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Wattle Twaddle

turkey

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving! You know what that means? Any second now the talking heads and “experts” will rise up and moan and rail against retail. Suddenly the plight of the employee and the sanctity of family will take on grave importance. The siren song of the big box store will lure people away from the sacredness of their nuclear hearth! How dire it is to impose commercialism onto such a pure holiday! Never mind the millions of turkey and pilgrim tchotcke festooning tables and mantels. Disregard the families barcalounged in front of football games all. day. long. It is shopping that threatens to erode this holy Norman Rockwell day!

“People shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving”; the bobble talking heads will shout. I suppose we should close the hospitals, police force & diners as well. Lots of people work on Thanksgiving. Do we expect the secret service or any branch of the military to lay down their arms and hoist a drumstick? I’m not sure anyone would want pilots, gas station attendants or bus drivers to have the day off. It’s interesting that retail employees are often the concern during this sacred poultry time. Retail workers regularly work evenings and weekends and often quite erratic schedules. Depending upon the shop they can be forced to wear a uniform and carry a see-though bag containing their belongings (the assumption being that they steal.) Retail workers are often on their feet all day long, not allowed to use the same bathroom as the customers and not given their week’s work schedule until the last minute. Throughout most of the year their interests aren’t exactly a priority. Let us just assume the moaners/ranters are just grasping at (cheese) straws and spouting twaddle.

But what of the family?! Whose family exactly? Is there a family so functional and fun loving and their time together so sacred? Is this fictional (if not entirely creepy) family so enamored with each other yet powerless to resist the charms of a doorbuster sale? Many many people do not have a family or one with whom they’d like to be sequestered. To impose some ideal onto every single person is if not callous than surely annoying. Would anyone care if family members went to the movies (spending obscene amounts of money to sit in dark silence together?) What is it about shopping that rankles the pundits? Is it that the shopping in question is for Christmas? Is the melding of holidays the equivalent of “my corn is touching my sweet potatoes!!!!”? If that’s it I suggest they take on the Thanksgiving/Chanukah synchronized celebrating of 2013.

I suspect that at the core of the whining is that any kind of change can make people cranky. Thanksgiving is nothing else if not a holiday revered for its stasis. We eat the same exact foods every year (heaven help the host who changes the stuffing recipe!) We go to or watch the same parade or movies. We take the post-feast walk or nap. There’s nothing wrong with clinging fast to the comfort of tradition. But there are lots of people out there with lots of different needs and desires. The idea that there is only one way to do something is a bit offensive. There’s a reason we serve more than one kind of pie.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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The $10 Shirt

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Terrible things have been happening in the garment industry. No, that is not a reference to the return of shoulder pads and high-waist pants. Factories have been collapsing and burning, trapping and killing workers. The most recent of these have been in Bangladesh; a manufacturing hub of preference for many mass-market retailers. The elements which render a locale to be a hub of preference are not surprising; lax regulations, lower wages equaling cheaper costs. Everyone knows this. Everyone has always known this. It’s why garment production moved overseas in recent decades.

Yet each time something dreadful comes to light we (momentarily) consider our $10 shirts. When it’s discovered that our chain store products are sewn/assembled by children, we shake our fists at the celebrity whose name is on the label. When a factory crumbles or erupts in flames, we are as intrigued by the labels left in the ruins as we are the rescue efforts. Perhaps we even sigh in relief upon learning that we don’t wear that particular $10 shirt. But who among us really knows the source of his/her inexpensive goods? Our linen closets, medicine cabinets and pantries are filled with products and packaging from around the globe. One would need to live the most self-sufficient and currency-free existence to never be in contact with something made under inhumane or dangerous circumstances.

There’s a faint buzz beginning about garment labeling. The comparison is being made to the ‘origin of food’ movement. The theory is that people care as deeply about the origin of their food as they do their clothes (and not in a ‘it’s from Paris’ kind of way.) Perhaps there is a similarity between concerns over food as there is clothing. There’s no doubt that there will always be people who care about the origin of their food and the friends the chicken had (before they stick their hand up its rear and remove its giblets.) But we’re talking about a rather privileged segment of the population. They either have the money or psychic bandwidth to perseverate over the ancestry of their produce. They may or may not also be people who purchase a $10 shirt.

