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My Money, My Heart

April 21st, 2009

I’ve blogged here before about spending responsibly, about supporting businesses you can feel good about supporting. Among other things, I made a little pact with myself:

Even though I can afford less than I could a few months back, I want to make sure that the money I can and do spend ends up in the places that I want to frequent, now, and years in the future.

Since I wrote that original entry, and largely helped by my move to Toronto, I’ve spent more money on coffees at indie shops than at Starbucks. I’ve frequented more small bookstores than Chapters. I’ve shopped at corner markets, eaten at cafes or pubs with only one location. I’ve done what I can to support local small businesses when I can.

It’s not a perfect plan… I certainly can’t afford to support local fashion designers as often as I can get a $15 pair of jeans from Aeropostale. And yeah, I get Tim Hortons coffee sometimes twice during a work day. It’s in my building, after all. I’m certainly no paragon of example when it comes to shopping responsibly.

But, and here is where I shrug into those flame-retardant… um… underthings….

It may come as a surprise, dear readers, but I am not straight. But even if I was heterosexual, or in a heterosexual relationship, I would be equally as loud of a supporter for rights for everyone, no matter who they love. I firmly believe that everyone deserves the same rights; from marriage to property ownership to the ability to have a family. From being who you are without risk of losing a job, a home, friends, or support systems. From the freedom to live even in a fairly suburban neighborhood without worry of harassment getting tossed over the fence in the form of broken beer bottles. I dream of a world where it’s considerably less of an issue, this need to constantly come out, this need to constantly surprise people who have made other assumptions.

But that’s another blog entry entirely.

I’m writing here today because I posted a quick tweet today about my excitement of my favorite store opening in Toronto tomorrow:

OMG!!! This literally caused me to lose my breath. Anthropologie in Toronto? Sandra, quick, lock up the cards!

You may know of my utter lust for all things Anthropologie. As expensive as it can be, I’ve found some amazing deals there over the years, from $10 pants to $20 sweater coats. Their knits have been so inspiring to me, and I love the casual, feminine, and slightly retro appeal their recent collections show.

And after tweeting, I got a direct message from a contact informing me that the founder of Anthropologie’s parent company, Urban Outfitters, is a converted Republican who has supported Rick Santorum. I won’t give any credo to Santorum’s views by rephrasing them here. Let’s just say he’s a fan of the word that starts with “bestial” and ends with “ity”. (Oh, the google hits I’m going to get now!)

So. Put my money where my politics are?

I won’t copy all the links here… you can find them by googling. Mostly what comes up are blog entries and short news items about the recent Urban Outfitters “I support same sex marriage” tee shirts and the corporation’s decision to pull them from the shelves a mere 5 days prior to the vote on California’s Proposition 8.

I also found numerous sources in the gay and alternative press investigating the founder Richard Hayne’s involvement with Santorum, including specific financial donations of up to $13,000 at a time towards his campaign.

I tweeted this:

Lots of info about U.O. founder Hayne’s donations. But, current CEO is openly gay. I found this interesting:

And used the google news reader to search a little more for information on Urban Outfitters, the current CEO as well as on Hayne, the founder.

Urban Outfitters, in the past, has stirred up several big controversies about their products, including a tee shirt with dollar signs that claimed to love “Jewish Girls”, a “Bop Bush” punching bag, and a “Dress Up Jesus” magnet set.

re: tees, Urban Outfitters has a record of putting out other potentially offensive products then pulling ’em:

I’m kind of in the middle of a long-going argument with myself about personal political responsibility when it comes to my pocketbook, and in fact, my life. While I absolutely want to put my very hard-earned dollars towards businesses whose ethical and political values are aligned with mine, the sad fact is that few large corporations are. Just about every store you find in a mall still uses child labour in off-shore mills, or product testing on animals, or donates to causes I don’t support, or is run or owned by jerks. And that’s only the start of it.

I wonder though, how possible it is to know enough about the owners and managers of businesses in order to make a fair and balanced judgement call as to whether or not those businesses align with my values?

Back to Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, my verdict is still out. Hayne doesn’t show up in the comprehensive list of donations for Prop 8. The earlier article quoted the CEO stating that Hayne’s latest donation was in 2005… nearly 4 years ago.

Is it possible that people change? Should we hold corporations responsible for recent mistakes? Am I just swayed because my consumerism outweighs my political follow-through?

From the business owner perspective too, I know that if a shop’s only audience are the consumers whose values perfectly align with the owners, the shop will be closed within months. As a store owner, I’ve certainly helped many people – friends too – who voted for Harper (or Bush), who didn’t want Sandra and I to marry legally, who probably aren’t ok with the fact that we’re together. Part of what makes our two countries great is the ability to have strong opinions, and to disagree with others’ opinions. Our challenge is to respect other opinions while still feeling confident enough to voice our own.

In the case of choosing where I shop, can I spend money knowing that the founder doesn’t believe what I believe? Can I watch movies featuring actors or directors who, politically, are on the opposite side of my argument? How about books, can I buy something by an author who I disagree with? Can I travel to a nation that’s ruled by a horribly corrupt government known for heinous assaults against human rights, among other things?

I do all these things, all the time. I’ve loved the writings of T.S. Eliot. I’ve traveled to China. I’ve bought clothes from nearly every subsidiary company of The Gap. Maybe I’m getting soft, or lazy. Maybe I don’t have the same fight in me that I did when I boycotted Proctor & Gamble when I was in school. I guess I’m just not convinced, in this case, that $25,000 worth of known financial support for politicians I abhor is enough of a reason to fight this particular fight when there are so many bigger rights issues out there to fight.

