Black Friday is the latest American import that is taking the UK by storm. For those of you who don’t know, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving- in America, a national holiday- and the infamous ‘busiest shopping day of the year.’ People flood to get a head start on their Christmas shopping, and stores respond by slashing their prices. Arbitrary though it may seem (the UK doesn’t have a public holiday on the last Friday of November), the frenzied shopping mania of Black Friday has well and truly established itself as a UK tradition, all in the name of uninhibited consumerism.

As a person who grew up in America, I love Thanksgiving. I think it is all the best parts of Christmas- the getting together with people you love, the eating, the relaxing- without all the hideous over spending on presents and pressure and stress that come with it. It’s the chance to celebrate each other and indulge in doing nothing together. Already, we are inundated with Christmas advertising, urging the gullible consumer to buy people what they really want this Christmas- a brand new laptop or the latest iPhone. ‘Why stop with your friends and family?’ advertisers demand? ‘What about your neighbours that you speak to twice a year? The only way to show them you (kind of) care is to buy them a present, obviously.’ Am I the only person who would be slightly confused and/or (delete as appropriate) alarmed if my neighbours, with whom I’ve spoken with three times max, bought me a present for Christmas? But that’s beside the point…

Black Friday poses the huge question of ‘why do we care so much?’ The stories of people being stabbed over the last 75% off sofa or being trampled to death under the feet of a thousand other frenzied shoppers, desperate for a bargain are forever increasing and increasingly worrying. What is it about shopping that people love so much? The worst part of all this is that Black Friday isn’t the last we’ll hear of gorging ourselves on consumerism this year. Just as ‘Black Friday sales’ have been creeping up to weeks of reductions (I saw a poster yesterday announcing that Amazon’s Black Friday sales start on Monday the 23rd- I mean, what?!), Boxing Day is getting just as crazy. Last year I remember being overrun on Christmas Eve announcing that sales start online on Christmas Day. I honestly can’t imagine anything worse than spending my Christmas Day on my computer, browsing the sales. Where’s the Christmas cheer in that?! And again, in just one month’s time, the high-streets will be fending off knife wielding maniacs who will stop at nothing to get the last pair of Nikes at half price.

Buy Nothing Day is the complete antidote to the high street hysteria that will definitely ensue on November 27th and again on December 26th (brace yourselves). Founded in Vancouver in 1992, it aims to encourage society to reflect on the issue of over consumption. Today, the campaign is participated in by over sixty-five countries.

The sparse, red and black website of Buy Nothing Day proclaims: ‘Black Friday is about shopping, you can do nothing about it!’ The call to ‘do nothing’ is something rarely associated with protests or activism, however, in the case of Buy Nothing Day, it really is that simple. The aim is to challenge yourself to resist the temptation to buy, and thereby reconnect with real life and real people, just as I wouldn’t want to spend my Christmas Day staring at my computer, or my Boxing Day elbowing people for the last dress in my size.

Aside the ethical costs of over-consuming, the desire to shop till you drop is hugely detrimental to the planet too. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that around 350,000 tonnes of clothes (worth around £140 million) are thrown away each year in the UK, and this is largely due to the unsustainable way that we shop. People are drawn in by the promises of 25, 50 or even 75% off and frantically rush to scoop up as many bargains as they can. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good bargain as much as the next shopper (I mean, I really like a bargain), but that doesn’t mean that binge buying is a good idea. I’ll admit that I’ve fallen into the ‘oh my gosh, that’s so cheap’ trap a few times, and ended up buying something I have absolutely never worn. The problem arises when these clothes that were bought in a moment of bargain induced euphoria are ending up in landfills on a catastrophic scale. This is, of course, a huge environmental issue. However, the afterlife of our clothing isn’t the only problem caused by over consumption. Before our clothes even look like clothes, they are using up a huge amount of the earth’s resources. It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans, and 400 gallons for the cotton for one t-shirt! When we throw away a cheap piece of clothing that we bought on a whim in a sale, we are also dumping all the resources, time and energy that went into making it. Can we really afford to be discarding something as precious as 400 gallons of water, not to mention the human labour that made the t-shirt, and the energy used to ship it to the stores?

The idea of fashion as something to be bought, worn once and thrown away is a relatively new one. During and immediately after the Second World War, clothing was rationed, and therefore the few garments a person owned had to last.  The British Ministry of Information issued a pamphlet entitled ‘Make Do and Mend,’ which was full of tips and design ideas for getting the maximum life out of one piece of clothing. Readers were advised to knit new sleeves for worn out sweaters using colourful scraps of yarn, and create decorative patches to cover holes. People became increasingly innovative, dreaming up inventive ways to fashion new garments and stay stylish. Silk became increasingly rare after 1940, however, in 1945 a new supply of silk appeared when ‘escape maps’- maps printed on silk- were sold off. You’d be surprised how many blouses and even nightgowns exist that just happen to have a map of central Germany printed on them! Shoes were reinforced with metal plates to prevent wear, and clothes were mended and altered again and again. Clothes were designed to be as hard wearing and long lasting as possible, a concept that is completely alien to the twenty-first century viewer.  

Buy Nothing Day encourages participants to not only buy nothing, but to take part in one of a series of actions that happen across the globe. It is about buying nothing, but also about spreading the buy nothing word. However, as the website clearly states, Buy Nothing Day isn’t just about avoiding the high street for one day: they want to change the way people think about shopping for good, and commit to ‘buying less and living more.’ Whether or not you are planning on braving the crowds on Black Friday, just think twice about what you are buying. Is it something you’ll love, use again and again, and then hand down to someone else? Or are you buying for the sake of buying?

Sources:

http://www.buynothingday.co.uk/

http://loveyourclothes.org.uk/

http://www.wrap.org.uk/

http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/how-many-gallons-of-water-does-it-take-to-make.html

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item106365.html

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30087347