25 Nov

Stop Before You Shop: The Issues With Black Friday and Cyber Monday

It’s time to stop before you shop. We’re taking a step back to shed light on the issues with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The biggest shopping event of the year

It’s that time of the year again: with Halloween behind us and the holidays ahead, businesses are bombarding our mailboxes with promotional emails, and our social media feeds are filled with one thing—Black Friday.

The biggest shopping event of the year is happening on Friday 25th November, closely followed by another: Cyber Monday. As usual, we’ve been prompted for a good few weeks already to get the early deals and prepare for the hefty discounts. But this year, it feels even more acute in part due to inflation that is threatening to disrupt consumer spending this holiday shopping season.

But this unconscious shopping frenzy cannot be good for the planet, people, and animals, and more and more people are starting to question and boycott shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Even when big brands and organisations put a “sustainable” spin on Black Friday, pushing “eco-friendly” deals, something feels off. There’s an increasing amount of greenwashing around these sales, but the overconsumption encouraged during this time can never truly be sustainable.

So this year, we’re taking a step back to shed light on the environmental and social damage of Black Friday. It’s time to stop before you shop and ask: what is Black Friday? Where did it come from? What’s wrong with it? And most importantly, how can we, as conscious consumers, fight against the tide?

What is Black Friday?

Before we look into the issues with Black Friday, let’s rewind a little.

While many believe the term “black” in Black Friday is linked to “showing a profit; not showing any losses,” the first mentions of Black Friday as we know it are said to have occurred around the 1960s in Philadelphia. Traffic police officers coined the term to describe the large crowds (creating traffic jams and overcrowded sidewalks) rushing to the stores on the Friday following Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping.

Retailers have since taken advantage of Black Friday, putting a positive spin on it and doing their best to attract larger crowds thanks to exclusive deals and discounts.

Black Friday is originally an (unofficial) American holiday, but in recent decades, the US phenomenon has spread its tendrils across the globe, in-store and online.

During Black Friday and its online cousin, Cyber Monday, retailers have one big goal: attract consumers to their store and website with one unmissable deal, hoping that you’ll fill your cart with more things you don’t need once you’re there.

What started as one day of shopping has become a whole season, with offers and discounts beginning as early as October.

What’s wrong with Black Friday?

Whenever I see articles or receive emails from brands or news outlets promoting the best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, urging me to buy, buy, buy, I cringe. And I’m sure you do too. Let’s take a look at why your gut feels so bad about it, even if you can’t put your finger on it just yet.

Black Friday’s environmental impact

The fashion industry, and especially fast fashion, is already polluting and exploitative as it is. Black Friday makes it even worse, as more and more people are prompted to spend their hard-earned dollars on those juicy deals.

More global consumer spending means more products being manufactured and shipped worldwide, so it’s no surprise that Black Friday’s carbon footprint has grown accordingly. According to one report, Black Friday 2021 in the UK alone was expected to emit 386,243 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, the same weight as 3,679 blue whales. Just picture that for a moment.

Because so many transactions are made, more emissions are created, more waste is generated, and more trucks are dispatched to meet the demand. The Guardian even revealed that in 2017, a diesel truck left an Amazon fulfilment centre around every 93 seconds.

Transportation has a significant environmental impact here, too. It has been estimated that shipping accounts for 3-4% of human-caused carbon emissions. A report from the European Parliament estimated that the number could rise as high as 17% by 2050.

But Black Friday’s environmental impact doesn’t stop the moment the products land on our doorsteps. No—Black Friday promotes overconsumption, pushing consumerism to its extremes by telling us we need more unnecessary, unwanted, cheap goods made from poor-quality, unsustainable materials. And what happens when we realise that juicy deal is falling apart? Most of us throw it away. In fact, one study has suggested that up to 80% of our Black Friday purchases are thrown away after just one or even zero uses.

Black Friday’s social impact

Black Friday doesn’t just impact the planet we live on. It also affects all of us, starting with the workers who produce the goods we’re buying.

Production at a large scale often comes with outsourcing labour to nations where brands get away with paying pennies, depriving workers of access to a living wage and safe working conditions, and trapping them in an inhumane cycle of poverty. And as you might have guessed, the extra profit generated by the sale of even cheaper goods during Black Friday doesn’t end up in the workers’ wallets.

Then comes the workers that package, ship, and deliver the products. They are often under a lot of stress during this time of year, working long hours—from 12-16 each day at Amazon—to meet deadlines. Last year, Amazon workers in many countries even threatened to go on strike during Black Friday to demand better pay and working conditions.

Black Friday also impacts us as consumers, playing on the idea that in this capitalist world, our value is based on the commodities we own and that by buying more things, we’ll feel better—more appreciated, loved, respected, and so on.

As Our Changing Climate highlight in their video, Black Friday’s deals and discounts aren’t created with shoppers in mind—they’re designed to plump up the companies’ balance sheets and the CEOs’ wallets. Black Friday is one of the many ways big brands are exploiting the working class for a profit.

A note on calling out people who shop during Black Friday

We’ve all seen the videos of the enormous crowds in shopping malls during Black Friday, shamelessly putting everything they can get their hands on in their carts. But this isn’t everyone’s reality. For some, Black Friday is one of their only chances to buy things they need. Calling out Black Friday shoppers doesn’t help, and some even argue that it’s classist, racist, and sexist.

