22 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.

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 26th 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 the supply chain crisis that is threatening to disrupt the 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 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.

According to EcoCart, Black Friday 2020 was the most polluting holiday yet, as consumers spent $9 billion shopping online—up 21.6% on the previous year.

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, online shopping for Black Friday 2020 in the UK alone emitted 429,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, the same weight as 61,308 elephants. 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 recent 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 Germany 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 ethical 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.
  • 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 over 3,000 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

Rated: 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.

See the rating.

Support Citizen Wolf.

Flamingos’ Life

Rated: Good

Spanish plant-based shoemakers brand, Flamingos’ Life, will face Black Friday overconsumption by closing its online store on Black Friday. In a globalized 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.

See the rating.

Support Flamingos’ Life.

MUD Jeans

Rated: Great
A man wears navy jeans and a blue top

Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans is all about sustainability. Not only does it offer a repair service, but it also provides a rental service where you can lease a pair of jeans for up to a year! This Friday, MUD Jeans is shutting down its webshop and will sell vintage jeans only.

See the rating.

Shop MUD Jeans.

Outland Denim

Rated: Great

Outland Denim will not be discounting any of its items during Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year. For the brand, discounting means not providing the maximum impact and benefit to its mission and to its staff in Cambodia. Love!

See the rating.

Support Outland Denim.

Dedicated

Rated: Good
A woman wears a grey sweatshirt with a ballerina on the front.

This year, Dedicated will not run any sale on Black Friday, but will instead run its Plant Friday campaign, planting a tree for every order made between 26-28 November!

See the rating.

Support Dedicated.

Mashu

Rated: Good
Peach mashu mini tote

Mashu is proud to be giving back this Black Friday, donating 15% of all sales to Cool Earth from 22nd – 29th November. Cool Earth is a non-profit organisation that works with forests & their communities to halt deforestation and climate change.

See the rating.

Shop Mashu.

TAMGA Designs

Rated: Great

The destruction of old-growth forests is leading species to the brink of extinction and eliminating one of our planets’ best defences against climate change. Since 2016, TAMGA commits Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend to raising money for our NGO partners in Sumatra, who are successfully restoring rainforest that was previously cleared for palm oil and other plantations (including plantations growing wood for viscose fabrics).
TAMGA’s goal with this campaign is to shift a weekend that’s known for mindless consumerism into a mindful shopping experience. From November 25th to 29th, shoppers will get up to 30% off TAMGA’s sustainable fashion styles, and 20% of every sale will be donated to rainforest restoration in Sumatra.

See the rating.

Support TAMGA Designs.

Baukjen

Rated: Good

Offers

woman of colour wearing grey eco-friendly coat by Baukjen

Baukjen – Coats and Jackets

Layering season is just around the corner, but don't worry: these coats are guaranteed to work with everything in your wardrobe. Exclusive 15% off jackets and coats with code GFY15. (Ends: 3 DEC)

Checkout code: GFY15
Shop now
woman wearing red sustainable knitted cardigan by Baukjen

Baukjen – Knitwear

Knitwear that looks good and does good? It’s right here and it's made to see you through all seasons in style. Exclusive 15% off knits and cardigans with code GFY15. (Ends: 3 DEC)

Checkout code: GFY15
Shop now

Baukjen – Sweatshirts and Joggers

A collection of colourful hoodies, zip-up sweatshirts, and super-soft organic cotton joggers that makes off-duty dressing a breeze. Exclusive 15% off sweatshirts and joggers with code GFY15. (Ends: 3 DEC)

Checkout code: GFY15
Shop now

Baukjen – Tops and Tees

From organic t-shirts to ethical tops, Baukjen's range ticks both the stylish and sustainable boxes. Exclusive 15% off tops and tees with code GFY15. (Ends: 3 DEC)

Checkout code: GFY15
Shop now

Baukjen is a London-based womenswear brand, with a focus on environmental, ethical, and sustainable style. Its clothes are designed for you, designed for good. Baukjen is pledging to give back this Black Friday and will donate all profits over the fourday shopping weekend (26th 29th November) to a selection of charities, honouring their commitment to give back for a second year running.

See the rating.

Support Baukjen.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good

LA-based Whimsy+Row will be doing up to 75% off from the 19th – 29th and will be planting 1 tree with One Tree Planted for every purchase.

See the rating.

Support Whimsy + Row.

Raven + Lily

Rated: Good
woman lying on bed wearing Raven + Lily jewellery and homewares

This year Raven + Lily is selling archived leather samples from past seasons’ designs that it either developed or decided not to move forward with in production. This campaign ties in with Green Friday to discourage fast fashion and support repurposed sustainable materials that won’t go to waste.

See the rating.

Support Raven + Lily.

KENT

Rated: Great

On November 26th, KENT is making Black Friday green! All orders placed Friday through Giving Tuesday will receive seed bombs to slow down from shopping and plant pretty wildflower seeds.

See the rating.

Support KENT.

Organic Basics

Rated: Great
people wearing organic basics basics

Organic Basics offers high-quality sustainable fashion basics for men and women in organic materials. This Black Friday the brand is giving 10€ to the restorative pilot project in partnership with WWF for every order placed during Black Friday.

See the rating.

Support Organic Basics.

Brothers We Stand

Rated: Great
A man in a black puffy hooded coat.

Men’s ethical clothing platform, Brothers We Stand is shutting down shopping for Black Friday to help create a more sustainable world of fashion. Its home page will host 3 alternative actions to raise awareness of Black Friday’s impact on us, the planet and the workers in the clothing industry.

See the rating.

Support Brothers We Stand.

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 more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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