I have been struggling with consumer intersectionality lately. Maybe struggling is a bit dramatic, but I have endeavored to de-compartmentalize and live a more cohesive, singular life. This means that these days, being a mom and a professional needs to feel less like 2 sides of the same coin and more like the whole value of the currency itself. A union I’ve been pondering seriously these days, post-Nipsey Hussle, is how to bring together my values on money and culture into a succinct spending pattern. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a finance geek, who is also well-read on things culture and feminism. As of late, I’ve tried to merge those passions in the way I choose to allocate my buying power. I’ve read a bit on the BDS movement in Angela Y. Davis’ recent book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” and for years I’ve been head over heels for Courtney Carver’s 333 minimalism and I’m a believer in knowing the entrepreneur who supplies whatever sliver of consumerism makes it out of your wallet and into your home. But what does that really look like in lived experience?
Honestly, it’s exhausting. I spend a great deal of time googling not just prices, but companies, before actually making a purchase. And, while I’m still a slave to amazon.com, they’ve seen a lot less of my business lately than in years past. Every holiday season there’s a new “shopping list” out of Black, women, trans, transcendent vendors out there, but considering I rarely spend money on traditional gifts I usually have long forgotten about these lists by the time I’m ready to buy. And, to be frank, every company has some problem. I was excited to buy Girl Scout cookies only to have them arrive and realize that the bulk of my stock was made with artificial colors and flavors. I recently bought a (great quality) bag from R. Riveter, and felt awesome about what it does to economically empower women, then I thought a layer deeper on all that supporting the military could mean. Then, there’s buying Black. I am a proponent of buying from small and minority businesses, but I have found that many are not as eco-friendly as I would prefer. For example, I love True Detergent (I know, I’m on a military roll here). They have removed the caustic chemicals from the liquid (YAY!), but what to do about all these plastic bottles (have you heard about the plastic whale)? And after all, I did buy a Sodastream to minimize plastic bottle consumption involved in my carbonated water habit, but that goes full circle back to the BDS movement’s recent calls for a boycott. I could go on…
Maybe my concern with intersectionality is just my most recent awakening to recognizing the challenges that a global economy brings. Products, like people, are a collection of many experiences. Nothing is as singular as it appears in an online store. Even your “African” clothing vendor gets their Indonesian-styled fabrics from Vlisco in the Netherlands, which has been living that neo-colonial life since been since. I say this to say, we are global creatures made local by choice and imagination. The products we create and the ones we consume reflect that reality. How can we live in the modern world and survive with our morals (perhaps competing ones) in tact? Here’s my strategy:
1- Save money. Buy less: I figure, if I buy less, I’ll have the time and the money to make smarter (though fewer) purchases. I’m trying to de-clutter my whole life – not just by Marie Kondo-style trashing the joyless items taking up valuable mental space, but by choosing to accumulate less with each passing day. After all, if I have to check the ownership structure, the eco-impact, and the “about us” page for every purchase, it’s highly likely that I’ll just give up before I even get to the till (British speak for the check out counter).
2- Make sure it’s healthy: Always search the Environmental Working Group to ensure that what I expose myself and my family to actually merits use. There are so many financial and health ramifications to each dollar we spend, the least we could do is know that before we buy. And, I always feel like I win double brownie points if I can go healthy AND zerowaste. It ain’t easy, but once I figure out what works well, it’s easy to replicate (or buy again).
3- Buy in bulk, if it makes sense: Expiration date and binge shopping not withstanding, I have gotten very good at buying in bulk to reduce waste. The easiest tends to be cleaning and household goods, so I’ve become a lover (and repeat customer) at bulkapothecary.com . From lavender to olive oil, and castile soap by the gallons, I haven’t been disappointed.
4- Check those niche holiday lists all year-long: Even for the smallest of purchases, I go back to lists from madamenoire.com & blackenterprise.com (among others) to see which new vendors are out there and which ones have been de-bunked. Below see a list of what I’ve been tracking lately, you know, in case you’ve got some holiday, birthday, household needs built into your budget:
5- Expect to get it wrong: If the VW emissions scandal has taught us nothing, it should be that well-meaning consumers also get duped. We can control very little outside of our own intentions, so even with the best of research and positive vibes, our money may land in the hands of tricksters telling us what we want to hear.