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Colouring Black Friday? .. Whose Pockets Are You Lining?

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Making A Difference As We Buy

Giving can be one of the biggest joys in life, and it can be a real delight to watch people [particularly small children] taking time to select something to buy to give to someone they love. At markets, I particularly enjoy helping younger people choose one of my creations, however small, such as a small lavender bag, typically for their Mum or their granny.

'The Gift' is important in all cultures, and most have a festival which enshrines it. A gift which someone has made themselves have a particularly special meaning, and something bought with a lot of thought can be very special too. So festivals involving gifts, such as Christmas or Diwali to name but two, are an opportunity to make someone feel very special by virtue of what we choose to give them, and the thought that goes into it.

Festivals involving gifts also, of course, create great opportunities for retailers, small and large and at the moment it's all happening isn't it? Winter Markets and Christmas Fairs everywhere. I had a stall at the three day Pop Up Winter Fair at Sefton Park Palm House in Liverpool last weekend, and will be at a few others over the next couple of weekends. Like many markets, they are friendly events with a wonderful range of independent makers, artists and food stalls, whom it's a real pleasure to meet and support by buying from them. And there's absolutely no pressure to buy.

But the run up to Christmas is also hyper-commercialised. 'Black Friday' is upon us this week, on November 25th 2022. The consumerist hype is deafening on the high street, on media commercials and online in persistent email shots. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Rebellion is afoot, not so much against giving material presents but against the scale of global commercialisation, the pressure to buy and consume, and its threat to sustainability. It's a matter of proportion, context and focus.

Gift-givers have significant purchasing power.. we can positively decide about the kind of producer or retailer we want to support with our purchases.. do we want to line the pockets of big business and exploitative employers, or support independent small businesses and independent artisans who place sustainability and creativity at the heart of what they do? A stark opposition maybe, and there are clearly points between these two poles, but any festival of giving, and buying to give, is a chance to make conscious and positive decisions which can make a real difference.

So are we for Black Friday, big retailers' deals and profits, or for supporting small businesses and independents through alternatives such as Colour Friday , local markets and artisans' websites?

What is 'Black Friday'?

Black Friday originated in North America, on the last Friday of November, the day after the annual holiday of Thanksgiving, which originally celebrated the harvest and other blessings of the previous year. It's seen by many as the day when Christmas shopping unofficially starts.

Parades celebrating Thanksgiving often included Santa at the end, with the idea that "Santa has arrived" because Christmas was the next major [Christian] holiday. Because many employers gave their employees the Friday off as part of the Thanksgiving holiday week-end, retailers would promote a range of "doorbuster" items across their stores to attract shoppers and kick off the Christmas shopping season. Stores were often open as early as 5 am. Black Friday has become one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the US, with discounts offered in store and, now, online.

More recently, some retailers have extended their Black Friday sales into Cyber Monday on the following Monday, a 24-hour online shopping event created to persuade people shop online.

Why is it called 'Black Friday'?

There are two [possible more] explanations for the name Black Friday. One is that in the 1960s, police in Philadelphia coined the term to describe the traffic and other chaos resulting from crowds coming into the city to begin their holiday shopping [yet another example of the colour black being associated with negative experiences]. The other explanation is that because retail businesses do a massive proportion of their trade in the run up to Christmas, and spend the rest of the year making a loss [ie 'in the red'], this start of Christmas shopping sends them 'into the black'.. ie making a surplus.

For some years, it was common for Black Friday sales to extend through week-end, but this largely stopped by retailers to create a greater sense of urgency or FOMO [fear of missing out] and, arguably, to generate greater profit.

A Global Phenomenon

The concept of Black Friday with heavily discounted sales to stimulate the Christmas shopping season has spread internationally. In the UK in the early 2010s, several American-owned retailers such as Amazon and ASDA started U.S.-style Black Friday promotions, followed by more British retailers.

The advent of online shopping, accelerated by COVID has diluted the significance of Black Friday, but it remains a date in the retail calendar with significant sales promotions. Big retailers invest heavily in advertising their promotional deals. What started as one day of shopping has in some cases become a whole season, with offers and discounts beginning as early as October.

What's wrong with 'Black Friday'?

With Black Friday, retailers clearly have a single aim: to promote sales and get us to buy, buy buy. By hooking us in with an "unmissable" deal, they hope we will buy lots more besides, once we're there, whether in store or online. Its purpose is to maximise sales, revenue and profits [as one explanation or the name attests].

In short, Black Friday promotes over consumption and overproduction, particularly [but not exclusively] in textiles and fashion. The excess products are dumped if they are not sold, generating landfill waste. The problem of overconsumption is compounded by the shoddy and unsustainable materials from which many of the cheap goods in Black Friday 'deals' are made. And many of those purchases are regretted and just thrown away by purchasers, often after never being used. And this, after an intense shopping experience which many find just too stressful.

The volume of 'unnecessary' spending and overconsumption is not the only concern. In a globalised world, with production and distribution chains stretching across and between continents, Black Friday’s carbon footprint has grown massively. In 2021, Black Friday in the UK alone was expected to emit 386,243 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions: the same weight as almost 4,000 blue whales.

The damage doesn't stop at the environment.. it has a major impact on employees in the manufacturing, transport and retail industries. Someone plays the price for cheap goods. Pay and working conditions in mass manufacturing industries such as textiles can be appalling and unregulated, whilst around the time of Black Friday, the pressure on retail and delivery staff to meet deadlines can be acute, with long working days, piece rates [payment for each item delivered, rather than a rate for the day] and low pay.

'Colour Friday': A Positive Alternative

Holly Tucker has long been a champion of independent small businesses. In 2006, she launched 'Not on the High Street', a website where small businesses can sell their products. She now runs Holly & Co, a consultancy inspiring and supporting small business.

Mindful of the impact of COVID lockdowns on small business, in 2021 Holly & Co launched Colour Friday to kickstart a retail revolution for Christmas shoppers. Rather than taking part in the mass consumption of Black Friday, they encouraged the celebration of the colour and creativity of small businesses and the purchase of carefully made Christmas gifts from UK independents.

This year, mindful of the impact of the economic downturn on demand for, and costs of, small businesses' creations, Holly's shouting even louder about Colour Friday. She's exhorting us to be #Retail Rebels, turning our backs on big busineess and brands, to support independent small businesses. This cheerleading is much needed.. half of UK's small businesses are worried that this Christmas will be their last trading.

How to be a #Retail Rebel and Support Colour Friday

It's easy to support that spirit and reality of Colour Friday by using your purchasing power on 25th November, and in your festive shopping generally.

Shop with independent businesses committed to sustainability and choose gifts made with love to last. Seek them out on your high street, go to local regular or Pop Up artisan markets, or find them on social media and online. You can always look at hte list of stall holders on good market directories such as Pedddle. In many cases you'll be supporting wonderful creativity, buying one-of-a-kind gifts which will be really special.

And if you buy from local small business makers, artists and creatives, you'll be putting your purchasing power into the local community where it in turn will have a positive impact, rather than sending it off to the deep, distant pockets of big multinational business.

So whatever your festival of giving, and wherever you are shopping, in buying-to-give you can think big, shop small and sustainable make a big, colourful difference and choose to line independent creative and ethical pockets! #ShopSmall #ShopLocal #ShopIndependent #ShopSustainable. Buying #JustaCard can mean a lot!

Maggie Pearson

21 November 2022

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