Considering that every single garment sold in this country already has a label identifying its country of origin, it’s more likely that manufacturers/chain stores/brands will use a “cruelty free” label as a marketing device. Unless the brand shifts the cost of production (and the manufacturing of these new labels) the price of the goods will rise. It’s not guaranteed. A brand could lower, say employee benefits and maintain the $10 retail price. No matter how you slice it a $10 shirt in 2013 is a mirage. There is no way to manufacture, ship, and sell a shirt for $10, while paying a decent wage. Do any of us need a $10 shirt? Well, the truth of the matter is that yes, many people in this country need a $10 shirt. Could we buy fewer goods at a higher price? Probably, but the more we buy and the frequency of which we buy translates into jobs.

If (insert brand/shop/designer) wants to roll out a splashy marketing campaign about their cruelty-free manufacturing, that’s just fine. But in the end it’s a rather small segment of the population who has the luxury of money or shopping consciousness to respond. We’ve already seen this with designers who eschew fur or other animal products. Their line didn’t really transcend the niche market until they partnered with rock bottom priced chain stores. The animal-free garments might be manufactured with as much respect to human workers as the spared animals, but chances are that most of everything else in the mega-store might not be.

Cheap goods, food, and cars cost. They cost someone somewhere, sometimes with loss of jobs and towns and sometimes with loss of lives. This has been the case since the advent of the industrial age. A $1.00 hamburger and a $10.00 shirt have enormous job, health and economic consequences. They always have and they always will.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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On The Second Day Of Shopping…

Today is Small Business Saturday. Yesterday was Black Friday and in a couple of days it will be Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Yes, it’s a lot to keep track of, but we’re an odd/even day gas, opposite side of the street parking kind of people. If we were to create a timeline of seasonal consumer events; Black Friday would be on the far left and Giving Tuesday on the far right. Cyber Monday is more towards the left but is only as old as clicking technology. What is wonderfully fascinating/encouraging is that right side of the timeline and the recent creation of Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday.

Shopping local independent shops and artisans is always a great way to support communities and their individual residents. Local independent shops stock unique, lovely things that are often locally made. Many communities hold arts and/or craft holiday fairs and local restaurants and pubs are always happy for the foot traffic. Today (and for the next five weeks) we can shop meaningfully and give creatively. Giving (and receiving!) a framed watercolor, a glass pendant, a crochet miniature giraffe is more memorable than the exchange of a chain store gift card. If gift cards must be exchanged, consider a certificate to a restaurant or shop in the recipient’s neighborhood.

In the tri-state area, Small Business Saturday comes at the perfect time. Yes, there are businesses still struggling to open, but there are plenty that are up and running. Find a community (perhaps your own) that suffered in the storm and shop a little (or a lot.) (And while you’re there think about local restaurants for on-site holiday parties or catering.) Consider gift certificates to theatre companies and performing arts organizations forced to close for days or weeks. Is there someone who’s been particularly nice this year? Perhaps a season subscription to a downtown theatre is in order.

On Monday office productivity will plummet as workers click their way down their gift list. This Tuesday will be the day to take a closer look at that gift list and consider a charitable gift. You needn’t worry about sizes, makes or models, colors or cuts. Not for profit organizations large and small, international, national or local will be a grateful recipient. This is the best holiday grab bag opportunity ever created. You choose what to give to whom. The gift feels meaningful to you and the recipient and you needn’t pretend to love the bath beads or Santa coffee mug you receive in exchange. You can broaden the reach of your gift by giving in someone’s name. Is there someone on your gift list who loves animals? A gift to the The New York Aquarium will help to repair the damage of the storm and delight the ‘benefactor.’

We like to think of leisurely slow roasted family dinners, skating parties at twilight or evenings by the fire with a glass of port and a musty smelling Dickens this time of year. But the reality is that it’s mostly several weeks of frenzied shortening days. Our social lives ramp up (or sputter back to life), our workloads increase in preparation of days off and our to-do lists prod us awake at 3:00 AM. There isn’t much resting or merry gentlemen/women to be found this time of year. However an interesting thing happens to our innards when we feel we’ve done some good. There is an underlying tranquility beneath our frenzy. Things might not go as planned, crowds might wear us down but we’ve coated our soul with a thin layer of “I made a difference.”

Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday make it effortless for us to do some good for ourselves and for others. We needn’t limit ourselves to these two days but they are a great start to a wonderful habit!

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Thanksgiving

Christmas seems to start earlier every year. The holiday is on the same day (December 25) every year, which is a rare character trait in a religious holiday. But the engines seem to start before the leaves on the tree have become the leaves on the ground. A completely unscientific and utterly unsubstantiated analysis (known more commonly as the “because I say so” analysis) would suggest that the retailing of Christmas pushes back one full week every five years. Now before you get all “wait a minute, how many revolutions of the calendar are we on now”, no this phenomenon did not start 2012 years ago. It began somewhere around the time when shopping became more than a means to an end.

