Ask the Expert: How to approach Black Friday as a conscious consumer

Mary EmbryView print quality image
Mary Embry. Photo courtesy of the School of Art, Architecture + Design

Black Friday has traditionally meant the start of the Christmas shopping season. But instead of vying to be the first open on Thanksgiving, many retailers now open later in the day and are "graying" Black Friday by offering particular deals before the holiday arrives.

In a consumer confident holiday season, competition for your attention is still fierce, but a growing number of consumers are opting out of Black Friday entirely. Conscious consumers recognize that we are at a unique juncture, where fast consumption of resources and a throwaway society threaten the ability for future generations to sustain themselves. If you reject the messages of Black Friday, how might you approach the gift season differently?

Shop smart

Conscious consumerism has an ever-expanding range of gifting approaches, including shopping local to support local economies, extending materials through purchasing secondhand, and customizing DIY items. Those more sensitive to consumerism are also likely to be aware of ethical certifications on products. In response to this growing market, options for products made under sustainable frameworks continue to proliferate.

To stay aware, I like to follow The Good Trade, an online platform for fashionable conscious consumers. Although, ethical certifications do not necessarily move the elephant out of the room; we are still consuming, albeit with less environmental or social impact. Being aware that both precious materials and the livelihoods of people make up the value of your products is important to being more aware of your power as a consumer, but you are still participating in an ultimately destructive linear system.

Recycle and re-fashion

Leading-edge sustainable designers are asking consumers to consider even more deeply the value being offered by their purchases. What does the creation and use of your clothing offer in social, cultural and community value?

Stockholm's Remake, a sustainable fashion retailer, turns the appeal of fast fashion on its head, using the phrase "Sakta Sakta": slowly, slowly, step by step. The business operates as a social enterprise, collecting woven shirts and denim locally to be recycled, re-fashioned without waste and reclaimed when they are done.

They suggest re-dressing Black Friday into Craft Friday. Remake is small and circular and is getting us much closer to product that has a value system. The most sustainable shopping requires that we plan how our clothing lives and where it goes to die.

Calculate price per wear

A new approach is that you purchase fashion products for yourself and others that conform to all your values. If you value a world that can sustain people and the environment, you need to demand clothing that contributes to that system.

Some use the context of price per wear as an exercise to be more thoughtful. Simply, price per wear is the price to wear an item based on how long you estimate you will have it. We think this way about our houses and cars. In clothing, this reduces the price chasm between mass clothing and well-made clothing.

Carefully made materials, sewn together with skill, move from being expensive to being valued when we thoughtfully consider the time we plan on living with them. Thus, shopping popular but more pricey sustainable clothing sites like Reformation, Everlane or Indigenous are about contributing to a thoughtful and strategically valued wardrobe.

Give the gift of value

It might be that the most sustainable gift one can give is simply time and attention. Can this be transferred into your gift giving?

One of my favorite daily pleasures is the feel of a handwoven kitchen towel I was gifted from a local weaver. Woven materials have longevity, and this towel has become softer and feels more luxurious over time.

I know its material makeup and how it is held together by skilled work performed by people I know. That type of daily appreciation in what we have and what we give has true value and reaches beyond sustainability to become transformational.

Products have stories. When you give gifts with their stories, we escape the meaningless throwaway and move into the richness of forming lifetime value.

Mary Embry is an apparel merchandising senior lecturer and director of the Center for Innovative Merchandising at the School of Art, Architecture + Design.