Voting with your Dollar

BARBARI Thoughts

It’s still 2017 (nope sorry it’s not over yet) and every other brand is scrambling to prove its “wokeness.” That’s all well and good, but the line between business and benevolence is always blurry. So as conscious consumers, how do we separate the Patagonias from the Pepsis—that is to say, only give our powerful, powerful dollars to the genuine allies, not the fake ones?

“A successful Activist cannot just claim the identity of a movement; they must instead live its values.”

Fresh (or not so fresh) off my job as a Field Organizer on the Clinton campaign, I wanted to work at a social enterprise that fought for gender equality. I cold-emailed a bunch of social entrepreneurs and landed that coveted “dream job” at what had to be the world’s most feminist start up of the time. If conscious capitalism were a sport, this brand had a hat trick: an inherently empowering product; an unapologetically feminist presence; and a profound global purpose. They drew customers who wanted not just a great product, but the opportunity to feel truly empowered.

Shortly after I joined the company, however, it became clear that their internal practices were actually rather antifeminist. When this went viral in an ugly company exposé, the brand suffered severe, potentially irreparable damage. One lesson learned? Jumping onto a trend and being loud about it does *not* a socially-conscious brand make. In fact, the louder the brand, the more suspicious you should be.

“There are three boxes a brand or influencer must check before we can trust them to uplift a cause. ”

Instead, there are three boxes a brand or influencer must check before we can trust them to uplift a cause: (1) understand the movement (2) live its values (3) lead by example. Only then can they publicly champion something without putting the greater mission (and their own reputation) at risk.

Using this handy-dandy authenticity checklist, let’s trace how Patagonia pull-over-fleeced its way to becoming today’s gold standard for conscious capitalism:

  • Understand the movement—Early on, Patagonia worked hard to gain firsthand knowledge about sustainable production and animal rights.
  • Live its values—Patagonia trace-sourced their materials, listened deeply to their customers, and treated their employees like gold.
  • Lead by example—Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard co-founded 1% for the Planet, guiding businesses around the world in donating 1% of total sales or 10% of profits to environmental causes.

With those three steps diligently attended to, Patagonia was free to soar ahead as a true leader in the environmental advocacy space.

Here’s another way to think about it. If a brand, at its best, is like a person; then corporate social responsibility, at its best, is like an activist. According to bell hooks, a successful activist cannot just claim the identity of a movement (“I am a feminist”); they must instead live its values (“I advocate feminism”).

So as you head into this gifting season, or more likely buying a new leash for your crazy dog Callie because she literally peed on, then ate the last one, remember your first therapist’s favorite saying, and opt for the brands that practice what they preach.

Nora Rothman is a LA born musician who recently traded the year-round summer in Cali for the luscious fog and mist of Seattle. Her EP has taken off in the last few months with a sold out show at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City and a feature in TeenVogue. Nora is a feminist and activist and has worked at the grassroots level of politics for the last few years.

Follow Nora on IG @nora_rothman, and FB Nora Rothman Music