The New Luxury: When “Ethics” Are Not Enough

By Regina Connell.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love bunnies. I do love artisans. I do love the earth. I do love people (for the most part). But the Ethical Marketing Machine? Not so much.

I used to be a big fan. I used to believe that by consuming sustainable/ethically sourced products, we could change the earth. After a good 40 years of this (it all started, slowly, in the ’60s), there may be some evidence that it’s moved the needle slightly, more in food than in any other category; maybe in packaging; and possibly—slowly—in clothing, though I’m not so sure that 10 years out from Rana Plaza there won’t be another sweatshop fire in Myanmar or Mongolia or East LA, or wherever cheap production has moved to by then.

Adidas made from ocean waste, image courtesy of AdWeek

Adidas made from ocean waste, image courtesy of AdWeek

But at the end of the day, the Ethical Marketing Machine (and I exclude food from this category for lots of reasons), is only slightly better than the Commercial Marketing Machine that flogs electronic gadgets, McDonalds, and Pepsi. They’re still just selling stuff, stoking the kind of consumption that’s really at the root of many of our ills.

Because what they’re selling is often (not always, mind) a feel-better/d0-better version of stuff you may not really want. And even more often, it’s stuff you don’t need. In may ways, it’s worse than the Commercial Marketing Machine or the Stuff Industrial Complex: it takes advantage of our human desire to do good, and that’s truly cynical.

That doesn’t mean that we should stop consuming at all. In fact, it really is our duty (shocking).

Desirable design meets ethics. Stella McCartney, image via Marie Claire

Desirable design meets ethics. Stella McCartney, image via Marie Claire

Where we can without getting us into debt, we actually have a responsibility to consume: it creates jobs and livelihoods. It creates economic enrichment to our communities. It connects people, countries. It can even prevent wars (or at least that’s the theory behind that slightly shaky construct called the European Union).

And it serves a functional need. It can be (though not as often as it should be) fun (and even better) a real joy, stimulating the senses, the imagination, the intellect. It can give us pleasure.

But we need to consume well. And being an ethical consumer doesn’t mean buying the table/cushion/candle/sweater/rug/pair of earrings  you don’t really love…

For all the rest and more on our version of the new luxury, wander on over to AltLuxe.


The New Luxury:

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