I’m a big fan of the tribal look. My personal utopia would involve a lot less Vera Bradley and many more one-of-a-kind ethnic pieces floating around. Keeping this in mind, I was prepared to write this piece to support charities hoping to call attention to organizations that sell products for a good cause.
And that is what this column is about. Kind of. Something about the subject had me thrown, so I consulted my comrade Chrissy Rose, as I often do in times of trouble. I told her my idea, and she thankfully put a label on my topic: “consumer activism.” I’m not the only one who receives mixed feelings broaching the subject. An ethical debate of sorts quietly stirs over the issue. She summarized the problem exactly how it should be viewed at 1 a.m.
“So there are basically the two sides:
“1. We have to buy shit, so we might as well buy the shit that is the best for people, the environment or whatever.“2. That’s not actually doing anything. We don’t really have a choice, and we have to buy what’s offered us, and companies like Pepsi and Coke are just trying to look good so they sell more Pepsi and Coke.”While the soda company examples are not perfectly prescribed to my column, they certainly translate. Fashion industry powerhouses follow the same trend.
Gap, for example, sold shirts in conjunction with RED; 50 percent of the profits would benefit AIDS research. More recently, Gap has begun selling Japan Relief T’s: They sell for $25 and all profits will go to the GlobalGiving Japan Relief Fund. Last year, H&M made a Fashion Against AIDS collection — an entire line of clothing from which 25 percent of the profit would fund projects looking to cure HIV/AIDS. This year, H&M is releasing something called the Conscious Collection, which will be “made from environmentally-adapted and greener materials,” according to the official website.
I would say the first step in defogging this issue is to be critical about what you are buying. The two Gap campaigns, both with specific charity organizations attached to the effort — one entirely nonprofit — gave me a confidence in the sincerity of the effort. I hate to generalize, but H&M struck me as quite the opposite. Neither of their endeavors — the Fashion Against AIDS or the Conscious Collection — were very specific in what the effort entailed. The former only dedicated 25 percent of the profit from a considerably large spring collection. Besides, the clothes themselves were styled in a somewhat tacky faux-African way, with geometric bangles and beaded necklaces.
I realize I’m being rather critical. Of course it’s fantastic that H&M would even consider donating any of their profits to a worthy cause, rather than simply keeping it for themselves (as businesses are usually run). However, I think it is important to be wary. It’s easy to give ourselves another excuse to rush out and buy clothes, especially for humanitarian causes. To be honest, it feels a little bit like white guilt to me.
And this is all to say what? “Nevermind! Keep buying your Vera Bradley. These other options are products of corrupt corporate scheming!” Not at all.
First of all, buy anything over Vera Bradley, for charity or not. At this point, if I had a dollar for every time I saw her tell-tale print, I might be able to solve world hunger. Second of all, as my sleep-deprived but beautifully-blunt friend Chrissy told me: “We are going to buy stuff, so it might as well be stuff that does some good.”Like I said, simply being more aware of this as a conflict of interest is enough to determine whether or not you are buying out of concern for the cause or for your own wardrobe.
To end on a positive note, there is an inspiring project underway called Same Sky — a trade-not-aid initiative. According to their website, samesky.com, they employ HIV-positive women who have survived the 1994 Rwandan Genocide to crochet unique bracelets out of hand-blown glass beads. “They are given a marketable skill and consistent employment,” Same Sky says, “the two essential factors needed to rebuild their lives and those of their families.” For all you finals-week stress-relief-buyers (including myself), that is something worth whipping out your debit card for.
Burritt is a member of the class of 2013.