BLACK FRIDAY: Deal or bust?

Is it ethical to take part in the spending bonanza? As the hype around Black Friday continues to grow on our shores, many brands are reframing and approaching this differently.


Did you fall victim to the whirlwind and barrage of late-November discounts? I’m assuming your response is “yes”; for I too am a casualty of the event. A desire to live sustainably and avoid the whirlwind of Black Friday aren’t enough to save us from capitalism (in most cases). The lies of consumerism have us entrapped tightly in their tentacles. 

While sales figures are yet to be released, 2019’s ‘Cyber Week’ saw sales rise by 31.6 per cent year on year, with even bigger expectations for this year (even amidst a pandemic). 

This push to buy, spend and ‘save’ leaves brands (and consumers) in an interesting position, particularly for labels that market themselves as ‘sustainable’. Is it ethical to take part in the spending bonanza? Is it the conscious decision? As the hype around Black Friday continues to grow on our shores, many brands are reframing and approaching this differently.

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Take for example the idea of #GivingTuesday. Launching in 2012 as a reaction to the apocalypse-type buying that occurs on Black Friday, the following Tuesday and its prompt to ‘give’ serve as an antidote to consumerism. Generosity and thoughtfulness are the core messages. Locally, Bec & Bridge chose to partake this year. The brand donated a cut from each online sale on Tuesday 1st December to Thread Together, an organisation that helps provide new wardrobes for Australians dealing with suffering and abuse.

Other brands select to use Black Friday itself as a way to pay it forward. While promoting their own discounts, the goal is also to build awareness of various organisations and offer something more. Byron Bay-based Hakea Swim offered a discount and then donated five per cent of each sale to Seed Mob — Australia’s Indigenous youth climate network. Meanwhile, Frank Green of reusable coffee cup fame passed on $1 from each purchase to ReForest Now.

Then, of course, some boycott Black Friday altogether — a pathway that has been very clearly paved by Patagonia. Following in these footsteps, Allbirds decided to increase their prices for the day this year. Each product was raised by $1, with the additional dollar passed on to Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. Deciem famously closes its online store on Black Friday to promote a slower approach to shopping. 

It’s not a simple decision for an openly sustainable brand and the stance they choose can become a subject of much scrutiny. There is a level of accountability that needs weighing up, but the reality is a label needs to make sales to survive. It’s a chicken or egg situation: do we as consumers perpetuate the sales because we are always on the lookout for a ‘bargain’, or have we been warped by the incessant discount messaging? 

Hakea Swim aims to push a slower fashion movement, so I asked designer Casey Eastwell about her decision to take part this year (admitting it was a struggle). Importantly, Eastwell notes, “Our prices reflect their high quality and worth.” Inevitably, this alienates the consumer who wants to make the more sustainable purchase but is priced out in their current circumstances. Opting in and offering a discount then functions as more inclusive and allows them to invest in well-made pieces (and, in effect, reduce their necessary spending at fast-fashion, wear-once-then-break labels).

Hakea took this opportunity to use its platform and voice to spread a message about the natural environment. Choosing to donate part of the profits to Seed Mob was “Both a way to keep the conversation around climate change and protecting our natural environment at the forefront and as our way of contributing to positive change,” says Eastwell. “It shows our customers where you spend your money can make a difference.”

We live in a consumerist society: that’s just fact. We will keep buying and spending and desperately needing things, but it’s reassuring and encouraging that the tides are shifting. With a little more social and environmental awareness, the Black Friday sales may — one day — become what Giving Tuesday hopes to be. Could a new future of sales be sitting on the horizon? Every dollar spend would be matched and donated to various needs, at least morphing our inherent materialism into something more tactile and tasteful.