Black Friday, 2020: The Sustainable Brands Approaching Things Differently

Image: Birdsong is using this Black Friday to focus on the faces in its supply chain, starting with the team at Mailout who work with people with learning disabilities to pack up its orders, Image: Mailout

With inboxes full of discounts and endless adverts for seasonal sales, there’s no avoiding what day of the year it is. The festive season is officially here, and after one of the toughest years in retail history, this weekend is predicted to smash online sales records as retailers slash prices in what has annually become the biggest shopping frenzy of the year. Here are how a few of our favourite  brands are approaching things a little differently, with sustainability in mind.

When it comes to sustainability, Black Friday is a controversial subject, and never more so than this year. The heavy discounting and marketing that many brands feel pressured to adopt at this time of year encourages panicked hyper-consumption, with many people buying products they don’t need for the sake of a bargain,  generating huge volumes of waste as items are returned and contributing to a culture of disposability.  This year in particular, brands are offering steep discounts to help shift the mountains of unsold stock left from the ongoing global pandemic, and with physical stores across the UK having been shut for the past month, the vast majority of this shopping is going to be taking place online. As online orders of clothes and shoes typically have an online return rate of 30-40% (compared to 5-10% of in-store purchases), and many major retailers sending returned items straight to landfill or incineration, this kind of mindless consumption has a huge detrimental impact on both people and planet.

But 2020 has also brought a heightened consumer consciousness and a resurgence of values, with Black Lives Matter, COVID, and lockdowns across leading to greater consideration for local economies and where the products we buy have come from – the mantra of shop small and shop local is one that many will be adopting.  

For small businesses in particular it’s been a difficult year, with many still facing uncertainty as we look to 2021. As shops in the UK reopen next week as Lockdown 2.0 ends, many are relying on a strong festive period to survive.  More than ever, using your purchasing power to support retailers who’s very nature promotes a sustainable economy – whether it’s an independent local business, or a brand that meets your eco-criteria – over billionaire-owned big retailers matters. 

But support doesn’t just mean buying for the sake of buying – there are lots of different ways that you can give a little extra love. Forward a friend your favourite independent brand’s newsletter and encourage them to sign up, engage with their social media posts by liking, commenting, saving and sharing, or use your social media platforms to explain why you’d rather receive a thrifted gift (check out Hali Brown’s thoughts on this) than a heavily discounted and unneeded item. 

This weekend, while some small businesses and independently owned sustainable brands will be using the opportunity to boost sales, others are taking the moment for activism, whether that be through abstaining from cyber weekend discounting altogether, launching campaigns, or doing things differently.

Here are some of the brands that are taking alternative approaches this weekend:

Image Credit: Birdsong

Transparent Friday by Birdsong

After a difficult year, London-based social enterprise Birdsong is building on last year’s award winning Transparent Friday campaign* by launching its Transparent Friday Manifesto.

“We hate Black Friday. We feel like it devalues the hard work and thought that goes into each and every garment put on planet earth. And ours cost more than the high street because we pay London Living Wages. In the run up to #BlackFriday and #CyberWeekend, we’re doing things a little differently,” reads Birdsong’s Manifesto.  Through Transparent Friday, Birdsong is not only showing customers the very people who make and pack their clothes and how much they earn, but also how much each garment costs to make, its total revenue for the year, and how much its CEO earns. In return for reading through the information, customers can choose whether to take 15% or 10% off as a discount on the new winter collection, or add a tip to their order to support the work that Birdsong is doing.

Green Friday by Redemption and WildRefill 

In a bid to turn this weekend’s shopping frenzy more green, fashion brand Redemption is planting a tree in the Eco-Age Global Forest, in partnership with Treedom, for every purchase made during Green Week. “In a week that will culminate on the – quite unsustainable – Black Friday big binge buying – we encourage you to switch to sustainable products that not only do not cost the earth but are made to last a lifetime.”

Plastic-free refillable deodorant brand Wild is also planting trees for every sale this weekend. Wild already contributes a percentage of sales to climate charity ‘On A Mission’, to support its reforestation projects, but this weekend the brand is tripling its commitment and for every one of its newly launched black case deodorants sold, Wild is planting two trees – aiming to plant over 10,000 to benefit the climate, ecosystems, and local communities.