Christmas is make or break time for most retailers. End of year sales account for the biggest percentage of their annual sales. (Depending on the type of retail, back-to-school can be a close second.) Naturally, retailers long for a longer period of time to bolster sales. It isn’t necessarily intuitive that a longer period creates more sales. The goal (i.e., presents under the tree) is theoretically the same regardless of the time it’s given to achieve. But sales must increase or why else would it be done? It is hard to imagine how a longer span of time spent with blaring Christmas songs pummeled into our ears makes us spend more. Increased exposure to Christmas themed merchandise wears down the novelty. Ten weeks of eyeing Santa themed apparel will lead to the realization; “Wait. I’m giving this to him/her on Christmas Day! When will they wear this? Next late October?!” What’s clearer is that ‘doorbuster’ sales gets ‘em in the store. It’s safe to assume that a fair percentage of those $5 flat screen televisions aren’t going under the tree but up on the bleary eyed shoppers’ wall.

This year even more retailers are pushing their ‘busting’ back. Black Friday is becoming the power-shopping day for amateurs as Thanksgiving Day shopping comes into its own. This rankles some people. Thanksgiving is seen as a sacred family time. It is one of the few times of year that people come together simply to be together. The dining table is heaped with tangible proof of tradition and longevity. It’s also the holiday (perhaps like Christmas) when most of the responsibility for making it happen falls to one member of the family. Unlike Christmas it’s a holiday when some people (who perhaps did not prepare the meal and unearth all the serving ware) park themselves in front of the television for a sport marathon. For some (if not many) the holiday is spent with people who are (or who have been) mean to them or are flat out obnoxious. For many others there is no one to share the holiday (either by choice or not.) In other words; Thanksgiving is not sacred to everyone.

If shopping is a way out of the house, and a way to choose how one’s time is spent, so be it. Those 5 AM drastically reduced priced household appliances and toys are a huge help to many families. They will help to make Christmas happen for many who could really use a break. For others who are doing okay, those heavily discounted items will help them with their (much needed) gift donations this year.

There is nothing sacred about Thanksgiving; it just feels like that because all the other really sacred holidays have been co-opted. It is a delicious holiday, with a great parade and for some of us lucky ones, some wonderful and loving memories. For some it’s a much needed and rare day off with an opportunity to make a serious impact on their to-do list. There’s more than one way to experience this or any other day. I would no more take to the sprawling front lawn with a football in hand than I would take a fork to a tofurky. But lots of people would (okay, lots of people would play touch football and some people would eat tofurky.) Just like there’s always room for more pie, there’s room for everyone and their choices this time and every time of year.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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It’s A Mall World After All

American chain stores are learning to ship internationally, and the world breathes a collective sigh of relief.  No longer will Parisians suffer the indignities of a couture wardrobe devoid of an Ann Taylor blazer.  The days of British men muddling through with authentic country apparel are almost over, J.Crew will be just a click away.  And the Italians?  Their long suffering over hand-blown Venetian glass is screeching to a halt; Crate & Barrel is coming to the rescue.

Hey, I’m all for an accessible and enjoyable shopping experience.  I love a good basic (in the form of ceramics or T-shirt) as much as the next gal.  But it strikes me as just a bit odd that we are exporting our chain stores to the most artistic and (at times) stylish parts of the world.  (By “most artistic” I don’t mean to suggest that other nations have a lock on talent, but they do have a culture of supporting the growth and success of artists.)

It took me a couple of years to understand the British love affair with the Gap.  They see it as a mid-scale product, where as we see it as a place to periodically peruse the racks jammed with markdowns ending in $.98.  But what the Gap lacks in ingenuity it makes up for in their branding of themselves as “American.”  Foreignness can be fun; in food and fashion.  Coveting a look for its “otherness” is certainly understandable.  But coveting goods which are unrecognizable as “American” is a bit confusing.  Many of the chain stores reformulating their software to accommodate international shipping are known for their blandness.  The ubiquity of white ceramics and housewares in Crate & Barrel can make the store seem like the set of Wonkavision.  The whole point of the design at Ann Taylor is for women to blend into the workplace.  It’s hard to imagine a French woman walking (on very un-American heels) along the cobblestone streets to her place of work; passersby stop and smile, one older shopkeeper puts down his broom, leans against his doorway and with a gauloises dangling from his lips, utters; “ooh la la, zee mademoiselle looks tres magnifique c’est matin, Ann Taylor, non?”  I just can’t picture it.

My romanticized naïveté is also to blame for my insisting that somebody made a mistake in research or a typo is at fault; but Lane Bryant simply could not be shipping to France.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

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