Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shopping ethically

I warn you -- this is as much educational as it is a rant. I don't mean to offend anyone who shops at the big box stores, but I needed to get this off my chest.

In light of this weekend's Black Friday shopping craziness, I've been reading lots of opinions that people have a duty to get out there and shop for the holidays. One even went so far as to say that not consuming means you are injuring the local economy. This opinion really ruffled my feathers. Though my feathers are fairly easily ruffled, I just found this statement to be biased and unfounded by research. So I decided to combat it by writing this post. :)

Blind consumerism is not good for anyone. Sure, every purchase made at a store sends some money back into the local economy, but there are limits. The 3/50 Project has some good information that I will poach for my purposes: "For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home." Of course, it depends on what you buy in a local store. If you pick up a Tulsa-made item in a Tulsa-operated store, more of your dough will stay in Tulsa. If you buy a trinket from a local store that is manufactured in a Salvadoran sweatshop, then more of your money will go elsewhere. (I would also argue that there is one exception to the online bit: if you shop locally on Etsy, some money does come back to the community. You can find Oklahoma sellers by searching OKEtsy Team.)

If you buy all your holiday presents from local stores, then yes, you are doing a great deal for the community. You are supporting mom-and-pop businesses and putting a good chunk of change back into the local economy. I would commend you for that. But how many of us will actually do this? How many will hit up Target or (gasp!) Walmart for 50% or more of our purchases? Yes, it's convenient and cheap, but at what human cost? There are countless articles online detailing the unfair labor practices of the big box stores -- just hit up Google. (That doesn't even include the horrible treatment of the sweatshop employees in third world countries who produce most of the goods we consume. Do some research. It'll break your heart.) There is also a ton of information about the adverse environmental impact of major corporations. Those are not gifts I want to give on Christmas Day.

To insinuate that it is my American duty to consume like there's no tomorrow is just insulting. I pay sales taxes pretty much every day. I eat out more than I should, I buy ridiculous amounts of craft supplies, and I get 99% of my groceries from the overpriced Whole Foods. The State of Oklahoma receives plenty of money from me and my meager income. None of us should feel guilted into overspending at the holidays. It will only lead to feelings of guilt and debt. Seriously. How many times have we spent far more money than we could afford because we believed that's what we're supposed to do? That's not what the holidays are supposed to be about. The consumerist spirit, I believe, is dangerous. It encourages us to buy more than we should. All those products must come from somewhere, bringing with them jobs, yes, but also hideous working conditions and a growing hole in the ozone layer. Consumerism also teaches our children that they should want things when there is so much more to life than having the biggest pile of Barbies.

To insinuate, too, that I should shop for gifts instead of making them really makes my blood boil. I buy the vast majority of my craft supplies locally, many from independent shops (The Bead Merchant and Loops, just to name two). So in essence, the items I make are purchased locally. I just don't need to spend a bunch of money on questionably manufactured items to get great gifts. Plus, I get the satisfaction of a job well done, and the recipients know that each thing they receive from me was lovingly made just for them. You can't put a price on that.

I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.org

Of course, most people aren't as crazy as me apt to handmake most of their gifts. That's totally fine. It's fun for me, but I'm not like most people. What you can do is support independently produced and ethically traded goods. It's not as hard as it sounds! Every time you buy handmade items from people in your community, you are paying sales tax as well as giving money directly to the artist, who in turn puts his or her earnings back into the community. You are also taking a stand against items mass-produced potentially under horrible conditions and questionable morals. You can also give items from any of the many locally owned businesses. If you live in Tulsa and don't know where to start, let me know. They are every where, and they are the soul of this city.

In sum, consumerism is not going to save the world. Any flow of local sales tax is a short-term asset, but don't let anyone else guilt you into overspending this holiday season to express your love. Buy from independent makers or independent stores if you aren't inclined to make something yourself. Show loved ones your affection by quality, not quantity. Save your pocketbook and your sanity. Remember: just because you have plenty doesn't mean you have to give thanks by tossing it at every Black Friday sale. If you live in Oklahoma and would like to hit up some great, super-ethical Black Friday sales, check out the list here.

5 comments:

{Tara} said...

This was an excellent post! I am one of those unlucky people who doesn't have a crafy bone in my body, but I try and make up for it by buying independent and handcrafted items whenever possible. About %75 of my gifts this year came from Etsy, and every year it seems to be increasing. I did go out to the stores today to buy a few things that people specifically requested, but I honestly feel that the items I bought from Etsy are more special, unique, and heartfelt than these items can ever be. You are VERY lucky to have the skills and patience to make all of your gifts. I'm sure everyone will love them! ;)

P.S. If you or your readers are interested, I am having a giveaway on my blog: http://nothing-elegant.blogspot.com/2009/11/holiday-giveaway-2010-shoes-wall.html

Robin Thomas said...

Bravo dear smart conscientious one.

Holly said...

I really enjoyed reading your educational rant, Brigid! I came close to belting out a few "Hell Yeah"s as I was reading much of this post, but these two phrases:

"None of us should feel guilted into overspending at the holidays."

"..there is so much more to life than having the biggest pile of Barbies."

were especially poignant. This was very well-written, my friend. I like it when you're angry! (I didn't mean for that to sound as pervish as it did...)

Heather said...

have you ever seen the movie "what would jesus buy?" I think you would enjoy it ;)

I plan to make many of my gifts with my own little hands ;) that's pretty darn local!

Holly Hall said...

Great post, Brigid! I second Heather's recommendation to see "What Would Jesus Buy".
I have always made most of my Xmas gifts for friends and family (bath salts, candy, cookies, ornaments) but this year I have resolved to make every single gift by hand with the exception of a few store bought toys for my little one. That is, if I have time between all this Deluxe arting and crafting!

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Hello! Welcome to my blog, which I run in conjunction with my Etsy shop, greyeyedesigns.etsy.com. Here, I'll track things I'm working on, do reviews and interviews, and offer advice and information. Thanks for stopping by!

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