We all have brands and stores that we love. In high school there was the girl that wore exclusively Victoria's Secret underwear and yoga pants. Some guys and gals spend their entire paychecks on Air Jordans at only 17 years old. This brand obsession starts young and keeps going strong until adult hood, and these same people become Logo Slaves. Don't confuse logo slavery with loyalty, however. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a company consistently putting out good products that their customers enjoy and build up a following, but when that company doesn't respect it's employees or the earth, and over charges its customers, that's when the issues arise.
I am guilty of being a normal human being and buying things from big corporations like Walmart, even though I know some of their business practices aren't the best. I don't research every single item I purchase on Amazon to see whether or not it is a fair trade product or if it's factories paid their workers slave wages. Let's face it, living as a person in this society is inherently consumptive. Unless we have a team of researchers it is impossible for the average person to live in a zero carbon footprint and 100% ethical manner when it comes to the products they consume. As a human I will always produce trash, purchase items out of necessity, and buy things from companies I don't exactly applaud. This is something that I came to accept. Here is an anecdote from my time in Istanbul that really drove this point home to me:
In Turkey I worked at a university and taught English. Traditionally the Turks drink lots of tea, and there are big thermoses in the cafeteria. I was getting tea with a coworker. He filled up the styrofoam cup, and I out of habit, picked up the glass cup. He knew that I was very green and very much a hippy, I joked, “I take the glass cups so as to not harm the environment...” he replied, “well, after you drink that tea the cafeteria women will wash the cup with hot water, which uses water and energy. They will also use soap to wash it, and that soap may not be friendly towards the environment. One way or another you will always consume and effect the world around you.”
He and I had a lengthy discussion on the matter, but this is the paraphrased version. That really made me think. Did anything I do to supposedly “save the planet” actually do anything? I came to the realization that I can still do my part, that I refuse to contribute to a broken system, and I can make my own change even as one small person. I think that in this era of consumption it is important to start a dialogue about what it means to have a set of values as a consumer, or to identify what exactly you expect from the brands you support. That's why I compiled a list of all the deal breakers that cause me to break off relationships with my brands.
1. The use of prison labor
This is absolutely, positively, number one on my list. This country is a capitalist society, that means it runs on money. With every dollar I spend I am casting a vote on how I believe consumers and corporations should interact. Many people are still unaware of the prison labor problem that we have in this country. As the leaders of the “free world” and the “Land of the Free” we are also somehow the leaders in incarceration rates. According to prisonpolicy.org,
“The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. Territories.”
Think about that. More than two million people in prison. That's more than the population of some countries. Not only is there a prison industrial complex in this country, large corporations are cashing in at an exponential rate. Prison labor makes it completely legal to force inmates to work for cents a day, producing items that we use every day and would otherwise have no clue as to how they were made. The benefit of paying workers such low wages is that the profit margin on each item is insane. That money is then funneled back into politics to ensure legislators continue voting in favor of for-profit prisons, and the judicial system to continue sending more and more people to jail. It is a horrible monstrous cycle and the cost is not only innocent human lives but also the well being of an entire society. When millions of us are locked behind bars and are living in standstill, it slows down the progress of the entire society. Victoria's Secret is a company that has its clothes produced in prisons, which is why I refuse to purchase or wear any of their products.
2. Discriminatory hiring practices
Have you found yourself in a store and realize you are surrounded by a bunch of employees that all look almost exactly the same? I find that happens most at the mall, specifically at Abercrombie and Fitch. I don't shop there, but I used to browse when I was younger and I always seemed to be helped by some form of young, slim, and blonde white person. That company is also known for it's owner, Mike Jeffries, who is notorious for spouting offensive things like,
“That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”
Read the other ridiculous things he's said here. When Mike Jeffries says he only hires cool, good-looking people, and you go to his store as a consumer and only see thin white people working there, that is code for racism. I call it like it is, he is a white supremacist consistently pushes people of color and people with larger bodies out of his brand with his rhetoric. When I go into that store, I personally feel unwelcome and I am not even a quote “plus-size” girl. I wear a size 12, I am almost 6 feet tall, I am a large person, but not over weight. Even so, I still used to find difficulty finding clothing in my size. This made me feel discouraged and I ended up never shopping there, accomplishing what Jeffries wanted. I can only imagine what a size 22 woman of color would feel walking in there.
