After 8 months of distancing, it’s difficult to envision crowded lines snaking through linoleum floors littered with “SALE” signs, dotted with panting, turkey-stuffed, discount-crazed shoppers. Late-fall in covid-riddled, economically-ailing America is quite possibly the worst time for a holiday dedicated to mass consumption. The problems with Black Friday, however, are not specific to this pandemic year. The environmental repercussions from the overproduction and over-consumption across many industries are reason alone to boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The fast fashion industry in particular must be repudiated for the sake of our planet and humanity. Does that sound too much blame for one holiday? Perhaps making changes on the one day will inspire us to make changes on the other 364 days.
The origin of the name, “Black Friday,” is clouded in confusion. The most common explanation is merchant driven: Black Friday refers to the time when a surge in sales brings businesses “into the black,” and therefore they profit; however, the true origins are far less optimistic (Business Insider). Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant is remembered as one of the worst presidents in United States history, his legacy consumed by momentary scandal. In 1869, at the very beginning of his first term, Investors Jay Gould and James Fisk cornered the market by buying up gold to jack up it’s price. Grant discovered this and ordered the sale of $4,000,000 worth of government gold in exchange for greenbacks. The combined effect was the market crash known as “Black Friday” on September 24th, 1869 (PBS). The negative connotation of Black Friday doesn’t end with Grant’s presidency. In the 1950s, Philadelphia Police referred to the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday.” This was due to the increase in traffic and activity in the city as people flooded in to holiday shop before Saturday’s Army-Navy football game (Business Insider). As Black Friday evolved into the mass shopping day we know today, merchants petitioned to change the rename the day “Big Friday,” recognizing it as the first day of the profitable holiday shopping season. Alas, they were unsuccessful and here we are in 2020 awaiting Black Friday’s door-buster sales. The name, however, isn’t the only dark thing about Black Friday.
While Black Friday is, debately, good for business, it is detrimental to the environment, driven by trickery, and doesn’t necessarily benefit the consumer or local merchants. BestBlackFriday.com cites some of the top Black Friday merchants as Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s, and JCPenney. Not only do they have large in-store sales, but their Cyber Monday sales also dominate the e-commerce market. These large corporations require an increase in production to accommodate the increase in sales. This means that items are produced to be sold at a discount (Global Electronic Inc.). In addition, they are often outdated products sold at the sale price the previous year. Largely, the discounts aren’t as good as they are made out to be and many require rebate forms or other hoops to jump through. Cyber monday creates the same problem of overproduction for discounted sale, but adds the additional environmental impact of packaging, shipping, and transportation. This huge consumption of new products, such as electronics, leads shoppers to throw away tons of old, outdated items, landing them on top of the pile of 50 million tons of electronic waste produced each year (UN). Black Friday sales only multiply the waste and environmental problems created by corporations such as Amazon and other leading merchants.
The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year.The True Cost
Fast Fashion is Black Friday’s soulmate. It is the perfect holiday for an industry fueled by overproduction, quick turnover, and cheap prices. Annually, the “world consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing (The True Cost).” Due to the nature of fast fashion, these items are often worn only once before they are discarded. Americans alone create 80 pounds of textile waste per person per year (Huffington Post). We have grown accustomed to buying poor-quality clothing for cheap prices whenever we feel like it, and because there are so many seasons per year, fast-fashion trends fade quickly, landing more merchandise in the landfill. Black Friday reduces already low prices on mass produced clothing, exacerbating the amount of waste that is created. This perpetuates discount culture that overrides any consideration for quality and impact.
Given that 2020 is an unprecedented year influenced by the global pandemic and economic crisis, some may argue that merchants will depend heavily on Black Friday profits and consumers require discounted prices more than ever. I encourage this type of thinker to consider the top Black Friday merchants: Amazon, owned by one of the richest men in the world, has dominated the pandemic market and is not the type of company that won’t survive without additional profit late in the year. The same could be said for a number of other corporations that will offer large discounts this Black Friday. Now, if there is something you cannot afford otherwise and absolutely require a discounted price, by all means do what you need to do. But if you are shopping for the sake of discounts, keep in mind the type of business you are supporting. Consider shopping from local businesses rather than large corporations. Finally, ponder what we might gain from the pandemic: 2020 has offered us a time for reflection and the potential for revolutionary change. This could be exactly what the fashion industry needed in order to reconsider its trajectory. 2020 is the first year of the rest of your life. What changes are you going to make?
Globally, the movement to end Black Friday is picking up. Boycotts and protests are forming among consumers, while various merchants are refusing to offer Black Friday sales. In 2019, an Amazon Warehouse outside of Paris was blocked in protest Black Friday. Such actions have led french lawmakers to prioritize climate legislation. In addition to the environmental damage it causes, Black Friday “is first and foremost an enormous commercial operation by big online retailers,” says Elisabeth Borne, France’s minister for environmental transition. Black Friday is an American holiday that has only recently spread to Europe, but already groups in France are seeking to ban it due to the negative environmental effects.
Some retailers are taking a stand against Black Friday and Cyber Monday in a variety of creative ways. REI, the Seattle based company, pays their employees to take the day off. The outdoor retailer encourages employees and customers to spend the day outdoors with their family, rather than indoors participating in a system that is destroying the very outdoors they should be spending time in. (Forbes) In another approach, Allbirds, the San Francisco shoe company, is not offering discounts. In fact, they are raising the price of each product by $1. The extra money raised will be donated to Fridays for the Future, young activist Greta Thunberg’s climate organization (Fashion Network). Other climate groups are in the fight against Black Friday as well. Greenpeace is encouraging people to #BuyNothing and #MakeSmthng in order to put family, humanity, and the environment before consumerism. They will bring together a variety of organizations and industry professionals to lead workshops and teach new skills this November. It’s important to acknowledge these corporations and organizations taking a stand for the environment and working with their consumers. The future of the climate depends on our cooperation and dedication across industries. Change cannot rest solely in the hands of the consumer.
Tricky discounts and overproduction do not align with the future of fashion.
So, this Black Friday, amidst this wacky pandemic year, do something kind for the earth: Don’t buy into the discounts! If you must buy, Buy Local! Buy Black! Buy Responsible! Boycott Black Friday not because your individual environmental footprint matters but because we need to send the message to all industries: WE PRIORITIZE THE EARTH! Bear in mind, tricky discounts and overproduction do not align with the future of fashion. Let’s make this a turning point towards a slow, quality, ethical fashion industry.
Sources + Resources
Business Insider: “The True Story Behind the name ‘Black Friday’ is Much Darker Than You May Have Thought“
PBS: “Black Friday, September 24, 1869“
Business Insider: “11 Insider Facts Most Black Friday Workers Know — and You Probably Don’t”
Global Electronic Services Inc.: “Black Friday: How do Manufacturers Produce So Much?“
BestBlackFriday.com: ” What is Black Friday? Everything You Need to Know“
The Guardian: “Black Friday to Cause Spikes in Air Pollution and Plastic Waste, Warn Environmentalists“
Huffington Post: “These 3 Numbers May Make You Think Twice About Black Friday Shopping“
UN Environment Programme: “UN Report: Time to Seize Opportunity, Tackle Challenge of e-waste“
CNBC: “French Lawmakers Hope to Ban Black Friday Citing its Environmental Impact“
Forbes: “5 Examples Of How Black Friday Is Out And Consumer Mindfulness Is In“
The True Cost Movie: Environmental Impact
Presley Church | November 18th, 2020