Retail Reflections

Retail Reflections

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I cemented something for myself last week – I hate the mall. Noodle was having a really fussy day, and Nekky was at a lunch meeting for most of the afternoon, so I packed up and headed to Yorkville Mall because I knew I’d get nothing done at home.

Shopping is the last thing I should be doing during these very frugal days, but I had a stack of gift certificates for Gap Kids and Gymboree, so I decided to take advantage and see what I could find for the monkeys. Noodle and I caught a lift with daddy, and soon we were fully immersed in the artificial oasis.

I’ve been doing a lot of thrifting lately. Most of the kids’ clothes, almost all of the baby’s clothes, and a large chunk of my maternity clothes were second hand. The women in my family have always loved a good treasure hunt. My mom and her sisters grew up very poor, and my clever grandmother managed to turn salvaging other people’s cast offs into a fun adventure. The glee with which my aunties can pour through a Value Village or Salvation Army was contagious as a child, and now I share that love of discovery.

I remember frequent trips to the nearby Amity with my Grandmaman when I would come to visit. We were allowed to pick out a simple toy to add to the toy box in her modest little apartment, and the result was a constantly refreshed trove for her many, many grandchildren to enjoy. One of my favorite playtime activities while visiting was to hand wash an entire vintage pillow case full of baby doll clothes using my grandmother’s own wash board. Then I would lovingly hang each tiny item to dry on the line she kept on her balcony. It’s no wonder that laundry is a chore I actually still enjoy.

My aunts invented Shabby Chic long before it was ever a thing. Each of them owns a collection of unique treasures discovered at antique markets, yard sales, and estate auctions. They’ve worked these gems into their décor with seamless elegance and whimsy. With a tilt of a head, they can re-imagine a sturdy chair with a new coat of paint or refreshed upholstery. They are such wonderfully creative women. market6

As Noodle and I strolled from one brightly lit store to the next, assaulted by the loud, obnoxious music, and overly friendly staff I began to feel more and more stressed out. The prices seemed ludicrous, even on the sale racks, and I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to use the gift certificates on. Soon Noodle began to fuss, because I think he felt affronted by all of the obnoxious over-stimulation. He began to return the overzealous employee greetings with stink-eye, and started trying to rip clothing off the racks while grunting like a little ape.

It was inevitable that I would soon feel the guilt creep in, I am a fallen Catholic after all, and I began thinking about all of those poor people in Bangladesh who died so horribly because they were neglected by a property owner who only cared about making money. In a sense, they died because we want the cheapest deal on manufactured goods, but so many of us are too proud to be caught re-using perfectly good items that are available everywhere for unbelievable prices.

The cheap labor debate is one that I have mixed feelings about. Some overseas factories really do offer people a livelihood and a means to support their family in the face of some seriously heinous alternatives. This is no excuse to neglect people or take such horrible advantage of their position. I think so many of us get caught up in our tendency towards commercialism that we don’t think much about how those much-coveted items arrive in our malls and how lives are affected in the process.

Of course I want adorable clothing for my kids. I also don’t want to waste some perfectly good gift certificates that were gifted to us. I LOVED the Joe label before this Bangladesh catastrophe gave me pause, but how can I spend money on their products when 300 people died and Joe doesn’t seem in any hurry to make their factory conditions better? The company website states that in the face of the Bangladesh tragedy they are “taking steps” to ensure better conditions, but I’ll be more impressed if they dedicate a portion of their website to seeing how that plays out. A carefully crafted press release feels a bit like lip service to me.

I’m not militant about these things. I’m lazy, and cheap, and I’m sometimes a real consumerist pig. I love Target for example, and I’ll probably keep shopping there, but we need to think about this, don’t we? How badly do we need “stuff”? Is it worth taking advantage of people who are already struggling so that we can get a cheap deal? Can’t we cough up a couple of additional dollars so that they can make a more decent wage?

It’s easy to just hit Walmart and drop some dollars to get the best deal. We do it every week for our groceries because the savings is unbelievable. How does a family of six justify spending hundreds of dollars more each week to buy locally raised meat and local produce? Costco has saved us SO MUCH MONEY!

I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’m not going to be a preachy hypocrite. I think it’s because I’m feeling my own disgust at all of the stuff we’ve amassed over the years that I feel so grossed out by consumerism. How do we make these issues better without extending ourselves beyond our means?  What can we actually do?

I suppose a place to start is buying clothing more responsibly. Here’s a great article from the National Post with some ethical shopping tips. I’d love to hear from readers about how this. Are you shopping ethically? If not, what’s stopping you? If so, can you give us tips to make this work for our large family?

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