3. Two-faced marketing techniques under big umbrella companies
Ever sit and read the back of your shampoo bottle out of boredom? Admit it, we've all done it. During one of these boredom fueled reading sprees I discovered that my Dove soap was made by the same umbrella brand, Unileaver, as Axe. Generally Dove is marketed towards women and Axe is marketed towards men. Dove gained some attention in recent years with its campaign to help women love their bodies, with commercials showcasing women of all colors and body shapes. I am sure Unileaver raked in extra profits because of those commercials, they were catering to the soft spot inside all women who secretly just want someone to tell us we are pretty. They are exploiting the insecurities of women for their profit, because in the same breath their Axe commercials create the same problem the Dove commercials claim to be tackling. You may have seen an Axe ad on T.V in which a sexy greek god looking man uses the soap/cologne/shampoo and suddenly he is being followed by a bunch of thin white young white women. I specifically remember one commercial during the Super Bowl where the guy looked like a sports champion and he walked into a room holding his trophy, and found five naked women, all porcelain and long limbed, ready to be taken as a prize. This was obviously targeted towards young men, and the ad is objectifying women to serve its purpose as an attractive element to the product. That really rubbed me the wrong way. When large umbrella companies manipulate their customers to make a buck, that's when I take a step back. Now I used organic soap bars and try to buy local when I can.
4. Funding corrupt politicians
This one is a little more difficult to prove or find out. There are certain types of corporations who donate money to politicians. In a world where companies pinch every penny, they are pouring billions of dollars into politics for a reason, they hope to influence policies in their favor. The gun and oil industry is famous for being involved with politics, but I know there are others. The roots of this country is in exploitative capitalism, so corporations will always use their power to swing the odds in their favor. I like to do research when I can to find out more about the companies I am supporting. It helps to start in reverse, by looking up top paying politicians and seeing who is contributing money to their campaigns. An example of that is JP Morgan and other big banks funding the Hilary Clinton campaign. Her history with Wall Street, the fact that several other banks donated large sums, and that she was paid thousands to make a single speech, leads me to believe that these banks are in some shady business. I try my best not to give my money to businesses like that.
5. A history of causing ecological disasters, and other companies who fund them
When corporations have a history of causing large ecological disasters and continue business as usual, that sends a huge red flag up in my head. Enbridge is a the biggest example I can think of. It is an oil company with pipelines lacing like spider webs across the United States. The history of oil spills is scary:
6. Creating hype and over saturating the market with products and ignoring societal consequences.
didn't even realize the true effect that Air Jordan shoes had on youth in urban school until I heard stories from friends who grew up in Detroit. Students in poor schools weren't allowed to were Air Jordan shoes to school because students kept getting beaten up and robbed of their shoes. It makes sense, these kids are living in an area where your clothes are your status. They save up all their money then spend it all on a pair of shoes that are limited edition, like all the Air Jordan shoes, and then they feel special. These kids use these shoes for pride and self-esteem in an otherwise crazy environment. It is normal to have hype and thefts over expensive items, but that can be reduced by creating a less exclusive brand. When shoes are made to be so expensive, and are only for sale for extremely short periods of time, it gets competitive. The brand Supreme has people waiting in line for countless hours simply so they can purchase products to resell as break neck prices. For these brands, it's all about the novelty, and making their customer feel special and part of an exclusive club. Air Jordan releases a new limited edition pair of shoes every month. There are so many pairs that no one except the true fans can name them all. There are so many, but there are so few of each design, and they are all sold at such high prices. When they are released people spend their un-refundable currency of time and wait for days to get the shoes.The person standing in line can often times be depending on the money for their paycheck, the consumer who doesn't make it in time is screwed over because they now have to pay twice the original price, and in the end the company is the only one who wins, because they make the shoes in China for $2 each and release a new one every month for the cycle to repeat itself while consumers fight for scraps.
