I’m Not A Charity

19 07 2007

 Not a Bag

By Derek Beres

While my first call of duty was avoiding the incessant rain tumbling from July skies, I had a slight break between thunderstorms to rush into Whole Foods before a morning class at Jivamukti. I walk up the stairs at the Union Square station, met by a line that wrapped around the corner, down Broadway to 13th St, around that corner to University, and snaking back up – almost an entire NYC block as it encroached upon 14th via University. An admitted Whole Foods junkie, I’m stunned; I’m there every morning and have never seen anything like this, much less during the worst thunderstorm this summer. All I wanted was a bottle of water.

I walk up to the front door.  An early twenty-something is standing guard.

“Um, what’s going on?”

He laughs. I’m sure he’s been asked this question numerous times in the past hour. “If you’re just shopping, go on in.”

I enter. The sign is prominent near the entrance – this was the day when designer Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” went on sale. For a woman whose bags normally sell from $700 to the thousands, the $15 price point was meant to become an accessible entry point to her product, and make an environmentally progressive message to people across the planet. (The bag launched in London, and has hit other global cities.) The idea: reuse your bag; don’t rely on plastic.

Like many “messages,” this one is completely mixed. There are obvious good points, along with questionable aspects to the sale. Whole Foods Union Square and Bowery were stocked with 3,000 bags, which sold out in under two hours. Some people had been waiting on line since six p.m. the previous night for the eight a.m. opening. In the midst of the shower that started after I left the store, most people were laughing it off. “It’s all for the love of the bag,” I’m guessing was their point. But let’s check out a few other points, and let the reader decide the intention.

1. The bag is god-awful ugly. Because you’re hitting a low price point does not give anyone he right to create something that hideous, unless, of course, that is part of the joke. The font, apparently meant to look “cute” and “eco,” is a mess of a children’s script – and that is more a discredit to the penmanship of children than anything.

2. The bags were produced, according to her site, in China, by workers paid double minimum wage. They purchased carbon offset points in the global shipping of them.

3. Number Two is their answer to the question of “How environmentally friendly is this bag?” What that means, essentially, is that the bag itself is probably not made from organic material, and to reach that price point for a designer charging that much for her wares, most likely as cheaply as possible. If you’ve seen the bag, that’s an obvious statement.

4. In the question “What changes has this bag led to?,” the answer is that some overseas stores took out full-page adverts to promote them. Wonderful. What does that have to do with the question? Well, nothing. It goes on to say that a few of the stores now offer credits for people who reuse bags they bring from home – something that Whole Foods and other organic grocers have been doing for years.

5. Most of the press on this have interviewed consumers that planned on flipping a profit on the bag. Previous posts started at $300 for a bag that was bought for $15 – the same day. Anya says that this is beyond their control, which is totally true. In fact, it is this very thinking which led to the creation of such an initiative in the first place. Let’s flesh that out a little.

As someone that does not work in fashion, I cannot justify any comments on the worth of this designer’s work, and value. But what I do notice – and this is applicable to numerous peoples and industries – is the complete lack of responsibility in producing any handbag for thousands of dollars. In some ways, this entire project reeks of Victorian arrogance, the idea being that the rich and powerful are bending down to appease the lowly that cannot afford their products otherwise. The reality is that well beyond any environmental impact this may have, which I’m guessing is not much, is that it did serve as a great PR stunt. The people that buy her bags and shoes feel justified that their designer is “helping the environment,” and the press will latch onto her as being a big-timer looking out for the earth. This trend has been executed with a shark-like brilliance from numerous campaigns in the oil and textiles industry – why not advertise Green everywhere, but not really do much about it? That’s exactly what’s happening.

She flat-out states that there is no charitable component, so people selling them on eBay are not harming any charity. The question remains: What are you really doing for the environment? There are endless companies actively using organic and fair trade fabrics and foods in every aspect of their production, that donate a percent of everything they earn to amazing charities, that go into disparate regions of the world and economically and socially lend a hand. Out of the 6,000 bags sold in NYC, I’m pretty certain that most all of them will not be used, at least not in public, after the new three weeks when every other fashion dies out anyway – for whatever fashion statement carrying such a monstrosity around is. But great job Anya, you got what you wanted in the first place: a lot of press, and your name on the tip of a number of tongues. Like any poison, the remedy will be quick, and effective.

We could only hope to be so lucky.




One response

19 07 2007

Thanks for this post. I too referred to Anya in my blog today. You may get a kick out of reading it . . . Hypocrisy is such a big part of the green movement. There is the pressure of living up to the Live Earth pledge to Al, on one hand, and the personal reality of one’s life in a consumerist culture. The least I could do is be honest about it!

Marguerite Manteau-Rao
“My Inconvenient Truth: The Daily Sins of a Green Girl Wannabe”

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