O’ the Compassions of Capitalism

The time has come, and I can no longer resist commenting on the utter irony of the compassions of the corporate world in our capitalist system. In the evenings during the week I work for Banana Republic – an overpriced clothing company owned by Gap inc. (who also own Gap, Old Navy , and Piperlime). While at work yesterday, I noticed a new line of products that BR is releasing referred to as their Green line. This line of products is currently being sent out to various stores in a trial run to see how it sells in different areas, ultimately to find the most successful (success defined in terms of profit) locations and strategically place them there. Now, the characteristics that distinguish this line is that they, both the item and price tag, are made with “sustainable fibers” (usually organic cotton along with silk, soy, bamboo, and linen) that are “eco-friendly.” To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised when I first saw this in our store given the growing national concern for issues of social injustice that is increasingly being worked into the marketing world.Take for example the (Product)Red line. This is a product line that was created by Bono and Bobby Schriver, chairman of DATA, that contributes a certain percentage of the revenue to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. Various companies can sign on and distribute their own Red Products. Below is how this nifty little program works for you as a consumer:

As you can see, everybody wins! People are still able to continue in unrestrained consumption (because this, and the structural forces behind it, obviously has nothing to do with problems of social injustice) while women and children in Africa are helped by receiving (RED) money (I can’t help but smile at the further irony of the fact that the only red money I’ve ever seen came with my Monopoly game set, a game in which the whole purpose is to monopolize the geographical space of the board, and therefore the market, so as to exploit all other competitors…hmm) . You see, win, win, win!

But back to the previous discussion of the BR “Green” line. The thing that really struck me, and thus prompted this post, is that according to the BR website, what prompted this action wasn’t so much that being “eco-friendly” was good for the environment, humanity, etc., but that it was good for business. Consider the quote below, taken from the BR website under “Environmental Efforts”:

Organic and Sustainable New Products:
Banana Republic values the opinions and ideals of our customers. That’s why we responded when we learned customers wanted eco-friendlier products. We’re proud and excited to introduce a selection of products featuring organic cotton and other sustainable fibers in Summer 2008. This collection features both basic essentials as well as iconic pieces that represent the best of Banana Republic design. (emphasis added)

Notice the reasoning – Because BR values the “opinions” and “ideals” of their customers (not necessarily their own), they, therefore, responded by giving them what they wanted (and would buy) in the creation of “eco-friendlier products.” I find it incredibly ironic that commodities such as this “Green” line are able to be promoted and praised for their compassionate concern when in reality these “concerns” are set in terms of an inherently dehumanizing, capitalist system that can only function “successfully” (again, success defined in terms of gained capital) if commodities are peddled to consumers, and all others in the market are reduced to competitors.

Now, I am sure that many of the people involved in this “Green” line, and many other product lines like it, are very well intentioned. Therefore, this is not a personal attack. I simply find the utter irony of the whole situation to be rather amusing, and offer it as something worth thinking about. In addition, I am also aware of the irony of I, as an employee of BR, am writing this post and saying the things I am. I know that I am part of the system, though not comfortable in that, and therefore part of the problem, directly and indirectly. However, given the all-pervasive presence and power of Capitalism, there is nowhere to which one can flee to escape contact. However, what we can do is live out our life as a community in Christ, guided and formed by the Spirit, embodying an alternative economic order, to the glory and praise of the Father.


2 Responses to “O’ the Compassions of Capitalism”

  1. 1 R.O. Flyer April 2, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Great post. I’ve made similar connections on my blog , especially with regar to Product Red and Bono.

  2. 2 Luke April 3, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    You wanna know a real hero? Hero, from heroes…also Bono.

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