Part of the solution lies in all of us individually taking a step back, looking at what we consume, and asking ourselves if we really need to participate in Black Friday—not judging what’s in our neighbour’s cart.

The other and most important part of the solution lies in addressing the systemic issues that lead to this yearly hysteria.

So what can you do instead?

So you’ve decided not to engage in Black Friday this year and to encourage those around you to do the same—congrats! But, what can you do instead? And where do you start?

At Good On You, we want to help you avoid the hype and embrace conscious consumerism. And to do that, we recommend you stop before you shop. Give yourself the gift of taking a moment to shift from unconscious to conscious consumer. Before you reach for your wallet, start by asking yourself these three questions. After doing this short exercise, you might find that you don’t need any new stuff after all.

Take a look at what’s already in your wardrobe and apply the 5 Rs of sustainable fashion: Reduce (what you own and consume), Rewear, Recycle, Repair, and Resell.

If, after all that, you still need to buy things, be curious and empower yourself to make better choices.

Here are a few other things you can do instead of chasing deals this Black Friday:

  • Shop from local fashion brands and support your communities at home.
  • At Good On You, we love to recommend some of the best sustainable brands, rated “Good” or “Great”, but we also encourage shopping pre-owned (we love Vestiaire Collective) or having a clothes swap with friends, as other great ways to reduce the impact of your fashion choices.
  • Participate in Giving Tuesday instead of Black Friday. Giving Tuesday helps promote charitable acts of giving and to foster a society that is “more gracious” and inspires people to work together and help each other.
  • Behind every discount, we should not forget that workers are being paid poverty wages for the clothes they make and that we wear. On Black Friday, join the Good Clothes Fair Pay‘s call for living wages by signing the petition.
  • Make sure to choose something from a fashion brand that positively impacts the planet and its inhabitants. You can use the free Good On You app or the directory to check the labour, environment, and animal ratings for thousands of fashion brands.

To help you out, here is a selection of brands that recognise the damage of events like Black Friday on conscious consumerism and go out of their way to fight against the tide:

  • Citizen Wolf (“Great”): For the last 2 years, Citizen Wolf has been running “Black Fridye”, an annual event aiming to end disposable fashion by hijacking the Black Friday sales/news cycle to make it simple to love your clothes longer by dyeing them black—same dopamine hit with 95% less carbon.
  • Flamingos’ Life (“Good”): Spanish plant-based shoemakers brand, Flamingos’ Life, will face Black Friday overconsumption by closing its online store on Black Friday. In a globalised world, the brand is joining forces with other ethical brands committed to the salvation of the planet to create a bigger impact and spread the message around the world.
  • MUD Jeans (“Great”): Denim expert MUD Jeans is closing its online store and selling vintage jeans via a live stream instead.
  • Pantee (“Good”): Similar to Flamingo’s Life, Pantee will turning off its website again this year to all but its engaged customers to fight against the huge amount of unsustainable impulse buying driven by Black Friday promotions. The message? Stop and think before you buy. Is it something you love? Is it something you need? If so, go ahead—buy, enjoy, and cherish your new clothes, tech, or Pantees until the very end.
  • RAEBURN (“Good”): RÆBURN, known for its responsible and intelligent fashion designs, is disabling its online store and offering an in-store repair service instead.
  • teemill (“Great”): Instead of asking customers to buy something new, teemill is asking them to send back their old products. The brand will use what customers have send back to create new products through a process called Remill, which has already helped us to divert 30,000kg of organic cotton from landfill, avoiding 1m kg of CO2e emissions, and saving 586m litres of water.
  • ASKET (“Good”): ASKET will also be shutting down their website, instead encouraging followers to care, repair and revive.
  • Kotn (“Good”): This Black Friday, Kotn isn’t going on sale. Instead, it’s building schools. For the sixth year in a row, and in partnership with the NGO Misr El Kheir Foundation, all proceeds from November 25th through November 29th will fund the build-out and operations of primary schools in rural Egypt.
  • Thesus (“Good”): Thesus will be running its annual Be Outside campaign again this year. The campaign aims to get people away from overconsumption and into the outdoors that weekend. It’ll be giving gift cards away to everyone who shows on social media that they are spending time in nature that weekend. Last year the brand got over 500 people into the outdoors, and this year it’s aiming for 1000.
  • Mashu (“Good”): This year, instead of a sale or any purchase incentive, Mashu is launching its CLEAR FRIDAY campaign, introducing its Traceability Roadmap at a product level. On each product page, customers will find a Traceability drop down, where they can learn about each step of their bag’s production, as well as understand the working conditions and pay of Mashu’s team at each point of production.
  • FREITAG (“Good”): Under the motto “Don’t shop, just S.W.A.P.”, the FREITAG Online Store will be closed on Black Friday, and you’ll be redirected straight to the brand’s S.W.A.P. bag exchange platform. And for the first time this year, you can also take part in a real-time, face-to-face bag exchange: on S.W.A.P. Friday, at selected FREITAG stores from Zurich to Tokyo.
  • Ecoalf (“Good”): Ecoalf is committed to not offering Black Friday discounts that could promote impulse buying. Instead, the brand wants to share alternatives to help you consume more responsibly and lower your impact.

These different actions are changes we can all make to help push the fashion industry to become more sustainable. But if we want real change to happen, we need to pressure the governments and brands, which are doing the most harm to our planet, people, and animals. In addition to buying less and buying better, you can also participate in social movements, ask for systemic change and justice, and challenge our capitalistic system and cultural habits.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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