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Black Friday vs Buy Nothing Day is about class, not sustainability

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, had a week-long hangover or you’re simply a woodland creature, you’ll know that this past weekend was Black Friday weekend. What’s traditionally an American bank holiday the day after Thanksgiving has gained global attention and become part of the vernacular, even if you’re not celebrating the customs in the United States. It’s the weekend where prices are slashed and large conglomerates such as Amazon are basically titillating with joy. Several newsletters, social media announcements and discount banners are displayed when perusing online shopping while brick and mortar stores advertise Black Friday weekend deals across their windows as a way to boost sales.

However, this autumn, #BlackFriday wasn’t the only hashtag trending nor was the attitude all around completely celebratory. #buynothingday was founded in 1992 by Canadian artist Ted Dave but grew popular this year alongside other hashtags preaching #shoplesslivemore, accompanied by images of the Earth decaying as a viral type of guilt tactic. The intention behind #buynothingday was to make more people ignore the sales driven holiday as a way of being friendlier to the planet. This rise in social environmental awareness is not surprising as in comparison to 2016 and 2018, 4 percent less of shoppers braved the crowds on Black Friday Weekend in the U.S. (an average of 100 million people shop on Friday alone) and the numbers suggest the fancy for Black Friday weekend continued to decline in 2018.

Across the Twitterverse, sustainable living and advice were shared frequently with those part of the zero waste lifestyle, encouraging the public to stay at home and away from reduced luxuries they don’t need. But as Black Friday is exactly four weeks before Christmas, shoppers for Black Friday Weekend have usually been those whose wallets are stretched; a chance for parents to attain the gift that was originally slightly out of budget until slashed in the sales. Though saving the planet by not giving into every capitalistic venture is well-intentioned, this hashtag is arguably for the middle class and above, as policing shoppers by shouting “you don’t need anything else”, may be coming from the mouths of those who already have everything. Bought at full price, no less.

Although being grateful for what you already have costs nothing and is the key theme within the #buynothingday hashtag, this trend lacks depth as it presumes everyone has the luxury of time to simply browse when it’s not sale season. It also means shoppers boycott everything including independent boutiques, sellers and shops that do not benefit in general from Black Friday sale margins. Quotes parading online such as “stop shopping, start living” feel empty for those whose businesses take a dive during this shopping season and unlike Amazon, cannot fatefully wait for a large profit.

On the other hand, if #buynothingday is to be expanded into an attitude and a mood that resets the tone for what Christmas and the other seasonal holidays should be about, this may be a step away from materialism. It could be seen through handmade gifts and cards and most precious of all, giving your time—whether that’s volunteering at a charity or seeing an old friend.

But what we should avoid in addition to shopping unnecessarily is a snobbery that comes from shopping during Black Friday. By dividing people due to their shopping habits, one being sustainable and ‘good’ and the other benefitting from the sales and therefore ‘bad’, a larger class warfare can come to play. It can also have the derailing effect of the everyman feeling as though they have to be completely green and sustainable for their steps towards being eco-friendly count when really, if we all did our bit, the world would be a better place.

Could digital clothing help stop climate change?

Attention influencers and avid instagrammers—the days of having to squander exorbitant amounts on one-time statement outfits are over, as companies have launched virtual clothing lines that could be purchased online for a reasonable price and be edited right onto your photo.

The pioneer of this technology is the Norwegian company Carlings, which launched its first digital clothing line back in November in response to a swelling number of influencers purchasing one-off outfits exclusively for social media purposes. Their collection, titled ‘Neo-Ex’, derived its style from video games such as Tekken, and featured bright neon colours and futuristic looks. Influencers and instagramers could purchase one of the 19 outfits on offer for £9 to£30 and submit a photo of themselves to Carlings’ 3D designer team, which would then digitally tailor the clothes onto the buyer’s image.

The digital-clothing trend caught on like wildfire, and now companies around the world, such as Moschino, The Fabricant, and Nike, have been dropping their very own virtual designs.

Aside from being financially accessible (at least for the time being), virtual clothing offers a solution to the polluting habits of the fashion industry currently responsible for 10 percent of the world’s carbon footprint and the second-greatest contaminator of local freshwater around the world.

In an interview for Elle, Kicki Perrson, brand manager at Carlings Sweden, said, “By selling the digital collection at £15 per item, we’ve sort of democratised the economy of the fashion industry and at the same time opened up the world of taking chances with your styling, without leaving a negative carbon footprint”. Persson further stated that due to the incredibly positive responses Carlings is expected to launch its second virtual clothing line this summer.

Naturally, influencers seem enthused at merging fashion with the virtual realm. Daria Simonova told Elle, “I really love this idea because firstly, it’s environmentally-friendly and secondly, clothing nowadays is more like an art form for social media. Digital clothing is super convenient, and the design potential is huge because it’s way cheaper”.

Overall, digital clothing seems to be a fairly promising innovation. It is eco-friendly, affordable, and allows for uninhibited creative freedom. Yet, the ultimate impact of virtual fashion will depend on the future of this rising technology and its application.

Virtual clothing currently exists as a social-media-centred enterprise, and its main function is to be worn online for promotion purposes and likes-mining. It seems, however, that the majority of fashion-industry waste isn’t generated by influencers, but by the masses whose lives don’t revolve around Instagram and who gain more satisfaction by touting their outfits in the real world. And so as long as virtual clothing is trapped within the confines of social media, its ability to scale-down fashion induced pollution would be limited.

Digital fashion could prove far more environmentally friendly if it is ultimately used as an augmented reality feature that replaces real clothes. Furthermore, if clothing-design softwares became a household product it would enable millions of people to run wild with their imagination while spending zero resources on attire. True, augmented reality isn’t likely to penetrate the mainstream market in the immediate future, but it isn’t light-years away from us either, and we would greatly benefit from beginning to visualise its potential contributions to society—as far as fashion is concerned.

Virtual fashion is on a trajectory that can only be expected to accelerate and expand over the next few years. It remains to be seen whether it will live up to its ideal of rendering the fashion industry more sustainable or simply fuel the social-media inferno of brand and image-building.