Gelzon de la Cruz

Chips Digest Couch Potato, News At 11

In Society, Updates on February 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm

My favorite shoes are 15 years old. The leather has gone raw, giving up any pretense of being oiled or polished. But the skin is as intact as the callouses they shield. The rubber is still springy because, well, because it is rubber. Not the foamy stuff that mysteriously crumbles to powder when kept on the shelves. The uppers are still nicely wed to the soles with strong nylon stitching. Not by magic adhesives that come from, and prefer, climes north of the equator. And they’re simple oxfords. Simple enough, dare I say elegant even, to have come back into fashion once, then a second time for good as a classic artifact of my era (not that I claim an era, not just yet). So why this desire for a new pair of browns?


Conspicuous consumption: an alliteration that has floated repeatedly through our country’s consciousness as a sin, a misstep into political incorrectness, during our many episodes of shrinkage and austerity. A criticism one can make of persons, it’s when the culprit keeps wearing new things, using new things, playing with new things that he would otherwise not have to be bothered with if he didn’t buy the things in the first place. A curious case of the tail wagging the dog, the chips digesting the couch potato.

But what of conspicuous production? What of relentless retail? Big business trudges on, eschewing the bespoke for economies of such scale that these rival the GNPs of small nations. Stay until closing time at a department store, supermarket or even until 2AM at a 24-hour convenience store. And, after the day’s commerce, measure the mass of merchandise still on shelves, still unsold. When expiration dates arrive, when fashions change anew, or when the dust on white garments gets too thick to be explained as a nice variation of beige, what will happen to these goods turned bad? The savvy say that a sale, a wonderful frenzy of cut-price disposal, will then ensue. But what happens after that, because of that. Who carries the cost of revenue relinquished? Who will make up for the profits that makers and retailers were counting on when they made or inventoried that can of beans you hold in your hand and gladly take off theirs at half price? Why, you of course.

That mass of merchandise that remains unsold will of course be sold, or summarily disposed of. It’s simple economics, a natural thing. But at what cost to you? How do 100% to 200% mark-ups sound, pegging prices at up to three times the production cost of that thing you need? Not a bargain at all if you’re talking about staples you consume everyday, not if it’s meant to float the retailer through your rare bonanza days of 20%, 50% and the ever elusive 80% discounts.

As for non-staples—those wonderful doodads with names and logos made larger than life by big advertising, the big screen and big endorsers with grand lifestyles—the prices need to be marked up not only because of eventual spoilage or obsolescence, not only because of bloated marketing budgets, but also because of counterfeiters. Consider the opportunity. A chic brand comes to you to mass-produce their latest take on ye old running shoe. You churn it out of a production floor that’s huge, must be huge to dwarf this new run’s costs with scale that can be seen from outer space. But you still have a lot of other workers and machines you can put to task. Why not go over? The advertising’s taken care of by your client, so the market’s been prepped with new hunger. The retail mark-ups on the shoes you make for a pittance are so generous that you can sell off the overruns to grey traders who’d gladly sew on the logos themselves and retail them as Class A’s at a fraction of the genuine item’s price. And hey, though do-gooders may call it a vicious cycle where legitimate businesses facilitate illicit trade with war chests that even help you sell what you produce beyond what they order (and not prosecute you for selling these), none of them really have the clout to disrupt what it is to you: your own thing, your sustainable business model.

Now snap out of the mogul mind and see yourself again as consumer. Do you really mind being tiered for the hanging? There’s the first tier—the mythical prime shopper who always goes in first for the good stuff—and there’s the rest of us. The first buyers, those brave first responders, are essential to the cycle. After all, they’re the ones who answer big budget launch campaigns with their own big ticket purchases. Here’s the carrot, fancy a nip? We’ll see your carrot and raise you a chew—the cycle is primed anew. Follow shoppers, those who come in after the primes, now have an easier go of it. Wait a few months, scare the retailers a bit and watch them squirm their way to a bargain sale, or await the inevitable debut of the top grade clones.

It’s the Pareto Principle for a new economy that has been off-shored to the point of becoming terra incognito, strange ground. The prime shoppers, and the brands that have retreated to mere copyright owners, have become the vital few atop a base of mass manufacturers and of the masses. Big brands are royalty, makers of manners and living off taxes that royalties bring. And avid shoppers make up their court—ladies and gents in waiting for the latest of the new. And their followers, they really are followers now aren’t they?

Would that anything made can be remade into something else. The cycle is momentarily sustainable but it will never be self-sustaining. Polymer fashioned into water clogs is seldom reused for making faucet gaskets, nor the fabric in a beret into a pressure bandage for the bleeding. Now again put yourself back in that great department store about to close for the day. What will happen to all these things made because someone thought they needed the making? If you leave them behind, is it really inevitable that someone else, someone tomorrow or months later, will have the desire or the means to take them home with him?

There is a bubble here somewhere. A cavern with a thin roof that will inevitably, with certainty, collapse under the weight of conspicuous consumption fed by manipulative manufacture. There’s no need to ramble on about this, is there? Its existence is evident, and its discoverers are already among us. They are either the resolute who step back and take earnest stock, or they are our children who will inherit what we leave for them at the 11th hour.


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