At Riley Studio, we have never participated in Black Friday, and despite overwhelming pressure to operate like other brands, we never will. As part of our business model, we’ll actually never hold a sale throughout the whole year because we have worked hard to price our products fairly from the start. We want to explain exactly why, and why we think we should all turn our backs on Black Friday, alongside other marketing phenomenons created to lure consumers into an endless cycle of hyper-discounting, overconsumption and mindless purchasing.
Black Friday originally started in the USA decades ago on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but around 2010, it quickly became part of the retail calendar in the UK. You’ll probably remember headlines about consumers melting into pandemonium, in the quest to get their hands on discounted products. What was once a single day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday now engulf marketing campaigns for the whole of November, with an increasing amount of brands launching their discounts weeks earlier.
Fast forward to 2019, figures suggest that we’re expected to spend more than ever before, with payday for most set to take place on the same day. In 2018, £1.49 billion was spent on Black Friday in the UK, in online sales alone, an increase on the £1.39 billion spent in 2017. Each year, consumers allow themselves to become victims of psychological tricks that fuel insatiable, unsustainable consumption and a detrimental level of waste. According to a survey by finder.com, one in five Brits end up regretting their Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchases. Alongside this, the environmental, social and economic consequences of these hyper-discounts are having grave effects on people and the planet.
In the Eco-Age and Global Fashion Exchange campaign #TakeBackBlackFriday, they outline that there is always a human cost to low-cost purchases. They state that a 2016 report on Corporate Leadership on Modern Slavery found that, of the 71 participating, 77% of leading UK retailers believed it was likely that a form of slavery existed in their supply chains. They also add that, “when consumer demand and unsustainable revenue targets continue to grow together, so too does the human cost of fast and overwhelming scales of production”. This takes us back to Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign, and prompts us to question how it is at all possible to sell things so cheaply, whilst ensuring that everyone in the supply chain is treated and paid fairly. Spoiler alert, it’s not.
On the environmental side, every time we make a purchase, it has an environmental impact throughout the supply chain, from production and packaging to transport. With the rise of online shopping, in 2018 it was reported that 82,000 diesel vans and trucks took to the roads throughout the UK to deliver Black Friday and Cyber Monday deliveries, spiking air pollution and fuel consumption. There are figures that show some courier companies have to hire up to 10,000 more vans just for Black Friday.
Although discounts can offer an avenue for people to buy products that they might not have been able to afford at full price, and for many they buy into products that they need and will keep for years to come, we can’t argue with the facts that illustrate global overconsumption and overproduction, our throwaway culture and our rapid decrease in product utilisation.
Research today shows that the average person buys 60% more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago, but consumers keep that clothing for only half as long as they used to. In line with this, each year 60 million tonnes of clothing are produced, which could well reach 100 million by 2030 and instead of 2 seasons a year, we are faced with 50-100 micro seasons. With overproduction comes waste, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “it is estimated that more than half of fast fashion production is disposed of in under a year” resulting in significant environmental, social and economic repercussions. Additionally, our throwaway culture is estimated to cost the UK economy approximately GBP 82 million a year due to landfilling clothing and household textiles, with 11 million items of clothing ending up in UK landfills each week.
As consumers, we have become so accustomed to discounts, we have lost perspective on the value of products, and the process that goes into making something. With unprecedented sales throughout the year, why would we ever understand the value of things and buy them at full price? At Riley Studio, we really focus on building this value back into the clothes that we wear, celebrating our global team who helped to carefully craft our products. We work hard to outline the journey of each product, committing to full transparency of our supply chain, and aiming to educate at every opportunity. We want our community to feel a connection to their clothes again, and know who made them, hopefully encouraging them to look after the clothes they buy and consequently to wear them for years to come.
While some businesses are able to create a positive impact on Black Friday, they are the exception not the norm. For example, back in 2016 Patagonia announced that they would give 100% of their global retail and online Black Friday sales directly to grassroots nonprofits, the result was a record-breaking $10 million in sales! Many other companies commit to making donations and some completely close down their stores and website like Christopher Raeburn. The Global Climate Strike is also going to take place this Black Friday, offering many the opportunity to voice their opinions and to support its vital mission.
However, we would urge everyone to rethink Black Friday and discounting in general, encouraging companies to price fairly from the start, taking back control of their supply chains and business models. In line with this, focusing on setting targets to minimise environmental impact, overproduction and avoiding tactics that fuel overconsumption. Instead, committing to promoting slow, mindful consumption and production. On the consumer level, we urge you to rethink what you really need and to commit to understanding the impact of your purchase, who made your products and how they were made. Question if you can buy what you need from a conscious brand, rent it or buy it second hand. It is time for us to all slow down, think about our actions, and learn to respect our clothes and planet again.