“…we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl…”
Madonna’s tune rings true today more than ever. Parents in the ’80s may have pulled their hair out trying to teach their kids about the perils of materialism, but they had no idea what was to come. They could not have known that the whole world would be turned upside down all for the price of cheap clothes and goods.
On November 24th, 2012, Hollie Shaw (for the Financial Post) wrote “The biggest Black Friday to date in Canada swept across the country with a flurry of before-sunrise store openings and door-crasher deals at shopping malls and online retailers.”
In another article titled, Walmart declares that this was its best Black Friday ever, published on the 23rd of November, Ashely Lutz, also for the Post wrote, “During the high traffic period from 8 p.m. through midnight, Walmart processed nearly 10 million register transactions and almost 5,000 items per second,” the company said in a release.
It was November 24, 2012. It was also Black Friday, the super sale that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Black Friday allows consumers to scoop up deals at ridiculously low prices. This was the week-end shoppers celebrated the value of a dollar…when looking for the right Christmas/holiday gift was of ultimate priority.
Across the globe in a small Bangladeshi clothing factory, another incident of great importance was taking place, an estimated 112 women from the factory died attempting to escape a deadly fire that had no working fire extinguisher, and not enough exits.
When I read about this horrendous incident, two things came to mind, or rather two words jumped out at me from the page: “women” and “workers”. You must forgive me, perhaps it is my training in Women and Gender Issues; I cannot read any article or news story without putting the “gender” spin on it. The women were somebody’s daughter, sister, wife, mother – she could have been a friend.
Disposable clothing is becoming the new norm. No one expects clothes to last anymore. Clothing is one of the cheapest forms of material wealth. In fact we own so much clothes that we don’t know what to do with it all. I have seen babies with so many clothes that they could not grow fast enough to wear each outfit once. Why? Why does a child need a closet full of clothes? Why do you or I need one of each in every colour? How many pairs of jeans does a teenager need?
Even the most conscious shoppers get sucked into buying. For example, I have had little success in getting my teenage daughters to shop at thrift stores. In addition, now that American retailers like Target, J. Crew, and Marshalls have landed in Canada, Canadians have more reason to see what these stores have to offer.
You can’t buy justice. This can be said for the many garment workers, who despite the cost of clothing in the First World, work in highly dangerous and volatile conditions. Worse still is the lack of a living wage and humans rights violations that occur on a daily basis.
The Tazreen Fashions factory tragedy could have been prevented. The high cost of cheap clothes is a thought so far from our minds as consumers, that even when we hear about the tragedies abroad we cannot or refuse to make a connection. In a buy cheap, wear and toss society, how can we understand the pain and suffering that goes into making a pair of jeans or a fancy dress?
I don’t always make the connection, but I try. Thankfully, I love thrift shops and always have – even before it was cool. I buy most of my clothes, as well as my younger children’s clothes from thrift/second-hand stores, and always try to persuade my teenage daughters to as well.
I am also a firm believer in making purchases, especially when shopping for luxury items, AFTER I have carefully thought it out. That Chanel bag that I “wanted” in 2005 – I so didn’t need it.
Are you a conscious shopper/consumer? If so, how? Do you shop at stores that offer ethical fashion choices?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Salma. You can find Salma blogging at Party of Five in Calgary.
Photo credit to Kevin Christopher Burke. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.
I live in South Africa and we don’t have the “phenomenon” of Black Friday here. I guess I’m lucky that I have never been a “material girl”. I have never cared for “designer” anything, and my main criteria when buying clothes is “value for money” and comfort. I’m the kind of woman who will find a comfortable pair of shoes and wear them every day until they wear out! I do have other pairs of shoes “for special occasions” and those last me practically forever, because I don’t attend that many special occasions! 🙂
I’m also blessed with a beautiful 18 year old daughter who looks good in anything, and is also quite happy to look for less expensive options, even when I would willingly spend more on her clothes (for some reason I can’t get myself to spend a lot on clothes for me, but I have no problem at all parting with money for my children)! 🙂
Well Simona, I get it – it’s really about simplifying. I think we are so much alike in that aspect. I value quality and comfort, that’s how my mom raised me, but when I really started making my own money making purchases on a whim was so easy.
The comfortable shoes thing just hit me 🙂 I bought a pair of Nine West flats at a Thrift store for $5 (retail was $120). I wore those shoes out ’til the very end. I think in this sense, MANY (not all) but many of us women get wiser with age…especially when it comes to comfort 🙂 🙂
Although lately, since my 3rd and now 4th child, I just don’t “do” stores/malls anymore. I go when I need something and try to keep my eye on the prize. My first 2 kids were girls…I shopped more than I ever needed to, and they were born off season.
My 3rd was a boy and I was quite bored with shopping for him anyway, and when the girl came along I saw so many cutesy things that she DID NOT need…ballet slippers, tutus, ridiculously priced dresses that she would hardly ever get the opportunity to wear. It’s scary…stores actually scare me now, lol.
