Rejecting a day dedicated to rampant consumerism, companies like Noah and Patagonia are doing things differently
Black Friday – it even sounds ominous, doesn’t it? – came and went this past week, and with it the usual slashing of prices and videos of people shouting “Worldstar”, as two middle aged women go toe-to-toe over a 40” plasma screen TV. Amidst the uncertainty of these past 11 months, Trump, Brexit and so on, the rampant madness of this holiday felt like a weirdly soothing return to normality.
Fashion was no different: most retailers and brands at very least sent out some form of temporary discount code, whilst other retailers, such as Canadian behemoth ssense, went into full sale mode of up to 50 per cent off. There were bargains to be had by all, but they were predominantly found on the high-street and mass-production labels such as adidas and Nike. The total spent on Friday exceeded 3 billion dollars, as Fashionista jubilantly remarked, and that was just in US online sales. Notably, however, there were also a handful of brands that opted to forego this most sacred of corporate holidays. They ranged from the environmentally conscious to those conscious of their own profit margin – something which large-scale retailers and brands needn’t worry about, such is their ability to shift masses of products, with the option of discounting already worked into their pricing.
As one Nike outlet in Seattle was trashed, leaving a sprawl of crushed orange shoe boxes strewn over the store’s floor, nascent New York label Noah shut up shop for the day. The brand is arrestingly frank – just last week publishing a lengthy article breaking down why more ethical manufacturing means one particular jacket of theirs costs what it does – and took to Instagram to urge shoppers to shop with outdoor brand Patagonia if they had a retail scratch needing itched. “Patagonia will be donating 100% of their Black Friday profits to grassroots environmental groups. Shop with them, we'll be closed.” read the post, meanwhile the brand also temporarily shuttered its website, with a holding page that read: “Thank you for not shopping”.
Last night, Patagonia announced that it had raised $10 million through its initiative for “nonprofits working on the frontlines to protect our air, water and soil for future generations.” It was a move in-keeping with the company’s altruistic ethos, which sees them donate 1% of all sales to environmental causes, and pledge to “use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Meanwhile, fellow outdoor label REI also opted out of Black Friday, closing all 143 of its stores, distribution centre and HQ, while still playing all of its employees for the day. These examples were, however, the exception. And it is also notable that labels like REI and Patagonia are largely outliers in terms of the fashion world – despite the latter’s logo being appropriated by everyone from Supreme to East London retailer Goodhood.
Fashion Revolution, an organisation that champions sustainable and safe practices within the industry, also took to Instagram to protest, urging customers not to shop. “There's no such thing as fast fashion, just increasingly accelerated consumption,” wrote the organisation, quoting Dilys Williams, Director of Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion.
All of this is worth remembering within the context of where the fashion industry finds itself today. Currently, it is the world’s second largest polluter, with over-production and hyper-consumption continually exacerbating what is already a very real problem. Black Friday may not be the sole cause of this, but in many ways it is indicative of the problem which the industry has failed to address – garments are produced and sold en-masse, with little care for the impact it has on the environment or the people that make the clothes.
“Fashion is the world’s second largest polluter, with over-production and hyper-consumption continually exacerbating what is already a very real problem”
While overconsumption of largely cheap products not only creates waste, drives down wages in factories and worsens a planet that already, to not put too fine a point on it, is a bit fucked, it also harms the smaller independent brands, retailers and designers that simply cannot compete. Yet, it is often these types of labels that make up so much of what is good about the industry – they are typically ones that make fashion vibrant, intriguing and powerful. Last month, Noah’s Brendon Babenzien told Dazed: “Everybody thinks of themselves as really unique and individualistic. But really, if you’re buying all this mass product – whether it’s your food choices, your sneaker choice or whatever – you’re not really doing it. Your clothing isn’t really telling the story unless your choices in clothing are telling the story. Looking punk rock doesn’t make you punk rock.”
It was then perhaps fitting, that in between Black Friday and it’s sibling Cyber Monday, one of the most seminal figures in shaping the punk aesthetic and fashion as a whole, Vivienne Westwood, made an appearance at her son’s ceremonial burning of punk memorabilia. As shoppers consumed with abandon in the US and the UK, her message was inadvertently apt. Westwood spoke passionately of the dangers of climate change, displaying a map that illustrated which parts of the world will end up submerged in water if the world doesn’t rethink its ways. It is about time that fashion began to realise the role it has to play in this.