Myths of Creation Is Closing: A Letter
Dear neighbors, thank you so much for being part of Myths of Creation.
As we close, I think a lot about what was learned in the challenge of running a brick and mortar product based business in 2019.
I have come to the conclusion that what we really need is a voice like Mr. Rogers, for the children and the adults of today.
Our current culture emphasizes turning us into consumers rather than empowered people.True education is about empowering individuals to understand the world - on a practical level, and to develop a psyche that is self-trusting enough to create a world that reflects their values.
(Isn’t it odd that that 12 years of public education doesn’t not require personal finance or civic duty education in most places in the United States?)
Our culture relies on us seeing our worth within the confines of corporate culture and consumer culture, and it uses distraction, creating a culture of passivity as well as this foundational lie to prop all of this up: You worth is determined by what you can buy OR You are what titles you can hold. It relies on all of us being more attached to comfort than growth, to convenience than truth.
Companies like Amazon, owned by the richest people on earth, have created amazing innovations in technology and efficiency - and to do that, they often rationalize that it is necessary to sacrifice quality of life for employees, manufacturers, and even the consumer by failing to acknowledge quality of life needs like:: healthcare, living wages and healthy/honest business practices.
But progress does not necessitate devaluing quality of life.
Part of the reason that so many small businesses can’t compete with their Amazon competitors (especially if they are located in a place with high cost rent) is that Amazon actually sells certain items at a loss in order to put their competition out of business. They have the deep pockets to play a very long game.
This creates a retail economy that is sitting on a faulty foundation. Customers are spending less on items than their market value and sometimes even the actual cost of goods, feeling like they can afford more than they actually can - which means that at some point, these prices are a bubble that has to burst.
Your $25 dress is reliant on factories that pay unlivable wages, sometimes using violence and taking advantage of people who have very few choices for employment, stealing intellectual property and harming the earth, so while it costs less in a transactional lens, it costs much more when we look at the effects of the mechanisms that enable that product to be made.
When we participate, we lose a handle on how things are valued.
It is impossible to make an item and sell it for $15 without somehow harming other human beings or the environment, no matter how much you scale. (And by the way, diversity in the marketplace of ideas and culture relies on some things not scaling; We have the right to survive in a healthy sustainable way even if we don’t want to be mass market.)
We are participating in a world in which government allows corporations to pay almost no taxes while an individual that makes 12,000 a year owes $2,000.
We are living in a world that discounts our common sense and causes us to trust ourselves less and less as we succumb to systems that don’t reflect our values.
When you buy things from a giant company, you are supporting the idea that all that matters is the bottom line.
But other things do matter.
It matters if a child made your clothes.
If the fibers in the clothes will be in the oceans and line the stomachs of wildlife.
If intellectual property was stolen.
When you buy from a company that lacks transparency, you are reinforcing the idea that your values are less important than a $3 difference.
The more we buy in as employees to corporations or customers, the more our livelihood is reliant on practices that devalue life.
Someone said to me, “If we didn’t use amazon, we couldn’t afford all the things our kids need.”
And I totally hear that. But here’s the thing.
You can’t afford it anyway, that is an illusion that's being created by the predatory and unsustainable practices of Walmart of Amazon, of companies who actively harm.
You aren’t really affording it. Someone else’s living wage, or healthcare or safety is being compromised so you can feel like you can afford it.
And so that you can become so addicted to a lifestyle of easily affording things that you become dependent on a job that works you 40-50 hours a week so that you don’t have time to ask yourself if the systems you are operating in make any sense at all.
The large company lobbies lawmakers to make laws that create billions of dollars in corporate tax loops, so that the middle class and the working poor carry most of the bills for social services.
In this way, that $20 dress costs you your social security, the country’s ability to wean itself off of fossil fuels, which then raises your potential for health hazards. Cheap beauty products and carcinogenic processed foods create chronic health issues and the corporations never have to pay the public health expense, but their profits get to keep rising.
In the meantime, a culture develops around small makers and companies. The very expensive ones have very rich clients and some do well. The very small companies just trying to offer something FAIR that can cover people’s living wages and make them a modest income find themselves in no-person’s land. Not expensive enough to attract the rich, not cheap enough to even sit next to something from Zara.
And the customer puts them side-by-side, as if they are the same item.
But they are not.
One is fighting a paradigm to introduce a diverse economy, a place where one’s vision does not have to align with toxic practices.
One is made by someone in a batch of 10-100.
The other in a batch of 1,000,000,000.
One has an owner who takes care of their employees , knows their makers and has relationships within their community.
The other one is under pressure to tie their stock price to their salary.
How This Affects Our Dreams and Goals
This phenomenon creates a population that is creating dreams and fantasies around industries they don’t understand.
Many people dream of opening a small shop or business, not understanding that in order to compete with the expectations created by corporate and mass market companies necessitate that they a) sell extremely expensive items or b) have very deep pockets OR c) be willing to compromise you principles in order to survive.
(Did you know that most flagship stores on Fifth Avenue break even or make a 1% margin and are written off as “marketing” expenses.)
You begin to dream you can be an entrepreneur and get richy by getting funding without realizing that most venture capitalists consider anything less than a 10x investment, pretty much a waste of time.
(Which means all young brilliant entrepreneurs can only succeed by essentially getting swallowed by the machine of capitalism unless they are born with money.)
Start up “success” has two roads: 1. end up going public (tied to a stock market that usually ties C-suite salaries to stock prices and ends up going against its founding principles) or 2. being absorbed by another corporation through a sale (like Instagram being sold to Facebook so that this incredibly expressive community building tool becomes yet another instrument for data collection and valuing corporations over small businesses, and disempowerment.
If we don’t know how the world works we will build our dreams and goals on the backs of mythologies and lies.
Knowing how the world works is something we owe ourselves and our children. It’s the only way we can continue to trust ourselves and to prevent betraying ourselves.
One of my absolute favorite activists, especially when it comes to fashion and the environment is Celine Semaan of Slow Factory.
Celine once said that we don’t need anymore sustainable brands. What we need are the corporations, the people with the most wealth, power, resources and reach to make their standards better.
Tiny companies who are trying to use compostable or waste-conscious packaging shouldn’t be made to shoulder the cost for a sustainable future when they are starting with 1/1000 of the resources. It just doesn’t make sense.
So if you can afford to buy yourself a beautiful ethical sustainable piece of clothing, do it. If you can afford to support #microbusinesses, do it. But if you can’t, consider writing a letter to the places where you shop, asking if children or the environment were harmed, if their workers were paid a living wage, whether plastics were kept out of the oceans or if they even know how anything they are selling is made.
So long as government relies on corporations and billionaires to fund their campaigns, so long as entrepreneurs are beholden to IPO prices, we will continue to build a world that is much less beautiful and fair than we are capable of, we will continue to give our power away and be in crisis management mode, which is absolutely not the best we can do.
If we try our best, we might lose sometimes; but if we don’t try… we have already lost.