How to Be a More Conscious Consumer During Black Friday Weekend

If you're anything like me, you think Black Friday is overwhelming AF. You get hundreds of emails from brands, see countless sales on Instagram, and end up impulsively purchasing random things you don't need just because they're insanely discounted. But did you ever wonder why Black Friday exists in the first place?

Here's a little history lesson:

  • 1939 — Franklin Roosevelt was prodded by the Retail Dry Goods Association to extend the holiday shopping season by moving up the Thanksgiving date, because even then, there was an unwritten marketing rule that you couldn’t start aggressively advertising for Christmas shopping until Thanksgiving was over.
      • (P.S. People were pissed and a couple years later, Congress ended up changing it to the fourth Thursday in November regardless of how it affected the shopping season). 

  • 1950s-60s — The term “Black Friday” came on the scene in Philadelphia when the police department used it to describe the annual pandemonium they dreaded dealing with as people came into the city to crowd the stores and streets, and watch the Army-Navy game, always right after Thanksgiving. Retailers tried to put a positive spin on it and call it “Big Friday” but it didn’t catch on.

  • 1980s — Retailers accept the term Black Friday, but change the story a bit, saying it signifies that their profits go from “red-to-black”, with red meaning negative yearly income, and black meaning positive.
  • 80s-NowBlack Friday is joined by Cyber Monday, another made-up holiday aimed at getting you to buy, buy, buy. With 10.8 billion consumer dollars spent, Cyber Monday surpassed Black Friday in spending in 2020 (shoppers spent $9.8 billion on Black Friday last year). 

Okay so people want to get as many Christmas gifts as they can for their loved ones with as little spending as possible, and retailers are meeting this demand with crazy discounts...what’s the problem?? Sounds like a score.

The problem is that America is a nation inherently plagued by hyperconsumerism, tagged with unresolved issues such as extreme waste, exploitation of poor people, and pollution. Black Friday is hyper-hyperconsumerism. Alongside this shopping peak comes a magnification of the issues we’re already dealing with. 

About 164 million people will take advantage of the sales offered from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. That’s a lot of people buying a lot of stuff in a short period of time. While it’s well-intentioned to buy your niece 8 plastic new toys at a discounted price, or your dad five new cotton shirts at 50% off, these items become garbage way too soon.

Up to 80% of Black Friday items end up in the landfill after one use, and many times the items are still in the plastic packaging. That, plus the demands on workers at the bottom of the supply chain, is really where the problem lies. 

Up to 80% of Black Friday items end up in the landfill after one use

While we only want many of our new items for a small amount of time, the effects of manufacturing those items are everlasting. Let’s look at the fashion industry alone for example; it produces 20% of our global wastewater and 10% of our global carbon emissions. Then after all it takes to make these clothes, 3.8 billion pounds of clothing a year are sent to American landfills.

Plus, to meet the demand retailers put on manufacturing companies, factory workers who make the clothes have to work more for lower wages—wages that are already extremely (often unlawfully) low.

Then with the huge increase in Cyber Monday sales, the pollution problem increases as items get shipped and returned across the globe. Now, consider that some retailers have Black Friday sales for weeks and apply these environmental and social concerns to all the industries we have on the market—it’s insane!

With our current Western materialistic mindset, what we’re heading toward is a sort of Wall-E situation where soon, if we don’t just stop making stuff for no reason, that’s all we’re going to have. And we know more stuff doesn’t actually fill us up on the inside. So here are a couple of ways we can start healing the earth and hold on to our souls:

Before buying anything at anytime, but especially during this holiday season, run through this checklist:

  1. What purpose does it serve?

  2. Where was it made?

  3. Who made it?

  4. How long will I be able to use it for and benefit?

  5. Where will it go when I’m done with it?

Other ways shop smarter this holiday season...

  • Shop from small and local businesses! Duh! (We put together a guide of ways you can do this in Charlotte here)
  • For every item you purchase, try to donate at least one item to someone in need
    • If you have extra clothes you've been looking to donate, we're partnering up with Charlotte Rescue Mission to run a Holiday Donation Drive! For each donation, you’ll receive $10 off your next rental, plus you’ll be contributing to a purposeful circular economy. Go you! Click here to learn more