The Swedish duo behind ASKET, a men’s and women’s essentials label, are taking a pretty hard stance against Black Friday this year. For the fifth year in a row, they’ll be shutting down their online store: customers simply cannot buy. But this year, they’re also shutting down their newly opened retail store in downtown Stockholm.
August Bard-Bringéus, one of the co-founders, explains their tactics and his frustrations with the hamster wheel approach of business these days.
Esha Chhabra: What is the objective of your campaign?
August Bard-Bringéus: With our Black Friday takeover we wanted to confront consumers and businesses with the contradictory and destructive nature of 21st century business practices and consumption habits. Despite the science and a general awakening to the ecological crisis we’re in, businesses and consumers together continue to perpetuate the overproduction-and-overconsumption society that is the very cause of this crisis.
While some may think shutting down is extreme, we find it necessary. So long as retail practices exist that accelerate resource extraction, pollution and exploitation, we’re not making any progress as a society. Someone needs to take a stand. In closing down we wanted to show that it is not just possible, but necessary for both brands and consumers to step away from such practices.
Chhabra: What has been the response in the past years when ASKET shut down the online shop?
Bard-Bringéus: On the whole the response is one of appreciation. Our followers value our mission, that we stay true to honoring the true cost of a garment by never discounting and that we work to nudge individuals into more mindful habits. They often express their relief, seeing our “shut down” email in their inbox as a fresh breath of air amidst the tiresome, endless shower of consumption-geared messaging around this time of year. But there are of course some that are frustrated that they’re unable to shop or that we’re not offering any discount.
Chhabra: Why not donate the funds somewhere instead?
Bard-Bringéus: We’re taking a very clear stand against the existing system which is flawed. One where companies have sought profits above temperance and 21st-century materialism has become the primary driver of the planet’s environmental crisis. Donating funds is of course an honorable action, but tying donation to discounted consumption is, at best questionable in terms of efficiency, at worst its pure greenwashing. You could argue that offering to donate proceeds of Black Friday deals serves to offset any shopping guilt and may actually incentivize overconsumption. For us when it comes to taking a stand against a day that only celebrates consumerism, the most powerful thing is to sell nothing at all.
Chhabra: Are we ever going to see the end of Black Friday?
Bard-Bringéus: Black Friday is a construct of retail. And as such, it is entirely within the power of any player to end its participation in this construct. Unfortunately, most retail business is dependent on external investment, that’s been promised short term financial growth. Therefore, the next quarterly financial report will inevitably take precedence over long term questions. Imagine a skiwear brand with VC-backing: Should they satisfy investors by lowering prices on Black Friday and defend their market share when everyone else is competing on price; or should they ask themselves, what does it matter if we won’t have any more snow in 10 years?
Even when we speak to well-intentioned brands they confess they’re stuck in the system that keeps them beholden to fighting for growth and use of retail tricks like discounting. To rebalance the system brands need to rewire themselves and their customers and switch to business models that create meaningful products built on holistic responsibility. Fewer, better quality goods, sold at an honest price, with better mileage, and fair value distribution across the supply chain.
We need legislation and longer term financing models to accelerate the conversion towards lower impact business models and more accountability: think banning planned obsolescence, introducing durability labels, tax subsidies and penalties so it’s cheaper to repair something than to bin it and buy a new version. And as individuals we should reconsider what we feel is acceptable to buy and what we truly find valuable. We’re not suggesting we live entirely off the grid but hypothetically speaking if everyone leaned into this model, these efforts could make a real impact.
The tipping point will come when these harsher legislations on responsibility in the supply chain coincide with an increase in general consumer awareness. At that inflection point the commercial viability of the old ways of doing business, at the expense of people and planet, will evaporate and responsible business will become financially sound for the industry as a whole.