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Consumerism gone mad – the truth behind Black Friday

Closeup of woman holding shopping bags with copy space

Black Friday, the epitome of consumer madness, is fast approaching and, safe to say, eager shoppers are probably preparing their camping gear and overnight snacks in anticipation.

Hysteria is building up, as retailers like Amazon are announcing their first sales and displaying the timers for the end of the event. The ticking clocks and the fear of missing the best deal drive consumers through the spiral, ending its spin when the bags are on the floor on Saturday morning, and we come to the gut-wrenching realisation that most purchases were entirely unnecessary.

Black Friday is a momentous date in the calendar. It marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and the end of reason, as crowds violently comb through old stocks. The intensity of Black Friday is manifested in the 10 reported deaths and 105 injuries reported worldwide since 2006.

But, not considering the violence present on this annual event, Black Friday is symbolic of our fast fashion culture, arguably incredibly harmful to the environment and, entirely unsustainable. We let ourselves be carried away by “sales,” under the illusion that we are buying up what is left behind. However, in stark reality, many products are especially designed for Black Friday as low-quality derivatives of more expensive goods – Samsung’s Black Friday TVs in particular.

Consumers are ready to ride the waves of dynamic pricing and snatch a bargain, especially online. However, the situation has become a whole lot more complicated, now that online retailers can analyse our spending history and offer personalised deals which we believe to be neutral. Black Friday reflects our willingness to spend and our blind acceptance of market fluctuations as inevitable.

There must be an alternative to the untamed nature of our consumer selves, unfolding online or in stores, with little conscience and emptying wallets.

An attempt was launched by Hubbub, a charity attempting to transform mainstream consumers into sustainable ones. One of their “hubs” of activity is Fashion, for which they have started the #BrightFriday “revolution” as an alternative to Black Friday sales. The idea is to use the day to swap clothes with friends or at an organised swap, for example at UCL, instead of succumbing to mainstream consumerism.

It is hard to imagine this movement countering deep rooted consumption surges, but this environment-friendly attempt should not be overlooked. Second-hand clothing is becoming more and more popular with students wanting to blend into the Brixton food hall, Shoreditch cafes and Peckham clubs. New hypes and hysteria are emerging within this trend, such as the Vintage Kilo Sales in Camden. But at least prices are reasonable, clothes are recycled and consumers can clear their conscience.

Perhaps charities like Hubbub can make use of the vintage hype. A Censuswide survey of 1000 UK citizens between 18 and 25 showed that 47% of respondents have made sacrifices to keep their wallet full for clothing purchases – 29% even ate extra cheap food for that purpose.

It could be a win-win situation. The environment is freed from some of the strain on its landfills, as 300,000 tonnes of clothing end up there every year in the UK, while students don’t have to sacrifice their meals for fashion.

Whether it is Hubbub, Vintage Kilo Sales or informal clothes swaps, there are definitely alternatives to the wild, and sometimes dangerous, Black Friday.

The question is: Are these alternatives enough to numb the satisfaction of a 60% reduction?



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