Independent retailers in Canada are looking to repair what they say is a broken Black Friday system by pushing for sustainability over consumerism amid what’s become the busiest shopping day of the year.
Métis fashion boutique Anne Mulaire in Winnipeg, Man., is resisting the urge to drop prices to the floor this Black Friday and is instead looking to lure customers in with a pitch for long-term value.
When a customer buys a piece from Anne Mulaire on Black Friday through to the end of November, they’ll get unlimited repairs on the item for life.
CEO Andreanne Dandeneau tells Global News the Black Friday alternative helps the shop stick to its “core values” of “buying better, buying less.”
“We’re hoping it will create a movement where our customers will realize, maybe it’s not about buying new things and it’s just about keeping your clothing in the loop,” she says.
“This is what we believe in. We’re all about circularity.”
Anne Mulaire is a “slow fashion” brand, which differentiates itself from the mainstream fast fashion movement by having orders made in-house within days of a customer’s order, rather than mass producing the same item at a discount and seeing leftovers end up in a landfill.
The shop often tailors pieces more closely to a customer’s exact body shape, which Dandeneau says leads to them having better-fitted clothes and wearing them for longer.
More consumers should be thinking about the entire lifecycle of their purchases, says Shannon Dixon, owner of Vancouver’s Simply Merino Clothing Co., also a slow fashion brand.
When it comes to materials like Merino wool, apparel should be seen as an investment that you’re willing to put effort into after you’ve checked out, she says.
“If you’re not prepared to mend it, don’t buy it,” says Dixon.
There are signs that the sustainable approach to Black Friday might be taking off with consumers.
Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify’s survey ahead of this year’s Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend showed that more than half (53 per cent) of Canadian consumers said they’re more willing to buy from a brand they consider “sustainable,” with some 36 per cent adding they’d pay more for a sustainable product.
Some 74 per cent of respondents said they are looking to buy quality products that will last longer, according to Shopify.
Major brands are also taking notice of the push for sustainability. Swedish furniture giant Ikea, for instance, is incentivizing shoppers with deals on used products through its Green Friday initiative.
Support for those who need it
Others are hoping to use Black Friday to shift the conversation from consumerism to charity and support for those on the brink.
Kendall Barber is the co-founder and co-CEO of Poppy Barley, a sustainable footwear and bag store in Edmonton, Alta.
Poppy Barley also holds a designation as a certified B Corp., which means it meets a series of criteria that balance profits with people and purpose, Barber says.
This will mark the fifth year in a row Poppy Barley is forgoing major in-store discounts in favour of a “Black Friday fund,” with proceeds on any sales up to $20,000 going to a not-for-profit. This year’s campaign raises funds for Kids Sport, with the aim of funding registration fees to keep 100 girls in sport as they age.
“The idea of pushing product and sales and discounts on people isn’t something that resonates with us as a brand,” Barber says, adding she hopes the fund helps inspire customers to “shop thoughtfully” this year.
This holiday season is an especially critical one for small businesses, according to the retailers who spoke to Global News.
Some 58 per cent of Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) members have not seen their sales recover to pre-pandemic levels, according to the organization, and they’re now facing rising pressures from higher interest rates on their debt and fears of a recession on the horizon.
Black Friday is the “biggest day for sales” for the entire year at Simply Merino, Dixon says, but she adds it’s a “tricky day” for them.
“There’s so much pressure on us to slash prices and compete with the big-box shops. We just can’t do that,” she says.
Simon Gaudreault, chief economist at CFIB, told Global News recently that small businesses are limited in their pricing decisions by major retailers like Walmart or Amazon, many of which have started sales early this year.
Rather than getting caught up in the race for deals on Black Friday and through the holiday season, Dixon encourages consumers to consider how they’re using their scarce dollars as households struggle with their own budgets amid inflation.
“I would love for everyone just to take a moment and think about what you’re buying, who you’re buying from. Where is that money going to? Who owns the business? There’s so many details when it comes to consumerism,” she says.
How to shop sustainably during Black Friday
Dandeneau agrees with Dixon and says there are a few mental checks shoppers can use to retrain their brains amid an onslaught of sales.
In addition to considering whether you’d repair an item if it was broken, think about whether you’d be buying the piece if it weren’t on sale, she says.
If yes, then a deal is a “bonus.” If not, it might fall into the “want” but not “need” category, Dandeneau adds.
“It’s just to kind of shift the mindset of consumerism. And we have to retrain ourselves not to ‘Buy! Buy!’ but just to think about every purchase.”
Dixon says leveraging your social circles can have a big impact on small businesses. Asking where your friends are shopping on Instagram or sharing posts from your favourite store — even if you don’t have the money or cause to shop there right now — can make a big impact in driving business to local owners.
If Canadians want to see their favourite stores stick around through the stormy months that economists are forecasting, buying gift certificates now and cashing them in later is another tact, Dandeneau recommends.
“It’s kind of going back to, during COVID time where the small companies were there for the community,” she says.
“And it’s kind of reminding the community that we are still here and we would like your support.”