Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shopping Ethically

The post that follows appeared first at Grey Eye Designs Studio Blog. After being subjected to much gushing and pleading, the author, local craftista Brigid Vance, agreed to re-post it here at Enjoy!

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.

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.

Thanks again for this post, Brigid. Tulsans, feel free to adopt this post as your manifesto on holiday shopping. I know I did.

For more local, handmade gift resources, visit:
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Holly said...

Go, Brigid! Tell it, girlfrien'.

Tasha said...

I know, Holly, right? Brigid sure does write pretty...

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