How To Shop Sustainably On Black Friday

The Black Friday sales are coming… Are you ready?! Every year I get a little bit nervous around Black Friday – it’s one of the biggest shopping events of the year. It’s ahead of Christmas, which means it’s prime time for present shopping. And yet, we need to consume less. What’s the right approach?

Personally, I’ve swung from calling it #JustFriday, to debating whether to shop or not, to highlighting the wastefulness of the discount weekend, and back again. This year, I wanted to share ultimate guide to shopping sustainably on Black Friday…

What Is Black Friday (Really)?

Black Friday is marketed as a special day to shop heavily discounted consumer products. It takes place on the last Friday of November every year. You might be surprised to learn that Black Friday isn’t a day that all brands got together and decided to be nice and reduce their profit margins so that you can afford to purchase items cheaper (even if they market it like that). In reality, Black Friday provides a timely push for brands and retailers to entice you to shop. Then, once you’re in the door, they oversell to you, utilising pressure tactics and dark patterns in shops and online.

And as for the promised discounts? As Which? discovered that 99.5% of Black Friday ‘deals’ are cheaper or the same price at other times of the year (!)

9 Shocking Black Friday Facts

Black Friday has always been – and always will be – a problematic commercial event. Here’s nine facts explaining why…

1. Black Friday is the biggest shopping day in the US economy, with many international economies also echoing this. It promotes mindless overconsumption under the guise of generous discounts and gift giving for the holidays.

2. The day is named ‘Black Friday’ after poisonous road traffic caused by shoppers. The colour is actually a reference to car exhaust fumes and smog caused by swathes of traffic. It was dubbed Black Friday by frustrated police officers managing traffic in Philadelphia, and the name has stuck.

3. Retailers commonly see a huge rise in sales across Black Friday with even struggling brands like Argos seeing a 45% sales increase across the day. Don’t let the brands fool you – this day is about making money, not giving it away.

4. When it comes to sales, many purchases are based on hype and impulse. And retailers know this! Consumer group Which? found that up to 76% of shoppers on Black Friday later regret their purchases. Look out for pushes to buy certain items (usually deadstock and pieces that wouldn’t sell otherwise) and avoid these.

5. During the sales period of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, tech and clothes are the most popular items, with over 50% of shoppers predicted to buy electronic goods and nearly a third buying high street fashion.

6. Despite the huge surge in these purchases, buyer’s remorse is even higher. According to research by Green Alliance and Waste Recovery, up to 80% of electronic and clothing items purchased on Black Friday end up as waste. Add to this the wasted fuel, and the wasted packaging, and it’s a real problem.

7. On the subject of waste, did you know that the amount of rubbish generated by households grows by 25% between now and New Year’s Day? This statistic is for the US, but it’s a similar story elsewhere.

8. And even if you only choose recyclable packaging, it can still be a problem! Cardboard is now the most recycled material in the UK, and that’s partly down to its availability. A friend of mine working in the paper recycling business recently told me that recycled paper has even become more brown due to the huge increase in brown card being used and subsequently recycled!

9. In response to the overconsumption problem of Black Friday, a large number of retailers are boycotting the event. This is the highest figure ever recorded by the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira).

4 Questions To Ask Yourself On Black Friday

Despite the above, I don’t like to advocate boycotting Black Friday altogether. There are still opportunities to save money, and still do some sustainable shopping* too. If you can approach the commercial weekend in an informed and mindful manner, it can still be a good thing!

If you do want to shop on Black Friday, my best advice is: write a shopping list ahead of time. To be extra savvy, try finding those products now, and compare their discounts on the day. Then, you can see if they are truly discounted, and decide whether it’s worth the purchase.

In my opinion, shopping sustainably is about striking a balance between changing your buying behaviour, and also demanding better. So while I’m not saying don’t shop, I am saying shop responsibly. Black Friday is designed to shift all the rubbish no-one wanted across the rest of the year. It’s also designed to entice you into time-pressured offers to make you buy more, and think less. The above statistics say it all…

So, in order to support a more sustainable shopping period, ask yourself these questions ahead of the shopping weekend:

1. Do you need it?

Like, do you really need it though? This is a question to be asked anytime you fancy shopping, but even more so on Black Friday. Don’t allow the time pressure and flashy deals to cloud your judgement.