Break Tradition, Not the Planet, by Allbirds

“This year, we’re doing Black Friday and Cyber Monday differently. Because if we all approach the holiday season more consciously, we can all tread a little lighter on the planet.” Rather than cutting prices, sustainable footwear brand Allbirds has raised the price of its shoes by £1 for this weekend only. The extra £1 from every sale will be donated to Fridays for the Future – the global climate action movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, and Allbirds will match the donation with its own too. “Because now, more than ever, we need to be thinking about the impact of what we buy.”

Image Credit: Public Fibre

Buy More Rubbish by Public Fibre

Fashion collective, Public Fibre, is launching ‘Buy More Rubbish’ – an e-commerce fundraising campaign to stand against overconsumption on Black Friday.

The London-based fashion and lifestyle brand is using its platform to ‘sell’ the top 10 most commonly discarded items found in our oceans, including food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic cutlery, straws, glass bottles, aluminium cans, four pack plastic rings, tyres and 2020’s new necessity – the face mask.  The project aims to raise awareness of the effects of overconsumption on our oceans and contribute proceeds to The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organisation developing advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic.

“We’ve all been guilty of making rash Black Friday decisions and buying rubbish we don’t need because we’re seduced by the price tag, however this flurry of careless consumerism stands at odds at with our ethos of buying less, but better,” says Emily Ellis, Chief Strategy Officer at Public Fibre. “We saw this as an interesting opportunity to invert the popular shopping event and shine a light on a cause that we care about – cleaning up our oceans.”

People Not Price by Pala Eyewear

Ethical sunglasses brand, Pala, which funds eye-care projects across Africa, is using this weekend as the trigger to launch its new People not Price campaign. Through the campaign, Pala is opening the doors a little further on the people behind the brand to shine a light on the value of products, and inviting everyone to consider value not just price when purchasing – as it’s easy to lose sight of ‘value’ when it’s all about mass sales and levels of consumption.

“2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. We lost a good deal of our Spring/Summer business because many of our independent stockists were closed due to lockdown or impacted the longer term by the ongoing Covid restrictions – and the knock-on effect meant owners were, understandably, cautious about committing to new stock budgets,” founder John Pritchard tells us. “However, due to physical shopping being so limited, we did see growth in our online customer base which was a welcome upside.”

“We’ve used this year’s Black Friday to remind ourselves what the value of a product represents.  We believe it goes way beyond the physical price on the tag. For us it’s the people who’ve made the product possible and the wider impact or purpose its serving. Collectively, as customers, we need to also consider the social and environmental price of what we’re buying, not just the end cost.

“So that led us to launching our People Not Price campaign this week. We want to shine a light on the incredible people who make Pala possible – a behind the scenes snapshot into what we can achieve together, to make tangible change, with the support of our customers.

“And to show our support for the wider cause, we’re donating 10% from all our Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to Fashion Revolution – which is an organisation dedicated to pushing for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain – to help do our bit as a responsible brand too.

“Our feeling is that if you buy better, you’ll also buy less. You can still take advantage of Black Friday, but we hope people will seek brands that provide high quality, long-lasting products, that champion purpose and the impact on the planet rather than just the profits.”

Image Credit: Mud Jeans

Nothing New this Black Friday by MudJeans

“Black Friday should not exist at all. It contributes to greed and overconsumption. Isn’t it time to detox together?” says MUD Jeans founder, Bert van Son.This Black Friday, the sustainable denim brand will be embracing the theme of ‘Nothing New on Black Friday’ and closing its online shop, replacing it with a livestream selling vintage jeans, with team MUD on hand to give out personal fit advice.  Each pair will be sold for €29 and the proceeds will go to Justdiggit – a landscape regeneration organisation.

The Kind Store

Rather than offering discounts, natural, vegan, plastic-free store The Kind Store is taking a stand against Black Friday and instead donating 100% of profits made from sales today to SEA SHEPHERD to save our species. In an open letter, The Kind Store said: ‘To put it simply, we don’t agree with Black Friday. Huge discounts resulting in impulse purchases and unsustainable consumption of the world’s limited resources. We hope to create and inspire meaningful change and Black Friday is putting pressure on vital natural resources, nature, wildlife and people around the planet.

“There’s a lot of pressure on small businesses to offer Black Friday deals and we get it, sustainable products can be a bit more pricey than less sustainable ones, but for good reason. The truth is that Black Friday is not made for littles stores like ours. 

“We instead want to make a positive impact this Black Friday and have chosen to donate to charity.”