confronting the environmental impact of boxing day sales

Why do we forget our commitment to sustainable fashion in the face of a deal?

by Eliza Sholly
23 December 2016, 1:30am

Eight hundred years ago, December 26 was the day church collection boxes were kept open so the contents could be distributed amongst the poor and wider community. This act of giving is where we got the now familiar title of Boxing Day. It's an ironic paradox to our 21st century understanding of the date, where giving is the last thing on our minds. Rather, the day after Christmas, we join the masses setting their alarms for 5AM in the hope of purchasing a multitude of unnecessary goods, simply because they're cheap.

Now don't get us wrong, who wouldn't be seduced by a global discount shopping frenzy. But there is something upsetting about a holiday that once encouraged charity evolving into an overarching need to buy and over-consume. Especially during a year where the social and environmental cost of the fast fashion cycle has never been as visible.

Despite a growing sense of responsibility, Australians are expected to spend $2.5 billion this Boxing Day alone. Between December 26 and January 15, the Retail Council predicts that figure will jump to $21 billion nationwide. With numbers like that, you can't really blame retailers for encouraging shopping mayhem.

It's a concern Well Made Clothes co-founder Courtney Andrews has been digesting in the lead up to Boxing Day. Well Made Clothes is an online marketplace stocking some of the world's best ethical fashion labels. For a brand to be featured on their site, they must be committed to transparency, gender equality and sustainability. With a job so focused on the ethics of consumption, Courtney's mixed feelings about the approaching retail wave is understandable.

READ: 'well made clothes' are detangling the confusion around eco-friendly fashion

"The fashion industry affects people and the environment at every level — often negative — due to the fact that too much poorly made clothing is being produced, bought and thrown away," she told i-D. This ethos has inspired the company to protest sale culture in a real way, "We don't participate in flash sales, particularly international ones like Black Friday or Boxing Day." She notes that "days like this encourage customers to make quick decisions which they may come to regret, therefore not getting the wear that the item of clothing deserves."

Well Made Clothes are not alone in this thinking. As Australians are gearing up for bargains, our American counterparts are recovering from Black Friday. Considered the most significant shopping day of the year, Black Friday encourages the same sort of clearance pricing and incessant impulse purchasing as Boxing Day.

But some US brands have found ways to avoid and counteract the damage done by shopping's biggest day. Ethical outdoor clothing brand Patagonia famously refuses to participate in Black Friday. Their brand boasts a triple mission to "build the best products, do not unnecessarily harm and use business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis". Five years ago, they even ran an ad that urged customers not to buy their products. Their message was a warning about the appeal of impulse purchases. Outside of sales season, they have also long donated 1 percent of annual gross revenue to charities that align with sustainability issues. This initiative has seen them give away US$74 million to date.

They argue it's hypocritical to work for environmental change and not encouraging consumers to think before they buy: "To reduce environmental damage, we all have to reduce consumption as well as make products in more environmentally sensitive, less harmful ways." It's an extreme act of putting your money where your mouth is.

Today, it's impossible to feign ignorance about the astronomical impact of regrettable purchases. On average, Australians each throw away 30kg of clothing a year. As landfills overflow with our unloved, undervalued garments we continue to consume clothing at a far higher rate than our planet can handle. Our apathy has made fashion the second most polluting industry after oil.

So this year, pause to consider the way you shop and why. We know the real cost of an impulse buy, so maybe it's time to sit Boxing Day out.


Text Eliza Sholly
Image via Tumblr user Shibuya246

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