This Black Friday, as brands slash prices! and trumpet the best deals! and big savings!, one company is taking a very different route. Sneaker brand Allbirds is actually increasing its prices.
Every product will be $1 more expensive on Friday, with all the extra money raised going to Fridays For Future, the climate movement founded by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“Black Friday deals may satiate momentary desire,” Allbirds said in a statement, “but their impact on the planet is a lot more long-lasting.”
The move may seem an act of self-sabotage, but a spokesperson for the company ― which spotlights its environmental credentials ― told HuffPost, “Our hope is that one small price increase can spark a conversation about the larger environmental issues facing the fashion industry and beyond.”
Black Friday is traditionally one of the year’s biggest shopping days. Online sales last year totaled $7.4 billion, nearly 20% more than in 2018. And with such a range of retailers having been battered in 2020 by the impacts of COVID-19, many eye Black Friday as a chance for recovery.
But the day, which now often stretches out for a week or more, is controversial. Critics lambast brands for whipping buyers into a frenzy, luring them into spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need ― an even starker concern during a pandemic that has left many people in more perilous financial positions than ever.
Black Friday aims to ramp up our appetite for stuff that often comes with serious environmental costs. Companies dig up natural resources to produce and sell us products, which too often end their lives in landfills. It’s a cycle that has a huge ecological impact and frequently is built on the backs of low-paid, exploited workers.
And the pandemic has revealed more clearly just how damaging this cycle can be, especially in the fashion industry. As demand for clothes dried up during coronavirus-related lockdowns, big fashion brands refused to pay billions to overseas suppliers, causing devastation to garment workers and leaving mountains of surplus stock.
It’s part of the reason Allbirds has chosen to increase its prices on Black Friday. “The COVID-19 pandemic has pulled back the curtain on the fashion industry,” the company said, “and has revealed its gluttonous ‘more is more’ mindset, resulting in stockpiled inventory and even surplus bonfires.”
Clothing companies put out more than 100 billion garments per year, and what goes unsold is often destroyed. The industry is estimated to be responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Allbirds is not the only company to reject the hyper-consumerism of Black Friday and call for a more measured consumption. As the affects of the climate crisis grow more intense, companies are finding it harder and harder to ignore their own impacts.
A growing number of brands — especially those that already try to embed sustainability into their business practices — are keen to distance themselves from the idea and practices of Black Friday. Some are refusing to even open their doors (real or virtual) on the day.
The bag company Freitag will shut down its online store for all of Friday. “Despite the economic impacts of the pandemic,” Elisabeth Isenegger, head of communications at Freitag, told HuffPost, “FREITAG again refuses to join in the annual retail free-for-all.”
People trying to access the site will instead be redirected to Freitag’s SWAP platform, where they can exchange used bags they no longer want with other customers.
Beauty brand Deciem will close its stores and also take down its website on Black Friday, as it did last year, for what it refers to as “a moment of nothingness.” The company said in a statement: “Black Friday no longer felt like a people or planet friendly event.”
The brand has not totally disengaged, though. It’s still offering a 23% discount for all of its products throughout November (apart from during its Black Friday blackout). But the company has pledged to spend more time helping customers pick what they need, said Nicola Kilner, CEO of Deciem: “The idea is to encourage people to know more, so they can buy less.”
It’s often smaller companies that reject Black Friday. But some bigger companies are joining the movement, as well.
Outdoor retailer REI is closing its doors for the day, for the sixth year in a row, while paying its 13,000 employees to take the day off and encouraging them to spend it out in nature with their families. “Each year, millions of people and hundreds of organizations have joined the movement, demonstrating the power of the outdoors against the turbulence and chaos of Black Friday,” the company said in a statement on its website.
Ikea also has a history of refusing to take part in Black Friday sales. The Swedish retailer is using this year’s Black Friday to launch a new Buy Back initiative in various countries (although not yet in the U.S.), allowing customers to give back Ikea furniture they no longer want in exchange for Ikea vouchers.
“Rather than buy things you don’t need this Black Friday, we want to help customers give their furniture a second life instead of making an impulse buy,” said Stefan Vanoverbeke, deputy retail operations manager of Ingka Group, which owns Ikea.
Taking a stance on consumption remains a tricky concept for many businesses reliant on people buying stuff. To grow and increase profits, they need to persuade people to buy more of that stuff.
“It’s always about new markets, growth, new outlets, new, more and bigger,” Halina Szejnwald Brown, a professor of environmental science and policy at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts, told HuffPost last holiday shopping season.
While companies taking a stand against the seasonal shopping glut is a gesture in the right direction, changing the way we consume involves greater structural change, and that can’t rely on the corporate sector, Szejnwald Brown said.
Governments can play a role. In France ― where Black Friday has been criticized for its climate impacts as well as for tending to benefit overseas companies like Amazon over local businesses ― politicians have floated banning it altogether. In 2019, French lawmakers voted to ban publicity campaigns for Black Friday as an amendment to the country’s anti-waste laws. “‘Black Friday’ is a vast glory operation of consumerism imported from the United States in 2013,” read the amendment, which remains under debate in Parliament.
Black Friday has become a shorthand for a type of damaging consumption, fueled by companies whose business models rely on us buying ever more stuff. That means we are not off the hook, either. As consumers, we have a part to play by resisting the endless calls to buy! buy! buy! and breaking the cycle of consumption and waste.
“Companies won’t change unless consumers push them to,” Patrick Duffy, founder of Global Fashion Exchange, told Teen Vogue, “but the problem has to do with our addiction to consumption.”
Carry Somers, co-founder and global operations director of the nonprofit Fashion Revolution, said that “when we buy into Black Friday deals, we are sending a message to brands that we are happy for them to continue to mindlessly produce more and more clothing.”
She added, “We also have to question whether these offers really do represent great value for money when we take into consideration the increase in carbon emissions, use of virgin plastics, disposability of the goods purchased and other repercussions of this global shopping bonanza.”
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