2. Can you buy it second-hand instead?

One of the easiest ways to shop more sustainably is to go for second-hand items instead. This reduces the demand for new labour, new materials, and shipping emissions too. I like to shop on Depop, eBay, and Gumtree, as well as local second-hand shops. The ability the shop locally makes it an even better way to reduce your impact and still get things you love.

3. Could you shop ethical instead?

If second-hand isn’t an option, consider buying from ethical and sustainable brands. Lucky for you, I compiled a giant guide to sustainable fashion brands late last year, and have additional guides for homewares, beauty, and more. I hope these might inspire you to shop better on Black Friday, and all year round!

4. Is the retailer ethical?

Finally, if you can’t live without it, or buy it second-hand, or buy it from an ethical or sustainable brand, at least consider buying your item from an ethical retailer. I don’t, and never will, link you through to ‘The Big A’, because of their awful labour practices, business practices, and continued tax evasion. My top picks would be John Lewis*, an organisation that gives each employee part-ownership of the company, a share of its annual profits, and a say in how it is run, or Etsy*, which lists independent sellers and carbon offsets all of its deliveries.

14 Better Approaches To Black Friday

Despite all of the issues with Black Friday, I wanted to share a reminder that the overconsumption and waste created by Black Friday isn’t really your responsibility. It’s the brands’ responsibility!

Truly sustainable brands are ones that pay and treat the people in their supply chain fairly, produce their items ethically, and consider reducing their impact and waste across their products’ lifecycles. It’s why you’ll see many sustainable brands not participating in Black Friday either. Many don’t agree with putting pressure on you to shop, even if this comes at a cost to their business.

At the same time, some of my favourite sustainable brands are using the commercial event to do something good instead. Here’s a look at 14 better approaches to Black Friday…

Amazon Workers: Make Amazon Pay

Make Amazon Pay

Ok, this isn’t technically an Amazon campaign – it’s a petition for better pay and welfare for Amazon workers. Amazon has notoriously profited bucket-loads from Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It has also notoriously provided poor working conditions and low pay. It’s got tons of other issues too (from tax avoidance to unnecessary waste), but for this year’s Black Friday many Amazon workers are going on strike to ask for better. Sign their petition here:

Baukjen: Donating 100% Profits

Baukjen Logo

Ethical womenswear brand, Baukjen*, and its sister brand, Isabella Oliver, are increasing their 10% charitable donations to 100% of their profits from 26th to 29th November. As a sustainable fashion brand and certified B-Corp, it’s lovely to see them commit to creating even more good for Black Friday rather than promoting discounts and overconsumption. (P.S. Get 15% off at Baukjen with code BESMA15)

Birdsong: Black Transparent Friday

Birdsong Black Transparent Friday

Birdsong have always been open about not being big fans of Black Friday. The ‘dress in protest’ brand shared their new initiative this week: Black Transparent Friday, where they provide their financial information in relation to their garments and invite you to choose a discount – 15% or 25%. It’s a refreshing take and makes me wish there were more brands transparently sharing a break down of their financials too (I mean, how does SHEIN do it?)

Brothers We Stand: Learn, Stand, Change

Brothers We Stand - Learn, Stand, Change

Ethical menswear retailer, Brothers We Stand*, is boycotting Black Friday altogether, and if you head to their website on the day you’ll find you can’t shop for anything. Instead, you’ll be presented with three choices: Learn, Stand, or Change. For Learn, you can find out more about the problems with overconsumption. For Stand, you can take a stand in asking Amazon, Next, and Nike to pay their workers. And for Change, you can learn how to shop more sustainably all year round. Love love love it.

Buy Me Once: Ten Things That Last

Buy Me Once - Ten Things That Last

Buy Me Once is a lifestyle brand that centres around longevity. I had the pleasure of working with them a few years ago, and even now, will refer to their wise recommendations when investing in items for my home. For Black Friday, their solution has been to invite customers to vote for Ten Things That Last – their most wanted items – and to then discount these across the weekend. This way, the brand continues its ethos to value long-lasting items and look after them throughout their lifecycle.