7. Getting products made overseas and pay workers slave wages but sell their products for an insane profit margin.
This one is a general catch all for large corporations. Most business see the benefit in outsourcing work to China. Hell, I've even been guilty of checking out Ali Baba and seeing how cheap it is to get 500 beautiful leather bags made for me, but after a quick thought I didn't go through with it. The profit margins are tempting, and I know a lot of fellow Detroit designers who are getting their products made overseas, but I can't bring myself to do it with a good moral conscious. This goes for my spending habits as well. Usually when something it dirt cheap, its for a reason. I would rather spend a little more and know I am sending out good karma, rather than buy something made by underage kids in some basement in Vietnam just to save a buck.
8. Discriminatory branding with only thin/white models shown
This one hits home for me, because I'm so emerged in the fashion industry. Everything I do on a daily basis revolves around my fashion business. When I walk in the streets I observe what people wear to inspire me. When drive I see billboards of skinny models in dresses selling perfume. When I am in the mall I look at the imagery in the makeup shops and of the models in their clothing. I draw inspiration and pay attention to everything about clothes on people, and so I notice a lot about it too. When I notice a company, for example, Eddie Bauer, that very rarely shoes a person of color wearing their clothes, it sticks with me. The fact that some lingerie brands only depict women with impossibly tiny bodies and porcelain skin makes me not want to shop there or support them. I told myself from the beginning of my fashion journey that I would commit myself to building an inclusive brand, for bodies of all shapes sizes and colors. My shopping habits should show the same values as my business.
9. No effort made towards finding a greener business solution
Let's face it, technology is evolving more and more every day. There are always new solutions being found, and sometimes to problems we didn't even know existed. One problem we are all very well aware of is climate change. Even though people like Donald Trump and his administration like to be in denial about facts, there is evidence that coal companies started predicting climate change as early as the eighties. There are so many ways to utilize green energy to create the products and services that we use every day. Clothing companies could start an initiative to recycle cotton instead of continuing to grow more. In fact, it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to grow the cotton necessary to make one cotton shirt. As a consumerist society we throw away so much clothing, and there is so much excess raw materials available, that a profitable and logical solution could be found to satisfy all parties. Companies that make camping gear should only make tents out of recycled bottles from Flint, Michigan until they fix that (cough, HEY SNYDER). The tags for the clothes themselves can be made from recycled paper or even the fibers from sewing the clothes. There are so many different ways to develop a zero-waste and low carbon footprint production facility, but when large companies don't make any visible effort to move in that direction, I simply cannot support them. That is why I chose to make my own clothes from second hand fabric, or buy from thrift stores, to save all that water and to save those clothes from ending up in the landfill.
10. Purposefully making items that don't last and/or are made with cheap materials
Have you ever bought something only to have it break without warning soon afterwards? Most of the time its something techy, like a laptop or a smartphone. I remember my family's old HP desktop computer. We had that thing for years and years. We had it before internet, used it through dial-up, and I still had it in my bedroom long after we got Wifi. Back in those days, people actually would spend the time and money to get their appliances fixed. You wouldn't ever hear of someone attempting to fix a toaster nowadays, but back in my Grandpa's day, you would tinker with it till it works. This generation is so used to throwing things in the trash and driving to the nearest Walmart to buy a new one. It is too easy to order a replacement phone on Amazon. We have to remind ourselves that each item we purchase was made from materials that came from this earth, and that when we throw it away it isn't actually thrown “away” but is simply out of our site in some landfill somewhere. Matter is never created nor destroyed but simply changes forms. When companies purposefully make products that are designed the malfunction or break in a few years, specifically large appliances that use lots of raw materials to make and have a high profit margin, they are practicing unethical business with no regard to the well being of their customers or the earth.
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I observe & write about society & culture.