What To Do About Black Friday?

SALE! Everything must go…including your principles? There is another way, writes presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast, Clare Press.

“But it’s so cheap, I just had to buy it. Actually, I bought four. CAN YOU BELIEVE THESE PRICES?” These are the types of the comments I’m expecting on social media this weekend. It’s always the same. People succumb. 

Are you feeling the pressure? Your friend just got a stack of parcels from DHL. Your mum just called to tell you about a three-for-one deal at your favourite department store. The EDMs are coming thick and fast. Welcome to sale time: that sweaty-palmed call to shop that leaves you with your wallet lighter and clutter deeper, wondering by what strange magic you came home with a cushion shaped like a pug dog and sequined dress that’s too small. 

This used to happen at manageable intervals: on Boxing Day, and mid-year. Then sales started spawning and melting into one another. After the Christmas and January sales, we get back-to-school sales, Valentine’s Day sales, spring sales, then new season sales, EOFY sales, Amazon Prime Day, Cyber Monday… But the mother of all sale shopping frenzies is still Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This extends over the weekend and begins the holiday shopping period that accounts for 30% of American retail sales annually. In 2018, Americans spent $6.2 billion on Black Friday, up 23.6% on the previous year.

Like dressing up for Halloween, the trend has taken off in other countries including the UK and Australia, and of course online. Black Friday is now officially a thing everywhere. Here in Sydney, my phone keeps pinging with texted special offers – plenty of them, I have to say, from sustainably-minded smaller fashion brands. Few are immune.

With the current pressures on the retail sector, many brands are reliant on shifting sale stock. We are over-shopped and over-stocked, producing too much fashion for our collective needs. If you feel the pressure as a potential sale shopper, you can bet retailers feel it more. And what’s so wrong with grabbing a bargain anyway? Who am I to say you have to pay full price? What if you can’t afford it? Perhaps it smacks of sustainable fashionista privilege to be coming down on something that democratises access to more affordable goods.

By all means wait for the sales if you can’t afford something you really need (or really desire). No shame in that. But at the same time, I believe we must look deeper into the causes and effects of rampant sale culture and also interrogate the idea of affordability. Who’s paying the real cost? You probably know it’s the planet. But did you know it could be you too?

Patrick Duffy, founder of Global Fashion Exchange (GFX), reminds us that sale prices don’t always add up to the great savings they suggest. “What can happen is that retailers push out stock that was never meant to be sold a full price in the first place,” he says. This Guardian article explains more. “But I do understand that price is important to people, and not everyone can afford to shop sustainable brands,” he continues. “Clothes swaps and closet sharing allow you to access new-to-you pieces for no money. For me, that’s more exhilarating that the thrill of getting a deal at the store.”

GFX has collaborated with Eco-Age on the #TakeBackBlackFriday campaign to wrestle back control and shine a light on overconsumption. “We’re encouraging people to take action, whether it be re-wearing, repairing, mending or sharing your clothes,” says Duffy. “We want you to show the world what you’re doing to promote a more mindful approach to consumption, in whatever capacity that works for you.” 

Readers will be well aware that fashion can be a polluting, greedy, wasteful business. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, one truckload of textiles is discarded every second. 

The UN warns that, across industries, “urgent action is needed to ensure that current material needs do not lead to the over-extraction of resources or to the degradation of environmental resources.” Sustainable Development Goal 12, Responsible Consumption & Production, addresses the use of natural resources, chemical waste, fossil fuels and the integration of sustainable practices into production cycles – all of which apply to the fashion industry. However, as the UN Economic Commission for Europe points out in this paper: “It is not only producers who can make a difference. Target 8 under this Goal addresses the consumer’s right to be informed so as to be better aware of sustainable development issues – an area almost untouched by the fashion industry.”

Together Band is using Black Friday to launch its Goal 12 activation (and I’m an ambassador). 

Commercial fashion brands are also hijacking this marketing opportunity for good. San Francisco-based Allbirds, for example, is using the day to raise awareness of, and funds for, Australia’s bushfire afflicted koalas. “We are donating a lump sum to support habitat rebuild and preservation for Australia’s koalas,” they say. “We are saddened to learn about the threat to future koala populations due to the devastating wildfires, undoubtedly fuelled by climate change.” During the 2018 wildfires in California, Allbirds donated to the National Forest Foundation to help with tree planting and land restoration in damaged areas.

Everlane has run their Black Friday Fund since 2014. This year they’re partnering with world oceans charity, Oceana, and are donating $10 from every order, to be invested in the fight against single use plastic. 

Australian brand Citizen Wolf is running its ‘Black Fridye‘ program again this year, this time in partnership with another Aussie label, NIQUE. Customers can bring their faded black garments to Citizen Wolf and NIQUE stores to be re-dyed. Citizen Wolf’s co-founder Zoltan Csaki points out the eco benefits of extending the life of clothes, and says, “By re-dyeing clothing rather than purchasing a new piece, you can save up to 7,542 litres and reduce your carbon footprint by 30%.”

Asket is the Swedish menswear brand “on a mission to slow down the fashion industry” (remember this ad?). They are closing their online store on Friday, and redirecting customers to their Garment Care Portal, which provides stain removal and mending guides. The idea is to “encourage [customers] to take care of what they already have, rather than buying something new.” 

Pioneering Spanish upcyclers EcoAlf will also be closed on “the Super Bowl of shopping”, and have made a campaign film to draw attention to fashion’s dark environmental side. In London, Christopher Raeburnis running Buy Nothing Day, inviting you “to benefit from on-the-spot alterations for a garment. Be it RÆBURN or any other brand, we can repair and enhance existing product to give it a new lease of life. So bring us damaged or unworn, and we’ll fix it for you free of charge.” Across the channel, the BBC reports that a consortium of mostly French brands led by Faguo has launched a campaign called Make Friday Green Again. And back in Australia, Kit Willow’s KITX brand is also celebrating Green Friday. “We’re a different kind of company,” she says. “While the rest of the world is fighting it out with discounts and promotions, we want you to choose quality fashion with integrity that doesn’t harm resources and natural eco-system. For the Green Friday promotion, we will thank you by planting a tree on your behalf.” She’s working with Carbon Neutral on the initiative.  

Me? I’m thinking #FridaysForFuture, and leaving the shops alone. Call me a hypocrite if you like (yes, I do know fashion pays my bills), but capitalism won’t collapse just because I sit this one out. And I’d rather save my pennies for something I really want than risk more pug cushions. I’m a cat person anyway.


Learn how you can take #TakeBackBlackFriday.

Want to read more from Clare? Learn about her journey to sustainability in her Life as I Know It; her open letter to the fast fashion industry and her response to the fashion industry copying sustainable brands.