Monday, May 14, 2012

Fair Warning: This one is a rant!

I've been searching for the perfect sofa for the attic entertainment cave. It needs to be super comfy, a sleeper sofa for company. I also wanted it to be ethically made. I looked and looked and looked. Everything was either ugly and beige, or gorgeous and 4000$. The cheap stuff was all made by slave labor [don't kid yourselves -- everything made in a sweat shop (i.e. virtually everything sold in our stores) is essentially made by modern-day slaves.] When I found gorgeous, velvety Aubergine fabrics and lush, comfy lounger sectionals that were made in the US (and most custom expensive stuff wasn't) they were going to take 4 months to make, and cost an even fraction of what the whole house cost. My standards got lower and lower. I wanted something comfy, not too ugly, and not too expensive. Surely this was possible? But alas, it seemed not to be. Why do Americans like such wimpy, disgusting, mealy beige things? Or overstuffed lumpy brown monstrosities that look like they could swallow you whole? Blergh!

Then, it seemed like fate smiled on me. Urban Outfitters had a gorgeous blue velvet couch that folded down into a sleeper and was reminiscent of chesterfield-style furniture. It was $749, which I could afford. I loved it. I threw my conscience in a closet somewhere and decided to buy it even though the only manufacturing information offered was an ominous label that read "imported." [NOTE: shouldn't retailers need to at least tell you the country of origin for a product? I want more than that even! I want a Portlandia-style dossier on each couch and the person who made it, with a health update assuring me they've seen sunlight and are well fed.] I didn't care. I bought it, even though it was made by sweatshop workers for corporations who care about nothing but profit margin, and even though it was on back order until May 10th. It was pretty.

But then May 10th came and went, and no couch arrived. During this whole 6 week period I've been feeling badly about my purchase because I put my immediate wants in front of concern for fellow humans. I feel this way when I occasionally buy a shirt from J Crew, or buy produce that isn't organic (because the labor conditions of the workers who pick conventional produce are horrifying.) I also re-read the specs and realized that when the bed folds out it is bigger than a twin, but smaller than a full, (!!!!!!!!!) meaning people would need to be super-friendly when they came to visit.

I called the customer service line today, and the woman on the line said there had been a problem with my credit card on May 4th, so my order had been cancelled. I could re-order the couch, but then I'd have to wait another 6 weeks for a new shipment of freshly-minted sweatshop furniture to come in. Really? REALLY??? They couldn't have called me and asked why my credit card was declined? Or sent a freaking e-mail? I lost my card a few weeks ago, cancelled the old, and had a new one sent out. I didn't think to call Urban Outfitters, because I thought they'd charged me MONTHS AGO when I ordered the darn thing. The woman was perfectly polite, but would not budge. And why would this company need to? Hipsters across the globe buy their carefully and intentionally-distressed sweatshop shit for exorbitant prices. Even someone like myself who thinks about equity and social justice all day long was momentarily caught up in my own wants [NOTE: I keep typing "needs," but this has nothing to do with need.]

I (politely) told the woman I would no longer be doing business with Urban Outfitters. I went back to the drawing board and starting doing more research on American-made sleeper sofas. Broyhill has some gorgeous options, as does England. I called a local Levin, and a sales person assured me he had made-in-America sleeper sofas in my price range, and that he had fabric options to get around the "beige problem" I've been encountering elsewhere. He also tipped me off about a sale they'd be having soon and told me to wait a few days. I'll keep everyone posted on the progress, but I am newly renewed and committed to finding something I can feel good about for many years to come.


1) The cheap shit you buy is subsidized by government (this is supported most fervently by republicans, which is hilarious given their free-market rhetorical bullshit), and by the sweat and blood of exploited humans who aren't being given a living wage. It's easy to forget this because we can't see it, but it's pretty much always true.
2) Americans have more access to cheap crap than ever before, so it may smart a little when a dress that's made in America is 400$, but we don't need so many freaking dresses. Consider clothing, furniture, and other things you purchase as investments to have for a long time, instead of cheap, trendy things to chuck once you're sick of them.
3) Middle class Americans spend a smaller percentage of household income on food than EVER BEFORE in history, and people complain that organic food costs a few cents more. Now, for lower income Americans, I can understand how organic food can be too costly a choice. That is a systemic problem wherein our food industrial complex pushes all the local, little guys out of business. For the rest of us however, shouldering the "extra cost" (which I'm not actually convinced about, since processed convenience foods are freaking expensive) is a matter of not buying so many lattes, or paper towels, or strappy sandals.

Ok, done. I promise I will be back to talk happy things and chickie babies tomorrow.

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