Red Faced on Black Friday?

Red Faced on Black Friday?

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving is not even “our” beast. Culturally. We are Indians, who fuss around enough shopping and our own thanksgiving rituals during Diwali, Pongal, Eid, Holi and the rest. So it should be theoretically easy to let go of the Black Friday temptation. After all, how much money can a family or individual spend and how interesting can products be, long after their species have been shopped at Diwali discounts? But of course, we are global citizens too and e-commerce offers everyone equal play in the sin fest. So, To Shop or Not is a somewhat justified dilemma especially if you are the sales-anxious or the discount afflicted kind.

A number of Indian brands (Nykaa, Myntra, Flipkart, for instance) or global brands with businesses in India—Aldo, Samsung, Body Shop India, Lenovo, Adidas and a dozen others, not to mention or—have put out Black Friday fishnets. eBay started its Black Friday sales marketing from the 1st of November, with sales every Friday of the month.

India bites the bait as much. Consider these highlights from Black Friday Global.

*During Black Friday, an average Indian buys 3 products.

*In 2019, Indians are planning on spending around ₹4770 per person in both online and brick-and-mortar stores. 56% of Indians know what Black Friday is, and 32% are willing to participate in the shopping spree this year.

*44% of bargain hunters will choose both online and offline.

*A survey conducted by the same platform among 12,000 people in 55 countries, found that in India clothes were the highest-selling category during Black Friday sales followed by shoes, perfumes, cosmetics and lastly electronics.

Internationally, some brands have stood back from jumping into the fray. The Toronto-based Deciem for instance, that calls itself as The Abnormal Beauty Company will suspend all online operations and shut all stores on Black Friday. “Please Shop Slowly” says a neon green sign on the website’s homepage. In 2016, American brand Patagonia pledged to donate 100% of its Black Friday sales profits to environmental groups fighting to protect the ecology. On the other hand, UK based non-profit Fashion Revolution is asking retailers to abstain from offering crazy sales and consumers from mindless shopping. Eco-Age and Global Fashion Exchange are offering “Take Back Black Friday” as a “digital protest”.


Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/AFP

A file photo of people lining up for Black Friday sales outside the Mall of America before it opened on November 24, 2017 in Bloomington, United States.

No Indian designer or brand, yet, has offered an innovative, charitable or alternative solution to this. No celebratory affirmations but no denouncement either. Without Black Friday terminology some Indian designer brands coincide their annual sales with this week. It is the “holiday season” they say though Indians don’t get any official holidays except Christmas day in these months.

Yet in the swirl, To Buy or Not to Buy and What to Buy are consumer-existentialist questions we must all answer. The environment is too endangered and fashion too big a sinner industry to ignore.

The response may not emerge from a moral compass. Only if reasons to be mindful instead of reckless arise from personal convictions can the course be changed. What’s needed first is a personal reprioritization before organised rebellion. Certainly not jingoism. Not even labelling those who abstain as morally superior and those who buy as crass and insensitive. Human tendencies around retail therapy are far too complex and cannot be reductively understood or suddenly rewired.

Here are some green thoughts. Beyond “only buy what you need” discourse. That of course.

*Try. Many things don’t look as good once you try them on. Whether through digital trials or physically. Half your cart if not more will get emptied out with this tactic.

*Tire yourself out by excessive window shopping, in brick and mortar stores or on e-commerce. It may be addictive, but it is mind-numbing too. Exhaust yourself by piling up your cart but stop before checkout. When you come back, the tendency to rethink will have kicked in.

*If you must succumb, find products that either have fragrances/ smells of valuable memories, offer tactility that alters your mood, that make you feel better about yourself (not better about a lipstick or a bag) or those with untold human stories. Handmade goods in India, especially woven textiles or unique crafts have stories of people, places, lost and found arts and skills entwined into them. Take back something like that if you must.

*Kashmir: Ripped apart by militancy and political instability the region creates some of the most beautiful artisanal pieces in the world. They are endangered because the human will of those who make them is being tested beyond normal limits. Buy a Kashmiri Kani shawl, a plain pashmina or a carpet as a unique purchase.

*Instead of renting, which is impersonal instead of intimate, re-wear your own after a break. Stow away and pull out after a few seasons.

*This is oft heard but make it a non-negotiable pledge. For every new purchase, give away two or three pieces. There are enough homeless, unclothed and unshod people in India who will benefit.

*Instead of assessing use, assess the recyclability of your new purchase. What will be its life once you are done with it?

*Be pragmatic, neither guilty nor righteous.

Let me share what I do. I am no expert at abstaining from shopping, neither am I a completely sustainable consumer but am good at recycling. I shop for only a few things a year—garments or accessories. Then wear, rewear, use and reuse them to death. Come home for my Sindhi curry and aloo tuk and you will see dusters made out of my worn and torn casual wear while all cotton kurtas are retired for nightwear. These are paired with jazzy, printed pyjamas for delight and sauciness. So that I don’t scare my nightmares.

My recycling earnestness is not a trendy pursuit of “sustainability”, it is how I was brought up. Throwing anything was sin in our family of Partition refugees who had barely “resettled”.

Since the last few years, I give away at least two dozen saris every year (often more) thus systematically depleting my once very wide collection. All my saris are hand-woven—so they either go to textile loving friends or “not even friends”, some certainly to the brides-to-be daughters of domestic helps who work in the neighbourhood. Everything that is discarded in the house, from table linen to old dishes or cardboard boxes is properly packed and sent to Goonj, the non-profit that does admirable work in recycling and service to the underprivileged.

Every single day while listening to deeply inspiring narrations from Eknath Easwaran’s audiobook translations of the Upanishads, Dhammapada or the Bhagwad Gita on the treadmill, on why one can train the mind only after the distractions have been culled out, why the less you need, the richer your consciousness, I reflect on my inability to cross over to the other side. Every single day, I regress to an ordinary self. It’s a battle and I intend to keep fighting.

It has been a revelation in recent years how much ancient Vedic texts speak to the modern consumer not just the modern, restless mind. There thrives in ancient literature an unambiguous commentary on the damning role of “possessions” and their eventual emptiness. It could be East’s answer to the West in Black and white. Friday or Monday.

As the masters say, change doesn’t mean renouncement; it means a grain at a time. Or the Buddha’s “middle path”.

That’s the best one can say for negotiating through Black Friday, or similar seductive shopping carnivals in the face of environmental degradation. Else, the anxieties will always remain as we can never buy everything we want in the world as the carnival of “sale” has no exit route.

Banner: A Black Friday sale sign at Urban Outfitters in the Mall of America on November 24, 2017 in Bloomington, United States. Photo courtesy Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/AFP–3377