubborn enough and of an un-consumer mindset to resent being told what’s a great deal and what I simply can’t live without. Now that we don’t have television we get to opt out of a lot of the warm, snuggly holiday advertisements. Bah! Humbug! (Note: I direct that last Dickens-esque comment only to the commercial consumption machine and its minions–not to any holiday celebration.)

So, what alternatives exist to falling into the Black Friday black hole?

1. Just don’t do it. Plan a day of leftovers, lounging, sports, hunting, or hiking (if the weather allows). Spend time with family and friends. Give your children or grandchildren an entire day of your time. Take a little time to write letters, Skype, or phone the ones you love who live far from home.

2. Gather a group of friends and family members for a crafting day, bake-a-thon, or craft gift exchange. Make gifts together or barter and exchange for handmade gifts to give. You’ll have a blast, save money, and support one another’s artistic endeavors.

3. Declare a do-nothing pampering day. Take a long bubble bath. Eat fair-trade organic chocolate. Drink good fair trade coffee or tea. Stay in your pajamas all day long. Read that book you’ve been putting off. Give your spouse or significant other a massage. Do whatever brings you bliss. Remember that self-care is important, too. Hey, at least you won’t risk being mowed down in the quest for a limited edition Furby or the latest i-whatever!

4. Give of yourself. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. Host a coat, glove, and hat drive. Collect non-perishables for the local food bank. Be creative and some way to give to others rather than to consume.

If you must shop on this most unholy of retail days, consider these alternatives:

4. Hit up the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or consignment shops. See what perfectly wonderful treasures you might find for friends and family who support your un-consumer predilections and who find joy in preventing new additions to the consumer stream.

5. Shop locally. Go to your local farmer’s market, boutiques, or art galleries and support your local economy. Pay particular attention to selecting fairly traded, sustainable, and locally made items. Buy consumables if possible. Refuse to set foot in any big box or chain store for at least this one day.

6. If you simply must shop the major consumer retailers, consider carefully planning only what you need to purchase and make those purchases online. My super-bargainista friend Melissa tells me you can get almost anything at Black Friday prices that way. She would know because she is amazing at finding excellent deals. A major part of the reason she shops like this is to give to those in need and support local charities.

Finally, remember that there are very few real bargains. Somebody pays somewhere along the consumer chain. It may be that underpaid factory worker in China, or it may be the planet from the fossil fuel emissions expended to tote said “bargain” halfway around the world. It may be the big box store employee who gets just enough hours to prevent him or her from qualifying for benefits, or it may be you who supports government subsidies for these workers through your taxes. It might even be the person who receives the gift and finds out that corners were cut in the quality of the item to accommodate the supposed bargain price.

When you must consume, do your best to consumer justly, minimally, wisely, and thoughtfully. Make your precious resources count as best you can. Waste not, want not, and love your neighbor as yourself.

What ideas do you have for countering the Black Friday consumption monster?

Photos by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, KayOne73. glindsay65, bradley j, and Breibeest. Thanks!