I don’t get what’s so exciting about clothes! But I have to say that I grew up in a family, where the way we dress is an important part of who we are. My mum was reassured by the fact that we had nice clothes and shoes.
When I left home, I decided to do it my own way and it was quite a shock for my family. My sister is kind of a fashion addict!!
These day, I don’t have much left for clothes anyway. And I don’t have any problems not buying any. I don’t like the way the world is going, that people are paid nothing to make clothes, that they work in unsecure places, that they are badly treated and don’t even get enough to fead their families.
If I have to buy clothes, I try to look at brand ideas and choices when it comes to production. Quality and longevity are what makes sense to me.
Marie, I agree, with the clothes issue, but it’s so much more now…cars, furniture, iPhones etc etc. It’s such a crazy market with an influx of everything at your fingertips – that’s the crazy part.
Productivity and longevity should make sense, but looking at my teens I can see why it doesn’t really faze them, and then they grow up and it’s a vicious cycle (not that I was immune to it before either).
We don’t have Black Friday, either in Europe. As for shopping, if I could, I wouldn’t go shopping, ever. I would like all my clothes, already fitting and without me having to try them on, delivered to my home. I rarely buy anything new because I can’t find anything that fits me, and so I rely on my mother (who is in Warsaw) to get clothes on a flea market where she has friendly ladies who know what I wear and what size I am. I’d not buy new shoes because they’re uncomfortable and I have to wear them out a little. It’s rather hard to buy new clothes for me because of my tiny but rather female figure and if I do buy something I want it to last forever.
I totally agree, if I could I would not shop either. I was just at the mall last week and I was so turned off. I think the best business would be one that caters to women who really want simplicity…no frills or over-priced items – especially when most women can’t get the right fit from most of what’s on the racks.
You hit the nail on the head…if you buy something it’s not likely to last very long. I think it’s no longer about the item(s)…it’s about the ability to consume.
Very interesting Salma,,
I come from a society which has had an economic boom in the last decade or so. Wages were low, market was small and offered poor choices and suddenly it all changed and so did people’s habits with buying. I used to marvel at how much people buy and shop in some Western countries I visited as well as some countries in Asia. However, it is exactly the same now here.
I admit, I do buy more than i used to before. I still consider how ‘politically’ and ‘ethically’ correct to buy from specific market or shops.
We have 100s of non-profit organisations and initiatives that collect second-hand anything/everything to provide to others so nothing much is really wasted.
I know what you’re speaking about Ibtisam, it’s understandable that people will do more when they have the options. I like the idea of the free market, and if the goods are made well, why not purchase them?! However, on the other hand, it’s crazy that we have 2 or 3 of an item, or that we upgrade a product every few years just to get the newer versos etc.
The problem (imo) with the idea of recycling is that we are not necessarily looking at what is being produced and asking if we need another this or that. The poor planet will not be able to handle it all in the end.
Thanks for your thoughtful post Salma. We are definitely living in a material world. As my children are starting to understand the idea of buying things – whether it be food, things for the home, or clothes, we stop to talk about how much they cost (buying with money you have vs credit), where they come from (local farmers market vs supermarket), what they are made with/from (plastic vs natural fibers, recycled materials, etc.), and how we might reduce/reuse/recycle. It’s a work in progress – but I’m hoping they start to incorporate the thought process into their purchases as they get older.
Yes, Eva, speaking with my teens can be so difficult, but it is so necessary. Kudos to you!
It’s all about the process and it doesn’t stop at clothing…food, interestingly has become a trend…call me old, but that’s just weird. And, yes, plastic vs. cash makes a world of a difference in how and how much we purchase.
In essence, the whole process can seem/be invisible…which I think makes it easier to disconnect from the whole chain of production AND from the anonymous person who is making that product or offering a service.
Interesting post! This is something I think about very often but may not always be conscious of it. When I was young and growing up, I never really gave much thought to where clothes came from. I wanted those ever coveted pair of Guess jeans in high school.:) As I grew up went tocollege and then got married, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I was very much more conscious of the money aspect of shopping. I realized that I didn’t need so much because I couldn’t afford it!:) As my husband and I have been married longer, we do have more money than when we were first married, but over the years we have been exposed to other parts of the world. When we went to Guatemala to adopt our son, we saw a whole world none of us had ever seen. The poverty there was overwhelming, but the beauty of the people was breathtaking. The majority of people there live on almost nothing and they are still able to survive. I started to be more aware of labels on clothing which said “Made in Guatemala”. I wondered about the people who worked in the factories where the garments were made. Then, our family moved to Nigeria and we were able live alongside destitution in a daily basis. I think that was a real turning point for our family realizing how much we in the U.S. are a materialistic society. It was a hard transition to move back to the U.S. after seeing what we saw there. There are so many huge homes in the U.S. that people buy and never even use rooms in them. The children my children go to school with are allowed to have many things I do not allow my children to have. We try as a family each night at dinner to say one thing we were grateful for that day, and I am hoping in time, my children will appreciate what they have instead of always wanting more and more. Thanks for your post!:)