Ahhh Thanksgiving, a time-honored American holiday that has bred another, more complicated holiday, one enshrined entirely to the apex of capitalism and consumerism. That’s right, Black Friday. And while this holiday is great for those of us looking to snag deals on new technology, it is something of a nightmare when we consider the drastic impact this heightened consumer frenzy has on the environment.
In this unfiltered discussion, curated and hosted by Leila Fataar, we explore overconsumption to answer the question: “Do we still need moments like Black Friday?”
Leila Fataar, founder, Platform13 – @leila_fataar
Dio Kurazawa, co-founder of The Bear Scouts – @diokurazawa
Lola Okuyiga, buyer & former director of collaborations and special projects – @gaptoothgirl
Leanne Elliott Young, co-founder of Institute of Digital Fashion – @LeanneElliottYoung
Steve Dool, Head of Brand Partnerships at Depop – @depop
Leila: I think that sustainability needs to be redefined as “planet and people,” because that’s something people seem to forget. Fashion is the world’s second largest polluter after the oil industry. People buy 80 billion garments around the world every year. 80 billion. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester. And that takes more than 200 years to decompose. I mean, these are ridiculous numbers.
So since the 1980s, many Western fashion retailers have been sourcing their clothes from countries with low labor costs, Di, looking at you, and poor environmental governance. What does this mean for things like Black Friday? Because without that, would these people be starving? What is the way forward for this? What do you think, Di?
Dio: I come from the Global South, and I come from a family who manufactures in the Global South and has taken advantage of globalization, or let’s say the offshoring, production from the Western world. Everyone has to evolve. And what I mean by that is, I don’t look at my family and say, “We rely on the pennies that we get from the Western world, and without those pennies, where would we be?” We have to disrupt the industry in a way that sees the supply chain and the brands partnering, but not partnering from “Yes, my partner in the supply chain is ABC,” but partnering from a perspective of sharing gross profit margin. If I’m a supplier and I’m getting the cost of goods for whatever I create for a brand, why should I not also get a small piece of the pie of profit?
Leila: Yeah, but because of over-consumption, you get these big, fast fashion retailers that are selling things at five pounds, that to make is pennies. I mean, it’s ridiculous. The margins are massive. What if the margins of the price of it are so small that it’s impossible to do? Which means that somewhere, something’s got to give… usually at that labor cost and supply chain further down the line.
Dio: It’s not just the labor cost. I spent, let’s say, three years in Bangladesh for brands I shouldn’t mention. And I can say that there’s a lot of unregulation, which is the reason why things are the way they are. I’ve sat in meetings where I’m, at the time, a product developer, meaning I go on a development trip, let’s say for a month, get everything ready, and then the buyers come in to make decisions and to negotiate the cost. And I would be privy to this negotiation. The buyers would first go to Pakistan, and then they would come to Bangladesh, and the buyer would lie to the owner of the factory and say, “Hey, the guy in Pakistan is saying it’s 10 cents less than what you’re offering.” Total lie. I know it’s a lie. But what can I say? The owner of the factory is literally in tears. I’m a person of color and I’m hearing this person of color talk to this Western person and saying “Boss, please don’t do this. If you do this, then we cannot lose the business.” Cause look, not taking the business is bigger than taking the cents off.
But if you take the cents off, then what is missed? You mentioned labor cost immediately. Labor cost, yes. But what about innovation? What about basic maintenance of the factories? What about the future of the factory, as far as bringing in new business, bringing in new employees? It’s a downward spiral. But it’s all based on the fact that clothing is cheap.
Leila: Exactly. Why should clothing be so cheap? Leanne, from a digital innovation point of view, can people still have that feeling of expression and stuff that we love clothes for?
Leanne: The key thing we talk about as a company that’s creating digital fashion is that we are not negating our physical world. It’s how the IRL and URL, how the physical and digital, can work in unison, and how they can lay on top of one another, and what these experiences feel like. If you boil it all down, fashion is about expression. It’s about kinship. Fashion is about expression. It’s about kinship. And what we’re missing is that when you actually all live in a digital age, and the fact that everyone thinks digital fashion is so abstract, but actually we’re already sharing digital assets. As soon as you post something on Instagram, that is a digital asset. And it all comes down to the idea that if we, as humanity, really thought about how we could live in a more cooperative space, then the world would actually be a much better space, a greener space.
Leila: Steve, what are your thoughts on the impact of people, the structure, and how it feeds each other in a way? And to Leanne’s point of view, this idea of the digitization of it?
Steve: I mean, it’s structural, there’s so many places that need vast improvement and complete overhaul. But on a fundamental level, if you are a consumer and you see a bathing suit, a T-shirt, whatever the case may be, sold for five pounds, how do you say no? Especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of disposable income? We can shout at the top of our lungs 365 days a year about how we need to make better choices as consumers, but we need to be more responsible and more conscious.
