To be completely honest, Black Friday is a very bewildering time for me. I don’t know how to properly evaluate such a wildly excessive day in this consumer-obsessed country. This is especially conflicting for me because of this blog, a thing many view as a cheerleader of consumption. Over the past few years I have been more and more skeptical of Black Friday and have been exasperated by what has transpired on both sides of the register. Could you imagine being literally trampled to death in a big box retailer at 4am trying to buy a cheap flat screen t.v.? I’m having a hard time finding a more tragic way to go.
This year the lines have been drawn slightly more clearly and the madness seems to be escalating and dissipating at the same time. The way things are going Black Friday and the national retailers seem poised to triumph over Thanksgiving. Some stores opened earlier than ever on Thursday and a few retailers shockingly stood up for the family holiday, advocating people actually spend time with their families. For better or worse, Black Friday has become a retail arms race. While I understand that the retailers want to try to capture as much of the holiday shopping dollars as possible (it seems it is a zero sum game; they do have stockholders to answer to after all) and many Americans want to stretch their own dollar as far as it can go to give their families a good life; it is still amazing to me that apparently nothing is scared in the quest for retail success, including one of America’s most significant family holidays. Is it really all worth it?
That is the question I have been thinking about for the past few years. I have made a concerted effort to simplify my life in terms of what I buy and what I own. I have been trying to live up to these two mantras: Buy Less, Buy Better and Fix Don’t Replace. When I moved in with my fiancÃ© earlier this year, I donated or sold a significant portion of what I owned. I did this in an effort to simplify my life and to focus more on what I have rather than what I needed. Writing a blog like ACL and living in Manhattan don’t necessarily lend themselves to this concept. I’m sure that compared to others, a lot of people would still see me as Hamilton Swan. But the idea of buying something you know will last, or fixing something old seems to be resonating with a lot of people, including the people at Patagonia. The brand has unflinchingly balked at the Black Friday spectacle of years past going so far as to eschew the madness completely and run advertisements asking shoppers to think about whether they really need something new before they buy a new one. This year the Ventura, California company (who, full disclosure, is a Paul + Williams client) is actively helping people fix and repair their old stuff instead of pushing them to buy new. On top of it being a display of oft unseen common sense, it’s an audacious celebration of the things you already actually own. To illustrate this concept further and celebrate the people who would rather hold on to something old than buy something new, Patagonia enlisted the help of talented filmmakers Keith, Lauren, Chris, and Dan Malloy to produce an endearing short film called Worn Wear.
Maybe the tide is turning? If you look at Small Business Saturday, Makers Monday, The American List and what Patagonia is doing, its clear people are starting to think about what they actually buying. After all, it really is the thought that counts.