What’s the difference between Black Friday and Cyber Monday now that everything's online? The past decade has brought a shift in the way we shop, with a preference towards online ordering slowly whittling away at the brick-and-mortar stores we once frequented. This holiday season, with the pandemic keeping us mostly confined to our own homes, the internet provides people with the only safe form of shopping. And while some find no issue with two Black Fridays or even an entire Cyber Week, the problematic side of the tradition has come to light now more than ever.
Black Friday and its offshoots are some of the most blatant examples of mass consumerism in America and across the globe. Overconsumption in today’s terms can involve any sort of product, but the one most important to note this Black Friday is clothing. The overconsumption of clothing, known to many as fast fashion, dominates sales on Black Friday. Retailers like the Gap, Uniqlo, Shein, and others participate in this massive effort of selling clothes at nearly no cost. While highly-discounted steals sound great, especially to any Boston College student trying to not break the bank, it comes at a cost.
Most of the clothes made for these companies come out of Asia. Factories pay starvation wages, working conditions are abysmal, and the overall process behind fast fashion pulls Black Friday into an ethical dilemma—all in the name of affordability.
This dilemma leaves bargain hunters wondering where to turn this holiday season and beyond. The opposition to fast fashion and its flagship brands started out small, but has been quite vocal. Today, the slow fashion movement expands its influence and seeks to dismantle the unsustainable fashion of the 2000s. Slow fashion comes in many forms, with the universally known being thrift shopping.
Thrift shops are far from new. However, they are finding new life thanks to avid supporters and shoppers who are wary to buy from mainstream brands. Stores like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Savers have long found customers in the environmental and workers’ rights groups, but their business does not stop there. Young people, college students especially, caught onto the benefits of thrifting. Many college students today opt to thrift at a low price, rather than contribute to major brands’ questionable supply chains. The rise of these thrift stores brings not only affordability, but an attempt to address problems of fast fashion as a whole. Fast fashion's skeletons are starting to fall out of the closet, and the future of shopping will undoubtedly include an appeal not only to affordability, but to ethics and sustainability.
Boston College students are avid among the thrift shopping populace. A quick trip to Goodwill on any sunny day will leave shoppers waiting in lines to get in. However, while the student population looks favorably upon affordability and sustainability, BC itself does not. The BC Bookstore stocks the shelves with merchandise at premium prices. The brands BC chooses to work with also do not bode well in the fight against fast fashion. Nike, Under Armour, and Champion dominate the racks, and all have come under fire for unethical and unsustainable practices. While some brands seek retribution after public outrage dropped their profits, BC does not show a deliberate care for these factors when vetting what shirts get put on hangers in Mac.
But all hope is not lost. BC students, while normally not given an option for their BC swag needs, now have multiple options. One of these comes from an Instagram page run by one of our peers. @bostoncollegethrifts posts images of used BC apparel with a price in the description. Buying can be as easy as commenting and DMing with the owner. While a v-neck at the bookstore will run students anywhere from $18-$36, the account advertises multiple shirts all for $10 or less.
Another option for BC students to look to during this pandemic is thredUP. Founded by a BC grad, thredUP markets itself as “the largest online consignment and thrift store.” The store currently only carries women's and children's clothing, but it certainly keeps both options well-stocked. On its website, thredUP offers near-endless options in terms of brands, clothing, and prices. For students looking to purge their closets this winter, the company also has a “sell” mechanic where people can package up old clothes and ship them out for either a cash payout or in-store credit.
These two options, while wholly unique in their own right, are both great venues for slow fashion—and provide an opportunity to support the BC community in sustainable ways. Of course, thrift shopping isn’t for everyone. Slow fashion comes in other forms as well. For those not worried as much about affordability, many retailers like Patagonia, Fair Harbor, and Boden have dedicated themselves to producing clothing and products in sustainable terms.
Fast fashion this holiday season looks to capitalize on the pandemic, giving customers an easily accessible and affordable stock of clothing in a time when we can’t go out and shop in person. However, sustainably- and ethically-minded companies seek to compete with these major brands by expanding their online stock. Thrift shopping, in all its forms, offers shoppers a similar experience (affordable and abundant clothes) to shoppers while avoiding all the ethical and environmental dilemmas that plague mainstream brands. Other forms of slow fashion have become more appealing as well. Shoppers today are more apt to look behind the clothes they buy to see what baggage lags alongside it. The future of fashion and Black Friday may just hinge not on big box and fast fashion, but ethical production and sustainability.
For resources regarding ethical shopping this holiday season, check out the website goodonyou.eco for ratings of some of the world’s biggest brands and how they stack up against each other.