Colorful Standard: Do You Really Need All That?

Colorful Standard - Do You Really Need All That?

Danish fashion brand, Colorful Standard, is asking their customers the cheekiest question this Black Friday: do you really need all that? In what seems like an almost satirical campaign, the brand highlights the issue of overconsumption while also placing themselves as self-aware and more sustainable than most. I’m not familiar with the brand but will be looking into them in the future, as I like what they’re going for here!

Fashion Revolution: Ask Brands How They’re Taking Responsibility

Fashion Revolution - Black Friday

Fashion Revolution and cosigning brands like People Tree*, Sabinna, and YOU Underwear are asking shoppers to ‘Say No To The Sales’ and instead ask their favourite high street brands the following…

“Hey [@fashionbrand], this Black Friday, I want to know how you’re taking responsibility for the waste in your operations and tackling fashion overproduction? Tell me #WhatsInMyClothes? #WhoMadeMyClothes?”

I love the work that Fashion Revolution does, and how they continue to encourage transparency in fashion brands’ supply chains. Orsola de Castro, Fashion Revolution Co-Founder and Creative Director, also shares my dislike of Black Friday: “Black Friday is a scam. It’s one more way to get citizens to think they are finding a bargain, when in fact they are hunting an illusion. Black Friday is about the rush, the speed, the compulsion. At Fashion Revolution we are asking you to stay conscientious and to buy with purpose.”

Finisterre: Launch of Finisterre Foundation

Finisterre Foundation Logo

Ethical outdoor brand Finisterre is subverting this year’s biggest shopping weekend to instead announce the launch of the Finisterre Foundation CIC. The charitable arm of Finisterre will “work to remove the barriers to access so everyone can benefit from the transformative power of the ocean by encouraging, empowering, and enabling people to connect with the sea to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.” It’s a brilliant way to highlight the brand’s continued efforts to look past profits to instead prioritise people and planet.

Lora Gene: Supporting Makers

Lora Gene - Black Friday Reinvented

Ethical fashion brand Lora Gene is continuing its maker-first approach this year, promising 20% off on its range of clothing while providing 20% more pay to its garment workers. I always have a slight twinge of cynicism when I see brands donating to charities for a set period, so it’s nice to see Lora Gene reinvesting in the people in their supply chain instead of a one-off act of philanthropy.

Luxe Collective: F*ck Fast Fashion

Luxe Collective - F*ck Fast Fashion Tote Bags

Luxury pre-owned fashion marketplace Luxe Collective is spending this commercial weekend educating their audience and shoppers about the issues of fast fashion, and providing cheeky F*ck Fast Fashion tote bags for pre-loved purchases on their site.

Mosaik: Help Educate Refugees

Mosaik - Access To Education Is A Human Right

Refugee charity Mosaik is continuing their shop small campaign for Black Friday this year. I personally love the gifts from their shop and featured them heavily in last year’s Gift Guide Supporting Refugees. If you’re shopping for gifts this Black Friday, be sure to consider them.

Organic Basics: €10 to WWF

Organic Basics - Black Friday Sale

My favourite basics brand, Organic Basics*, is offering up to 40% on eco-friendly underwear, activewear and essentials, but will also roll in a square €10 donation to WWF for their Regenerative Organic Cotton Pilot Project with every sale.

Rowdy Kind: Giving Tuesday

Rowdy Kind - We're not discounting, we're donating!

Skipping the commercial weekend altogether, sustainable skincare brand Rowdy Kind is instead going to celebrate the amount they raised for the Young Minds Charity in their Gifts With Purpose collection. As Founder Kate Tillbury says: “This is going to feel so much better than a sale.”

Wilton: Bright Friday

Wilton - Bright Friday

Eco-friendly cleaning brand, Wilton, is renaming this Friday to Bright Friday, and will be donating 20% of each order total as well as bottles of their laundry liquid to The Felix Project, a London-based food redistribution waste charity. Great to see small, eco-minded organisations working together to sell better and create better circular practices too.

I hope this post helps to you make considered purchases (and avoid the pressure tactics) this weekend!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and paid-for links (denoted '*'). Photography by Lauren Shipley.


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