Use it or lose it! Three great reasons to buy local

As a student of arts administration several years ago, I learned about a survey in which the vast majority of urban residents said they were very happy to have a ballet company located in their city, but only a small percentage actually attended ballet performances.  As we have all learned from Facebook, it’s far easier to like something than to do something.

A few years ago I received an order from an independent children’s boutique in a small Ontario city. This beautiful shop had existed for many years, and featured many Canadian-made products. When I visited to meet the owner, I noticed a large Loblaws store just a few steps away, with enormous Joe Fresh banners featuring children’s clothing.

“What’s that like, being virtually next door?” I asked the owner. “The price competition must be a challenge.” Indeed it was.  A few months later, she decided to close up shop.

I don’t know precisely what went into making that decision, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that the choices of local shoppers had something to do with it. It’s hard to resist a great bargain – why buy adorable locally-made clothing when you can buy adorable cheap clothing?

I’ll tell you why. And I’m telling you this not just as a person who runs a small business with local production (honest!) but also as a mother on a tight budget. Today we heard of a catastrophic building collapse in Bangladesh, a factory that was allegedly making clothing for Joe Fresh and The Children’s Place, for Canadian consumers. Those tragedies happen because demand for low prices pushes down wages and safety standards. That’s the price paid for our fantastic bargains.

iStock_000023879590Small_Window Shopping

Thinking appreciative thoughts as you pass those cute independently-owned shops on your way to a big chain store doesn’t help to keep those businesses alive. But patronizing them does! The way I see it, buying local creates three big impacts:

  • It connects us to the people who make and sell the things we eat, use and wear every day. I don’t know about you, but I think that makes everyday life sweeter.
  • It keeps our local communities vibrant, busy, and interesting. Vive la différence! And perhaps most of all…
  • It ensures that we always have lots of choices about where to spend our money, and what products are available to us to bring into our homes and our lives. Local industry requires local participation, and it’s worth the effort.

Have you found ways to buy local more often, or more meaningfully? Is it a challenge? I would love to know your thoughts about this subject that’s literally close to home for so many of us.

Cheers,
Devorah
www.redthreaddesign.ca

11 Comments

  1. this is so much further reaching – the transportation of the product (trucks & container ships to transport the items from overseas) = huge environmental damage. the factories that produce items (as well as produce the materials for the items, as well as produce the ships and trucks and fuel to move the items), as mentioned in the article = undermine health, safety (what conditions are people working in? what pollutants and waste products are coming out of those factories? from the transportation of the items and materials?): the constant bid to be cheaper! cheaper! will only hurt people. people overseas and local people (through loss of small businesses, through part-time-only employments & lowered wages in order to try to compete). We have to turn away from cheap to quality, and yet, we are so poor…

    I am sorry to be doomful here, but we all need to educate. Another person mentioned the “butterfly effect” which hits the nail on the head – it is SO much further reaching that people want to see, but we need to be pointing that out, not just to us that can see it, but to those who don’t: our politicians, our “leaders”…

  2. Well put Devorah.xo

  3. Great insight and I totally concur. I live in Barrie and have always advocated for living/working/buying/supporting locally. I volunteer with Living Green Barrie http://www.livinggreenbarrie.com and Back to Basics http://www.backtobasicscanada.com. Great movement all about supporting our communities in becoming more self-sufficient and less disruptive to our fragile planet. “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

  4. “Those tragedies happen because demand for low prices pushes down wages and safety standards. That’s the price paid for our fantastic bargains.”

    Safety and wages are two separate issues, please do not try and lump them in together. Safety measures can easily be implemented cheaply. Wages are the real reason why we can buy clothes made in places like Bangladesh for less money.

    • You’re right to say that safety standards can be implemented cheaply. But in an environment that’s not as tightly regulated as it should be, one of the ways that unscrupulous business owners maximize their profits is by choosing not to invest in the safety of their workers. The issues are distinct, but still connected by a desire to keep costs as low as possible. In the Toronto Star article, Bob Kirke mentions the WRAP factory certification program — it seems clear (at least to me) that in order to effectively address this serious concern of worker safety, there must be stronger regulation.

  5. What you write really strikes a cord with me
    We have a small store in Niagara Falls that carries hand-crafted merchandise from Canadian artisans. As much as I hear people say that’s what they want, and that they don’t want our store to go out of business, where are they shopping? We have some regulars, but it’s difficult to get your name out there, and to lure people away from mass produced inexpensive junk. I’ve tried repeatedly to get a local newspaper to do an article about our store but might as well have beaten my head into the wall. If I robbed or murdered someone, I’d make the front page, but I guess our store just isn’t negative enough. Very Frustrating!

  6. Far reaching indeed. Hoping people will remember what value used to mean, sustainability and being a good neighbour. As a fellow artisan (Toronto and Brantford area) thanks to all of you for sharing the message.

  7. This is so well written. Thank You. As an independant merchant of Canadian hand crafted goods, you speak inspiring words. Without us, there would be very little “community”.

  8. Is there a way people can quickly find out about places they can buy locally-made products? The best ways I have found are through etsy searches or being lucky enough to walk past one. In the malls and cars age, it’s hard to succeed with the latter.

    • Sonya, there are a few things you can try. The website http://www.buycanadianfirst.ca includes numerous companies making a wide range of products in Canada and they are launching a new website in the next few weeks. If you live in a city that has craft shows, you can find great stuff there, and also find detailed listings of Canadian makers on their websites. The One of a Kind Show, for example, has hundreds of exhibiting companies listed, with contact information. I’m sure there are other sources that I’m not aware of. Hopefully others will post suggestions!

  9. Hi! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your posts.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects?

    Many thanks!

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