Capitalism: How Bad is it Really?
As a retail business owner, it might seem strange for me to contemplate the negative side of capitalism, but I believe it’s an important conversation to have. I’ve always naturally shied away from major corporations, but I’ve been paying much more attention to my role in a capitalistic society, especially as our business grows.
Now more than ever, consumers want to purchase from businesses that examine their role in the global economy thoughtfully, and that truly consider the negative impact they may be having on both the planet and communities. We cannot claim to be perfect, but one of the reasons for starting this blog was to create a conversation around this topic and look for ways we can all reduce the ways capitalism harms our world, while still celebrating small businesses and a love of fashion, design, and textiles.
Is capitalism bad?
This is a direct question with a nuanced answer. Throughout the pandemic, it seems as though there was more focus on our capitalistic society, and we all had the chance to stop and think about who it was serving, and who it was not.
We all had a chance to examine our own consumerist attitudes and behaviors in a new way, both as it relates to shopping, but also to the very idea of productivity and the value we place on it.
There were rampant calls to support local small businesses as they faced closures, massive criticism of large corporations as they profited through the shutdowns, and of course as we all collectively examined our own racial privileges, for many of us it led to a greater examination of our values and how we express them through our wallets.
As a small retail business, we cannot escape the fact that we are reliant on capitalism. We focus on sustainability, ethical business practices, and creating high-quality pieces that will last.
We feel strongly that we want to be part of, and encourage conversation about ways to reduce consumerism, and mitigate the negative effects it has on our world.
One way I personally have felt the direct impact of capitalism recently is that I’ve experienced large retailers pushing us on price and having unreasonable demands of me and my team. From this vantage point, it is easy to see how if businesses succumb to capitalistic demands their ethics and values can be eroded. As a business owner, I feel it is my duty to either push back or choose to walk away.
Easy ways to reduce consumerism
Another way I have seen people experience capitalism’s negative side through the pandemic is because of how easy it is to make impulse purchases. With a few clicks and a little patience, you can have almost anything delivered to your doorstep. This makes curbing impulse shopping more challenging. In order to reduce consumerism in general I have given some thought to ways to shop more sustainably.
Delivery from Whole Foods or Instacart
Mass-produced wall art
Fast fashion from a large chain like H&M or Forever 21
New jewelry from a large retailer like Macy’s
Books from a large reseller
Skip the trip to West Elm or Target and find an independent craftsman like Leeward or Peg & Awl. You might pay a little more but you’ll have something unique and made especially for you. You might also be able to mix and match with pieces from a vintage store. While the items might be pricier, many are built to last. If you have some time and patience, you could even consider a neighborhood buy nothing group.
Dinner at a chain restaurant
Local, independent restaurants were some of the hardest-hit businesses in the pandemic. Instead of eating at or ordering takeout from a large chain, find an independently owned local spot. You might find that you enjoy eating more globally this way. Consider other cuisines like Thai, Malaysian, Indian or Venezualan.
If you want to learn (or do) more
I discovered the book How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. It came recommended by Connie Matisse from East Fork in an article I was reading. It’s an amazing book that really provides insights into social media consumption, environmentalism, and capitalism and how it all intersects. It’s incredibly thought-provoking, and Leo and I listened to it on our road trip and were totally enthralled (which is impressive since it’s a bit heady!) - it’s not a snoozefest at all!
If you feel motivated to look at where and how you spend your money I highly recommend you do your research and learn more about your local small business community. See what you can buy within 5-10 miles of your home instead of going through a big corporation like Amazon. In the comments, tell us how you like to support local businesses or give back to your neighborhood.