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Levi Strauss & Co Sponsored Series

Sustainably Attired

A Black Friday 2014 Call to Action: Durability Over Discounts?

By Leon Kaye

Do a search for “Black Friday 2014” in your favorite search engine, and chances are you will come up with similar results to what I found. First, of course, a site called TheBlackFriday.com, which serves as a clearing house on advertisements and hours. Not surprisingly, WalMart and Amazon, the largest brick-and-mortar and online retailers in the U.S., rank highly in the search results. Depending on your stance on Black Friday, the thought of this day either brings angst over massive conspicuous consumption or excitement over cheap laptops, toys and clothing.

Not surprisingly, Black Friday is starting earlier every year. WalMart has already announced that it has started to spread Black Friday cheer with discounts on thousands of items as of Nov. 1. Perhaps the Black Friday label is already outdated. Kmart, for example, has announced it will open its stores on Thanksgiving morning at 6:00 a.m., which I suppose makes sense if you want to shop and then cook and nosh on your turkey dinner afterwards.

For those of us who want to do something other than wait in lines in pitch darkness for that cheap item made in a dubious factory overseas, what alternatives have we got? Two years ago I spent Black Friday in thrift stores to make my own political statement; others, including 3p’s founder, suggest patronizing organizations and companies that offer a more sustainable alternative to what often comes across as a crass marketing day that cheapens the meaning of what was once a religious and family-oriented holiday.

On the flip side, Black Friday does have appeal — the crowds and bustle during a late fall day, whether you are walking in and out of stores in a big city shopping district, small town square, or yes, that local mall. And there is the satisfaction in finding that special gift for a loved one. But instead of focusing on the discount, consider taking a different tone: take a stand on buying something that is durable and long-lasting, while having a role in supporting young, local or more socially responsible companies.

Many commentators have made the case for buying with an emphasis on quality over quantity, from clothing to cooking gadgets. Plus it does not take much research to find that many of the items hyped for Black Friday, such as electronics, may look attractive from a spending perspective, but most likely will be of an inferior quality. Plenty of opportunities to make socially responsible shopping decisions, as well as take a stand for quality and durability, exist online and in the brick-and-mortar world.

For those who seek creative gifts but do not know where to start, Etsy is one launch-pad to search for that quirky yet quality gift. At press time, this online artisan marketplace offered a bevy of holiday specials, from vegan soaps, to handcrafted jewelry, to brightly-colored plush toys. Of course, plenty of silkscreen artists have jumped into the fray, selling T-shirts that mock Black Friday — and celebrate the holiday silliness as well. It’s clear you do not have to be a quantitative marketing analyst at Best Buy or a Target to take on the challenges of Black Friday; many artists and designers are joining the fray as well, and are having fun doing it.

Is it even worth it for a small company to sell on Black Friday? I recently got back in touch with Ben Moran of Osmium, a Massachusetts-based clothing firm that specializes in classic designs made with high-quality textiles and manufactured in the U.S.

“Our experiences with Black Friday have always been bittersweet,” said Ben Moran, an Osmium employee who handles the company’s marketing and sales operations. “Sales have always been great that week, but they have left us with a ‘bad taste’ in our mouths.”

Over the past three years, Osmium has offered discounts on their website during the weekend linking Black Friday and Cyber Monday. “We are a brand that cares deeply about purchasing durable, quality goods, and trying to limit the negative impact [that] over-consumerism has on our environment,” said Moran. This year, Osmium will take a different approach to its annual Black Friday Sale. The company will offer 20 percent discount to all customers, and in turn will donate 20 percent of its Web sales to the environmental nonprofit 1% for the Planet. The company is calling the sale “20/20 Vision,” and it will last from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1.

Furthermore, in a repudiation of the outlet store craze (Buzzfeed’s take is only the tip of why outlets are a marginal place to buy goods), Osmium also sells what it describes as “Bin Ends.” These bargains, often slashed by 50 percent, are prototypes and samples that the company needs to clear out of its warehouse — but also offer those on a budget a chance to buy unique clothing items not found anywhere else.

Teel Lidow, the founder of merino wool sweater-maker Boerum Apparel, urges consumers to consider buying from local and smaller manufacturers because they will get a better product that will be around for years, if not decades. Consumers need to remember that stores are still making huge profits on the discounted goods they sell on Black Friday. "That means that the $20 button-down shirt that looks like a great steal was actually made for something like $6 or $7," said Lidow, "and you can't make a good button-down shirt for $7. The low cost of production that underlies these Black Friday steals should signal to consumers that they were made with cheap materials and extremely low-cost labor, resulting in low-quality look, feel and durability, and all sorts of environmental and social issues."

To that end, you can extend your socially conscious shopping beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Consider Fair Tuesday, an ethical shopping movement that embraces fair trade, social change and, as a result, better quality goods that will last beyond many future Black Fridays. One Fair Tuesday participant in the past has been Mata Traders, which works with cooperatives around the globe to market clothing and home décor that in turn help artisans earn a living wage.

Whether your passion is workers’ rights or the environment, the end result is the same: the purchase of a higher-quality product that will last far longer than what is available at the big box retailers. The craze for discounts may give us a short-term lift to our wallets, but buying something made fairly and ethically will not only endure in our homes longer, but will leave more of a positive impact in communities near and afar.

Image credit: DC USA

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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