Can a ‘sustainable’ brand do Black Friday?  It’s complicated.

Can a ‘sustainable’ brand do Black Friday? It’s complicated.

Do you want to be more sustainable? Consider Black Friday off the table.

The mega-shopping moment (a discount-driven start to the holiday sales period that now spans an entire weekend) is intended to encourage consumption on a scale “totally incompatible” with efforts to avert climate catastrophe, said Andrew Simms, founder of climate research and campaign group the Rapid Transition Alliance.

To limit global warming, the wealthiest shoppers in wealthy countries like the UK, US and Japan will need to buy an average of just five new garments a year by 2030, according to a new report co-authored by the organization.

And yet Black Friday has become a major marketing moment for brands that say they are against everything it stands for, with sustainability-focused companies employing clever marketing tactics to capitalize on the holiday without endorsing it.

Outdoors brand Patagonia famously took out a full-page ad in the New York Times telling people not to buy its products in 2011. (The company’s sales increased more than 30 percent that year.)

Since then, companies from Allbirds to Deciem have taken a similar approach, using their platform to denounce the retail event while taking full advantage of the buzz their stance created. This week, resale platform Vestiaire Collective banned offers for ultrafast fashion, then promoted its Black Friday deals as a guilt-free opportunity to “shop sustainably.”

But can a brand really take advantage of the Black Friday marketing frenzy and claim to promote responsible drinking?

Resisting the pressure to participate in the coupon bonanza is at stake, even for brands that don’t want to participate. This is especially true now, as economic uncertainty is driving shoppers to spend less. Many smaller brands said participating in sales this year was a necessary compromise, if not a survival tactic.

Loud Bodies, a made-to-order womenswear label from Romania, usually refrains from Black Friday sales, but this year offers discounts of up to 50 percent. After months of steady decline, orders have recently plummeted to almost zero, a trend the brand captured with shoppers waiting for the sale.

“This is really not an encouragement to over-consume, but rather a hard choice on my part to stick to a tradition I deeply disapprove of keeping the lights on and taking care of my team,” founder Patricia Luiza wrote Blaj. in a lengthy Instagram post.

Bigger brands have tried to sidestep the tension by positioning their Black Friday activations as alternatives to the frenzy of overconsumption, following the playbook first laid out by Patagonia.

This year, for example, Swedish slow-fashion brand Asket stripped its store of new inventory to sell exclusively second-hand pieces instead. In similar strides, London-based Raeburn offers in-store valuations and buybacks for high-end streetwear pieces, and B-Corp skincare brand Haeckels showcases small, mission-driven businesses in its retail space, rather than its own product.

The reality is that even the most sustainable fashion players are still companies vying for consumer attention, loyalty and spending amid an increasingly crowded landscape and bleak economic outlook.

A shopping holiday like Black Friday is a great opportunity for brands to achieve that, even if they’re ostensibly protesting it.

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