“Don’t buy this jacket!” purchasing power and the holiday season

Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia surprised holiday shoppers with a compelling ad in the New York Times. “Don’t Buy This Jacket” the headline read on November 25th, the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday.

Hoping to move business well out of the red, big national retailers offered up equally large discounts to lure customers in droves. Many customers, excited to pick up a few bargains, camped out overnight to be among the first in line when retail doors opened, well before dawn. For many it’s an annual Yuletide tradition. With consumers whipped up into a buying frenzy on the busiest shopping day of the year Patagonia hoped to make people stop for just a moment and consider what all that frantic spending means.

“We want to do the opposite of every other business today,” the ad read. “We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.

Most shoppers probably gave the ad a quizzical stare, maybe blinked with a head cock to the left like a border collie trying to figure the latch on kitchen door. But just that fast they likely turned the page and went on to find the best deal on a flat-screen TV. Having broken the signal pattern though of spend, spend, spend Patagonia hopes to have made shoppers think if only for a moment what consumer products mean to the limited resources of the planet.

“The environmental cost of everything we make is astonishing,” the ad went on. “Consider the R2 Jacket shown, one of our best sellers…It’s journey from it’s origin as 60% recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product.”

Not to be a hypocrite Patagonia details its culpability in environmental pollution and asks consumers to think twice about their purchase, encouraging them to buy only what they need. Not a bad marketing strategy, honest and compelling. Patagonia will likely sell more R2 Jackets than ever before.

“Patagonia is smart to give their customers a good reason to buy their products,” said Jerry O’Brien, executive director of the Kohl’s Department Stores Center for Retailing Excellence at the University of Wisconsin.

In our tough economic times despite the buying rush of the holiday season most consumers are being pretty selective in their purchases.

“It’s really not fair to say that consumers are overspending on Black Friday,” O’Brien said. “Retailers have trained consumers to put off their buying until these big sales events happen. Most probably hadn’t spent much in the weeks leading up.”

It seems we’re getting smarter in how we exercise our purchasing power. And when it does come time buy shoppers have to make a decision of how best to spend their money. A growing number are opting for purchases that not only fulfill their material needs but also reflect their values. For those who want to protect the environment consumers can choose from products that are made in a sustainable fashion, with recycled materials and a proactive means of disposal at the end of use-life.

Many companies in the outdoor industry like Patagonia are making this happen. Recently The North Face posted a comprehensive video that details their principles of sustainable manufacturing.

“We’re an outdoor company, so it’s a natural fit for us to make sure that we’re protecting the places where our products are being used,” said TNF sustainability manager Adam Mott.

With an emphasis on reducing waste and engaging communities to take a closer look at how their products are made, manufacturers have a tremendous opportunity to distinguish themselves as brand leaders that put sustainable production over profits. And at the point of sale when making that necessary purchase consumers can take comfort in the knowledge that the products they buy will help to support the environment they love. ~JEM


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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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