This summer, I picked up a couple of items that I felt great about buying. One was a pair of leather shoes, and the other was a set of bunk beds for my son (who is still currently in a crib). Both were essentially impulse purchases that I had no direct intention of buying that day, but neither were accompanied by that sinking dread feeling of having spent money hastily or thoughtlessly.
How did I pull that off? I have three little kids, live in a moderately expensive city, and our family job titles over the past 5 years have been student/stay-at-home-parent/entrepreneur. How did I have the money to drop $300 on a bed without pre-planning for it? How do I shop well for great value items with longevity and feel confident & satisfied with my purchase? Here, I present humbly, are my three steps for shopping without buyer’s remorse.
A while ago, I read this very compelling piece called Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor. It’s a great read, but if you don’t want to go down the blog rabbit hole*, I’ll give a basic summary:
The blogger, Kristen, recounts a story of collecting needed goods for a trip to Kenya. One of the items she had requested for the Kenyan team was an iPhone, which she then received, used, as a donation from a local church. When Kristen arrived and found that the donated iPhone was essentially useless, she left them with her own. Upon returning home, the church happily offered to replace Kristen’s iPhone with a new one. Why, then, hadn’t they just bought a new one in the first place?! she asks.
“Just because it makes us feel better (and cleans out our garage at the same time), doesn’t mean it’s the best for those in need.”
I’ve thought about this many, many times since I read the article last fall.
Recently, I received an email from a customer who expressed concern over whether the value of our blankets is legitimately “ethical”. With so many places to find kantha on the web from etsy to Amazon – and at a wide range of prices – what makes dignify’s blankets worth the value? Are we simply using the word “ethical” as a marketing scheme?
As a self-run business from an admitted amateur, I realized that while the stories of Basha (our producing partner) and dignify are thoroughly integrated in my operations and thought process, I haven’t always communicated them adequately.
It sounds a bit cynical, sure, but these questions are valid & reasonable – the questions we should be asking.Not just of social enterprises, but of everyone for whom we open our wallets.
But the truth is, Basha is the real deal! It is run by caring leaders who guide the artisans, and teach them, and check on them when they don't show up at work, and run workshops for their husbands about why not to beat them. It is a good place.
An acquaintance just contacted me after her husband, who works in prosthetics, had traveled to Bangladesh for some work & training. Her words:
“He managed to stop at the Basha facility and was completely blown away. He and the fellow he travelled with were almost in tears by the kids' affection for them. They had a tour and bought some blankets. Absolutely LOVED it! “
For more specifics, I have tried to address some great questions & concerns below. Please feel free to comment or contact us for more discussion on these or other questions.
Sooo, I love a good deal. I really do. When Amazon first began gaining traction, it was my greatest delight to find something I wanted on Amazon for a fraction of the price that I could find it elsewhere.
Then, I read about them being the Walmart of the internet: not much concern for anything (or anyone) but the profit statement. I heard about the Hachette debacle. I read that in the UK, Amazon uses a tax evasion practice that enables them to pay less than 0.1% in taxes. And, as my husband was helping to promote & sell a water-purification product, I learned first-hand about Amazon’s aggressively predatory pricing. That is, they constantly scour the internet marketplace for other stores selling the same products, and inch their prices a little bit lower, and lower, and lower. Amazon can still thrive as a business, even with very low margins (selling for just a tiny bit more than the price for which they bought it), because their volume of sales is so high. Small businesses cannot.
It was time. The discounts could no longer sweet talk me. I needed to break up with “the Web’s biggest bully”.
I had mostly been borrowing books from the library, buying used, and shopping for other items at more traditional stores (I can buy running shoes from a local running store – who knew?!). But I’ve always got my eyes open for alternatives to Amazon.
Cue the trumpet fanfare: only last week, I was DELIGHTED to discover Better World Books.
All of the Christmas shopping mania is well behind us now and I’ve packed up our leftover kantha stockings for next year. But there’s a shopping story from the holidays that I just can’t get out of my head.
So, my friend E is mostly pretty normal, but does this one CRAZY thing every year. On Boxing Day (December 26th), when the deals are rampant and the malls are overrun, my genteel, introverted friend sets her alarm pre-dawn and goes shopping.
I’m talking, like, 12+ hours of shopping. On the most insane shopping day of the year (US friends: Boxing Day in Canada is our hectic version of Black Friday). Sometimes it involves multiple malls!
She has her reasons: it’s a tradition that she has shared with her sister for 20 years; it’s the only day she shops for herself all year; she avoids the inevitable Christmas crash of broken new toys and kids’ excitement fallout. I get it. (Well, not really, but I nod my head and try to.)
Anyhow, she told me a story from this year’s expedition of a late-day visit to a well known yoga-wear/fitness/lounging clothes purveyor. It had clearly been teeming with shoppers earlier in the day, judging by the crowd-control barriers that were still by the doorway (though unnecessary now at 6pm). E and her sister headed towards the changeroom (which they would share, natch, as they’d been doing all day). She noticed that on the doors of the changerooms, there was a whiteboard where an employee had written the number of items, the customer’s name, and also another number.
As the attendant shuffled them into their shared room, she wrote 6:23 on the door and barked, “You’ve got 10 minutes,” [slam].
The other day, I read that the Novogratz family released a new mass market product line in their style of colourful, high design, modern aesthetic.
I was thrilled! Fabulous interior design that brings Manhattan to me! and, you know, all the other great things it touts. My daughter needs a new bed, they sell metal frame funky beds in bright colours: perfect!
I’ve heard a bit over the last few years about chocolate being bad.
Not bad for you; not tasting bad (like the girl I saw walking by a chocolate fountain in my old grocery store job, who’s mom was “reminding” her that she “doesn’t like chocolate”: I’m not buying it!); but bad, like BAD for the world and the people in it.
Apparently, the global demand for chocolate – for example, mini chocolate bars like the ones we give out at Halloween – has skyrocketed. And with the desire for lots of chocolate for little money, the result has been bad news. Producers need to cut costs to meet the price demands, which has often resulted in child labour or slavery in West African, cocoa producing countries like Ghana & Côte d'Ivoire.
If you’re like me, you – quite frankly – don’t want to invest your heart in one more sad thing! I mean, children forced to make chocolate... there are no words.
Well, whether you want to find out more about it or not (here is a fantastic article which goes into more depth about the issue), you have an inkling that it is a problem. So, what can you do?
Good Clothes + Free Clothes + Get Rid of Your Old Clothes = WIN!
(I know, I know… no math)
Did I mention that a party is involved?
If it doesn't look like this - you're doing it wrong! Photo: Jane Boles
Last spring, a friend invited me on a Friday night to a clothing swap party at her house. Everyone brought clothes that they hadn’t worn or were ready to part with (all in great condition), laid them around the house, and when everything was set up, the host released the hounds. It was all very casual, very fun, and, did I mention…
Oftentimes when we think about shopping more thoughtfully or ethically or fair trade or organic or what-have-you, it quickly becomes overwhelming (But my shorts are from Bangladesh! My phone was made by who knows who in some factory in China! What can I do?! I like shopping! I’m on a budget! Baahhhhh!). Sound familiar? Or is it just me…
I’ll be honest – the response I often have when I feel paralyzed by the massive, systematic problems tied up in EVERYTHING is something like: “I’m just not going to think much about this, because it’s too much! But I definitely need to give some money to a charity somewhere…”
In the face of this totally unhelpful all-or-nothing paralysis, I’ve been trying something out. Trying to get down to the very basics of what and where I am spending my money. Namely:
Do I really want to give you my money?