The Outside View: Finding the True Value in Black Friday

Miles Socha and Eva Kruse
·4 min read

Time has been strange in 2020, and it’s hard to grasp that Black Friday – the infamous day when retailers slash prices and customers save the date in anticipation of scoring the “best bargain” – is already here.

When the first lockdown occurred during spring, the biggest problem for fashion retailers was inventory—mainly the fact they had too much, some even having produced too much for one season in anticipation of marking down prices as one season waned and another began. The lockdown, however, had plans of its own, which forced fashion brands to forego sales, leaving countless stock to accumulate in warehouses and at manufacturers around the world.

While there are vital lessons here, what remains clear for us all, citizens of the world, is to determine whether COVID-19 and the economic crisis have made us question our habits; question what creates value for us in our life; and possibly weaned us off our expectations, and perhaps even an addiction to sales, particularly notorious ones such as Black Friday.

The fact is there will always be a sale, with Black Friday being the peak—or the downhill—of any given year. The logic here illustrates that not only have we lost the respect and love for the products, but also that most of us would not even consider said products if it were not for the fact they were on sale.

The allure of a sale is the idea that one has made a deal—a grand bargain that one can blab about to your friends. But where does that leave us when it comes to value? If we buy products that we don’t actually need, but just because of the price tag, it means that we keep on telling the industry that overproduction is the way forward. That price is king. But this discount still comes at a cost—the ones paying for your Black Friday frenzy are those in the weakest link of the chain—the supply chain: garment workers, who are often overworked and underpaid; the climate which is being changed drastically due to extra CO2 emissions from production; and our planet’s scarce natural resources that are being drained rapidly.

It’s a vicious cycle and we’re all part of it—whether we want to be or not. We have been told that to be able to shop is a democratic right. That we deserve it. And somehow it has become a drug for us. This makes it hard to change one’s course overnight, and instead, opt out of the frenzy that constitutes notorious shopping days such as Black Friday. However, it is still possible to change the mission of Black Friday from greed to value.

In recent years, we have witnessed several brands boycott Black Friday—the outdoor brand Patagonia being the most famous retailer to do so. This year, the San Francisco-based footwear company Allbirds plans to raise its prices on Black Friday and donate the proceeds. This sets the tone for a new kind of Black Friday, one where retailers chart their own course, and by doing so encourage customers to do the same, or at least rethink their behavior.

Keeping this in mind, there are different paths that we as customers can take when it comes to our retail choices and habits. In Global Fashion Agenda’s most recent report, “Fashion on Climate,” produced in tandem with our strategic knowledge partner McKinsey & Company, we illustrated the simple steps—“baby steps” if you will—that customers can take in order to reduce emissions by 2030. We all have the potential to curb emissions, from washing our clothes less often and at cooler temperatures, to ensuring that we recycle and reuse garments, rather than discard them at will.

And if you really feel like going shopping on Black Friday, you should consider carefully what you buy, choose with the same sense of value, appreciation and worth even if the prices are low: Choose quality over quantity; choose things you will keep for long and wear over and over again.

Support sustainable brands and products that have had a respectful way into our world by doing a little background check on brands to see if their values are aligned with your own: “How was it made?” “By whom?” Or even consider going to vintage stores and buy preloved items. Remember: Fashion should be all about love of the product – not the bargain. That’s where the true value of fashion begins.

Eva Kruse is the chief executive officer of Global Fashion Agenda, a non-profit organization working to mobilize and guide the fashion industry to take bold and urgent action on sustainability.

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