In the US, we enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom and we like to think of ourselves as being original. And yet, increasingly, we all buy the majority of our clothing, furnishings and decorative objects from branded retailers and large corporate businesses. There are some very good reasons for this; some of those brands are created by incredibly talented designers, they bring us gorgeous things from all over the world and we enjoy the consistency; we know what to expect when we buy branded products.
On the other hand, the world is teeming with talented, skilled and creative designers, so why are we buying most of our design products from only a few? Habit? Inertia? Well, here are five great reasons to consider buying from original artists instead of purchasing branded products.
1. Explore, play and express your own style; because each of us has an artist, a creator inside, waiting to be set free.
One evening, not long ago, I was leaving the Taj Hotel in Boston after having drinks with some friends. As I waited for the doorman to hail a cab, there was a group of five men who were also waiting for the valet to retrieve their car. Clustered together on the sidewalk, sharing sports and business talk, I observed that all five of them were wearing the same clothes; navy blazer, khaki chinos, Cole-Hann loafers and French blue button-down shirts. Probably without even thinking about it, they were all wearing a uniform; the uniform of New England businessmen; the descendent of New England prep-school uniforms.
Today brands seek to create uniforms; to associate themselves with specific groups of people; to create identification and brand loyalty. Chanel, Armani and Louboutin are "exclusive", Free People is "bohemian", Brooks Brothers is "classic", Lucky Brand is "hipster", Banana Republic is the uniform of thirty-something corporate creatives. Brand identification and uniformity are protective coloration and they can be very useful. Their products are symbolic; they help us fit in with our particular crowd and smooth our social interactions.
But each of us also has our own original and creative voice. Each of us has something unique to contribute and the world is waiting to hear it. Buying something original, from the original artist or designer, simply because it appeals to your desire to express individuality is giving voice to your own inimitable creativity. So go ahead! Play...
2. Support artists, designers and workers.
Most of us know artists. Most of the artists we know are not earning their living as artists. Instead, they are working in jobs like bartending, waiting tables, retail sales; some of them are on food stamps. Meanwhile, many of the branded products - even luxury goods - we consume today are being produced overseas and the labor practices of these countries are rarely transparent or well monitored. I don’t advocate abandoning foreign products; many people today depend on our consumption of their products to survive. But we can change the dynamic that exists today - from sweat shops and servitude into a paradigm of valuing the labor of artisans everywhere in the world and insisting that they are being paid a living wage - by being willing to value the products we purchase from them and seeking quality, sustainability and humane labor practices in the items we purchase. Italy is a wonderful example of this. Italian artisans are venerated in their culture; they are well-paid and in return, they reward their country and its citizens by creating products known all over the world for their beauty and quality. Purchasing design products from the original designers helps to foster that type of culture everywhere in the world.
Mass produced art, design, clothing, etc. are largely designed to be consumed and thrown away. This is the prevailing strategy of many corporate brands today; produce massive quantities of disposable products and urge consumers to throw them away often in order to make room for more consumption. We are all aware that this strategy is completely unsustainable; consuming increasingly scarce energy and resources, filling up landfills and creating environmental pollution. What if, instead we choose our possessions more carefully, pay a little more for them, keep them for a lifetime and cherish them because they are truly unique and special to us?
4. Personal relationship with an artist or designer.
Let’s face it. Artists make our world more colorful. Through their eyes the world is a more interesting place. Through music, painting, photography, dance, theater, poetry, prose, fashion….through each of the myriad forms with which we express our inchoate, soulful angst and joy, we are connecting to one another on a more feeling and emotional level. And every original design or art work has a story attached which also makes for great cocktail party conversation around these objects!
5. Spread the wealth.
While concentration of capital through large scale corporate business creates many wonderful products in the world, it also concentrates wealth. Each day our discontent with the extreme and widening gulf between the top and bottom earners in our society increases; our concern for those mired in poverty grows; and we watch more of the middle classes descend into poverty. By purchasing mostly branded goods we are contributing to the problem by concentrating ever more wealth into the large corporate entities that produce and distribute branded items. By purchasing original art and original design products directly from their designers, we re-distribute wealth directly into the hands of the creators and producers of the things we use. Consumers in the US and Western Europe are the largest economic engine in the world and each day we are voting with our dollars (and euros); creating the socio-economic climate of the world and expressing what is important to us. Use your vote wisely and support grass roots businesses of all kinds.