Dio: It’s up to people like us, and to brands, to educate and explain and have that level of transparency. But there has to be a real reckoning with someone who just doesn’t have a lot of other options financially. It’s hard for a consumer to navigate when push comes to shove, when it comes to taking money out of their wallet. So I hope all consumers are educating themselves. I hope brands are being transparent about it. The responsibility is on everyone to do better in a way that’s hard to pinpoint, like, “This is what we should do tomorrow.”
Leanne: There’s so many smarter ways to shop now. You can purchase something, and then there’s an option or ability for resale, like Depop. The youth are getting more and more smart about thinking about their own ecosystems, their own sense of commerce. And I feel like we’re in a really powerful time now, because as a customer, you can really make a statement. We’ve got these platforms where you can really amplify your message. And it means that there’s much more knowledge out there.
Lola: Hype culture gets such a bad rap, but when I think about hype, I think about demand exceeding supply. Which is what we want, right? What I always think with sustainability is mindful consumption, and when demand obviously outstrips supply, then it means that you’ve got stuff that people aren’t going to throw away. They are going to put it in the circular economy, or they’re going to keep it and display it and sit on it or whatever. We live in this timeline-based culture, so “New In” is the most-shopped page at most retailers or brands. That is what is driving demand. We’re literally scrolling down, trying to see what’s new. Expecting consumers to make better decisions when things are quite confusing is quite hard.
Leila: Absolutely. I don’t think it’s as simple as going, “It’s not the consumer,” or “It is the consumer,” or “It is the industry.” It’s going to take a village, all of us, to make the change. So, what is the solution? What is the short-term, medium-term, and long-term solution? Because to your point, what can you do tomorrow? I think where everyone gets stuck, they’re like, “Oh my God, it’s so massive. I don’t even know where to start.”
Covid gave us this amazing opportunity where the semantics of fashion were really reconsidered. It gave us a point, almost like a breather, to think about the future of the industry. I feel like the fashion industry is like a big beast. It’s like the Titanic. It’s massive. And it’s like, we’re heading towards the iceberg, but it’s too big to turn, everyone’s on the top deck still playing, they’re like, “Oh my God, I can see it.” How do you remodel that?
I’ll talk about digital, because that’s my space. With a digital asset from studio floor to shop floor, that asset is a digital asset, but there’s nothing that has gone into production. And that can be worn a million times and it’s still the worn asset. You can click through various different fabrics and they haven’t even gone into production. You can see it in a python skin, but no pythons were killed. That’s the beauty of that landscape. Those things seem so radical to even because it feels all so abstract. There’s so many solutions, but incrementally, as the adoption of digital has become more and more normalized, we’ll really see that shift in the landscape and have lots of sustainability.
Steve: Maybe there’s a way to at least kind of lean into that unquenchable thirst that consumers seem to have around something new. That’s just shifting it slightly into, you’re not necessarily buying all the clothes that you used to buy to wear on Instagram or TikTok. You’re maybe replacing some of those with digital. It’s a start towards something that seems a little bit better.
Leila: Di, you’ve been working in this space for a long time. Out of all the stuff that you’ve been seeing, what do you think is the one that’s a myth? And then also, what do you think is the one that has the legs, in thinking about the future and where that innovation could happen?
Dio: One of the myths is about circularity and recycling. We work with a lot of influential or high brands, and at the end of the day, if you have a recycled product, it’s not 100% recycled. It’s maybe sometimes 30 percent. If you’re lucky, depending upon the fibers, up to 70 percent. And then if you want to push circularity, to bring back into the supply chain something that was 50 percent, which if I now recycle it again, it’s even less.
However, I believe very much in upcycling, and in 3D printing. And I would love to see direct-to-consumer shipping. So it’s not shipped to a distribution center or to a shop anywhere. It goes direct. That’s a major improvement to the carbon footprint.
Leila: What’s the blocker right now in your industry? What can we do straight away this year? What can we do next year? Are we doomed? Steve?
Steve: We are in the business of selling things that people like, that make them feel good, that they can express themselves in. I don’t want to see another more consciously-made or ethically-made collection that’s promoted with somebody walking through a fucking field and touching a tree. I can’t relate to that. It has to look good. Do you know what I mean? And I know that that sounds frivolous. But truly, if we’re selling the ideal, it has to be made well, mindful of the people who make it. We can start there.
Leila: One last comment, do we need Black Friday?
Lola: I’ll say no for the big companies. However, I do feel like a lot of smaller brands and people I know use it to.. It is another peak for them. So I guess from a supporting small businesses point of view, it could be a thing, but I don’t like the concept of it as in terms of just markdown. It’s work. It’s like a moment on the calendar, isn’t it? People around, and then everyone knows to shop on that day, and if people are going to shop and you’re not going to stop someone from shopping, let’s least give them some –
Leila: Better options that are feasible and realistic. Yes, we should.