Ethical Cyber Monday…Is there such a thing? I’m glad that for the most part, my family and friends have moved on from exchanging gifts, and that my eldest child only wants pokemon cards while my youngest is too young to want anything new. That said, the Black Friday/ Small Business Saturday/ Cyber Monday/ Giving Tuesday events are rolling forward, and the pressure to spend is high. While I participate in ‘Buy Nothing Day‘ each year in lieu of Black Friday, and support businesses like REI that have chosen to close their stores that day to give their employees the day off, I confess to doing some retail therapy this Cyber Monday. I’m trying heard to do my spending ethically this year. Here’s the breakdown so far:
The good: One of the major items on my list this year was a set of king size sheets to be given to a veteran at St. Joseph’s Center in Venice. I was hesitant to get involved with this toy/ gift drive– since it runs against my ‘buy nothing’ mantra. But I was at church the Sunday after Trump got elected, and was starting to stew on questions of why we don’t buy American, ethical products when they are available to us. I decided I’d participate in this drive, but would do it on my own terms by buying something made in the US, preferably through ethical means (if possible). Many of the folks on the list had ‘King Size Sheets’ as their request item– and I figured that, with the minimal sewing involved with sheets, that there must be a ‘made in the USA’ option. I also realized pretty quickly that this was going to be expensive– so I committed to buying just one set. Googling ‘made in the US sheets’ I came across this list of US bedding manufacturers from USAlovelist.com. I tried to pick out a company that might have a somewhat ‘value conscious’ product, while still being made in the US. This website recommended “Authenticity 50” which makes sheets sourced “from seed to stitch” in the USA. Checking out their website, they sell only white sheets–and explain that “Nearly all bed sheets are made overseas from stock fabric that is simply re-branded. We are the ONLY ones who use our fabric and in order to run more colors, we need volume.” To buy a set of king size sheets from this company was $189– with a 5% off Cyber Monday discount, the total was $180. The cost was pretty steep, and far more than what it would have cost to walk by Ross Dress for Less and picked up some discounted sheets, but this was the deal I cut with myself so I grit my teeth and went for it.
I had initially ordered some sheets from the Company Store, which claims on the front page of it’s website to be ‘made in the USA’ by a company in Wisconsin. After reading the claim about almost all sheets being made overseas and ‘re-branded’ on the Authenticity 50 website, I went back and checked out the sheets I’d bought. Looking carefully at the product description, I realized I’d been fooled– the sheets I’d initially purchased ($200 minus a $50 cyber Monday discount) were actually imported! I actually had to call and cancel my order. This was pretty disappointing.
Worth noting is that these sheets were made with organically grown cotton– which, given the pesticide-heavy nature of cotton cultivation, may in the great ethical balance make this the better choice– but it doesn’t do much for the disappearance of US jobs, or my desire to try to support non-polluting production practices. Furthermore, the almost intentionally misleading design of the Company Store website does not make me want to patronize their business in any case.
Happily, California’s legislative ban on single-use plastic grocery bags was upheld by voters when they approved Prop 67 this year. In celebration, some Cyber Monday discount purchasing of my favorite ‘Baggu” re-usable grocery sacks seemed in order. I LOVE these nylon bags, I use them for my knitting projects, grocery shopping, as a travel bag and on and on…. but it had never occurred to me to research where they were made. On the plus side, the baggu website does have clear information about where these bags are produced: https://baggu.com/pages/eco-ethics . On the negative side, the bags I like so much are assembled in China: “Our factories in China are audited yearly by an independent third party for occupational health and safety. These audits help ensure that humane work hours and wages are enforced, and that the facilities are safe. We also work with factories that minimize the impact of our production on the environment. Our nylon is produced in an ISO 14001 certified factory.” In the end, though I was disappointed that the bags are made in China, I did end up purchasing a few with the Cyber Monday discount anyway. Semi-fail. Hopefully I now have enough bags to last me the rest of my life, and if there are any more that are needed, maybe I can order them from Made in San Francisco “Project Green Bag.”
After watching “the True Cost” I was very energized to curtail my purchase of cheaply-made, ethically-environmentally-costly clothes. It’s been about a year since I saw the film, and for most of the year I’ve been pretty good about not buying stuff from target or elsewhere. I’ve increasingly attempted to mend my clothes, care for the clothes I already own very carefully, and use the fabric I already own to make new clothes. But… I get tired of the clothes I already have. And my wardrobe is seriously limited right now by the fact that I’m still breastfeeding my baby. And so….. guilty as charged, there was a purchase of five (5!?!) new tops, all of them made overseas, none of them made ethically, from a retailer that, for whatever reason, always seems to sell clothes that look good on me and are easy to breastfeed in. Do I feel guilty? Yes. Will I wear the clothes with impunity? Probably, yes. Clearly I have a long way to go on this journey.
What about you? How are you thinking about your shopping this holiday season? Have the issues that came up in the election changed your approach?