Maybe I alienated a lot of you by writing this. It’s easy for me to be reactionary, to just decide things on a whim. It’s something I’m working on in my personal life, and part of that is to spend more time thinking through multiple sides of more situations.

All I know is that life is complicated. There’s no definitive jury or judge who can decide these things for any of us. I think the best we can do is follow our guts and our hearts and when we find a business that we feel proud supporting, let’s become it’s most vocal champions.

So, where is my heart? And what’s it got to do with my money?

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15 Responses to “My Money, My Heart”

  1. jenn Says:

    So I found this somewhat randomly via Ravelry and the Cleo pattern you have up on Knitty that I so dearly want to knit. I have no idea who your usual readers were or if you did in fact alienate some of them. But for what it’s worth I’m pretty much in your camp. I was rabidly boycott-happy early on in college but by the time I’d graduated I had, to a certain extent, thrown up my hands in despair at my housemates who would lambaste me if I came in with a recently-bought clothing item that was not second-hand. I enjoy second hand clothing, mind you, but sometimes I want the holes/scuffmarks/etc. to be full of my memories, not someone else’s. Besides, everyone’s butt’s different and it’s hard to find one my shape in thrift stores.

    But that’s all kind of extraneous to the fact of consumer guilt. I’m currently living in Japan and it’s impossible to buy anything whose profits have not been, if you trace it back, lining the pockets of some very questionable people/organizations. But there’s nothing I can do! The nearby farms were plowed over by an airport. The little dive I thought was a local coffee shop turned out to have a twin an hour’s train ride away…a national chain. Everything is connected to something which is connected to one of the zaibatsu, these huge zombie corporations dating back to before the war.

    But then I stop and think, even when I was in the US and did have those other options, did I take them? No. I was a dirtpoor student ekeing out a living as a librarian, living with a bartender. Like hell did we have the money to pay for health insurance, let alone organic strawberries from within a 20-mile radius. (Okay okay I know that technically if you want to go there, the organic properties of the strawberries might in fact be less dangerous and therefore incur less of a need for health insurance than the cheaper non-organic strawberries…but that’s really reaching; besides, we never bought berries of any kind; too expensive.)

    Life IS complicated. And difficult at times. Monetarily so, and in other ways. There’s a delicate line to walk between informed consumer activism and practicality. I understand why people make the commitment to never cross that line. More power too them, I guess. But I have yet to be in a position where I can afford to do that. A lot of people find themselves in that crux. And I don’t think it’s fair to fault them for it.

  2. Beth Says:

    My only question is this. If you don’t support businesses because their political opinions are different than yours aren’t you then doing the same thing to them that you are fighting to change. Being gay, you’d like that to not affect your ability to work, but their opinion on gay marriage could, if everyone chooses to do what you’re talking about, drive them out of business so they would no longer have a job.

    I can see not shopping places that treat workers poorly but I’m not seeing this from Urban Outfitters. The guy is a Republican who employs people who are qualified not based on their political or sexual orientation. So you will remove their source of income because you are concerned that one guy voted for another guy you don’t like.

    I think we can all get along. I don’t think we have to be in each other’s face all the time. And I think we should treat others the way we want to be treated.

    I’m not saying this well. I don’t think I’m putting my thoughts into words….

    I own a small business and don’t shop in stores where I think there are practices to put other businesses out of business. I do try to shop at the small local shops when I can but the fact that someone voted for a guy I don’t like is never a consideration since that’s a right we all have.

  3. amy Says:

    No, Beth, I think you’re putting it perfectly. I think this is precisely what’s bothering me about the Urban Outfitters / Richard Hayne issue. The great thing about freedom is it allows others to have different opinions. Now, maybe I’d feel differently if we were talking about more than a financial drop in the bucket. Or if I’d found any evidence of him directly promoting hatred to any group.

  4. Ivete Says:

    I was glad to see you bring up the point about your own shop and what would happen to it if only those who agree with your politics shopped there. It seems to me that OU won’t be hurt AT ALL by your not shopping there, or even by a few hundred indignant people not shopping there, but indie businesses would be seriously hurt by the same thing. On the other hand, indie businesses’ politics aren’t easily found through online research, so I imagine it’s much less likely that they’d be boycotted . . . but would you be OK with boycotting your local coffee shop if it turned out the owners held the same beliefs? Even if it could potentially mean the shop’s closure? Is it moral to put someone out of business because they don’t agree with your politics?

    All great food for thought. I have to admit that the only criteria that drives my “moral” shopping decisions is fairness to workers — a restaurant we used to go to at least once a week, which is part of a small, owner-run, 4-location chain, had a huge scandal a few years ago when the delivery workers went on strike and the owners were arrested for not paying employment taxes. It turned out the illegal delivery workers were working 70-hour weeks at less than $2.00 an hour. I never went back to that place, even though we loved the food and it was only 1 block away from our apartment. Personally, I don’t care that much what the owner’s politics are . . . but if he’s exploiting his workers to make a buck, THAT I care about!

  5. amy Says:

    Yeah, I totally agree. How a business operates is far more important to me.

  6. steph Says:

    But it *is* complicated, all of it. I’ve become softer, I suppose, but also much more cynical about marketing information (90% fat free! cage free! organic! all natural!!!), and less certain about my “rightness” on just about everything over the last decade. Frankly, I just don’t want to devote a few hours’ of my time to deciding which eggs I should buy. I choose local when it’s an option and when quality is good, then go with either quality or price, barring something really awful about the company (I almost don’t want to know about the politics of the owners). But quality is pretty important to me… when the coffee in my local group of coffeeshops ceases to suck, I’ll stop buying Starbucks in the morning, but not before then.

  7. anj Says:

    So I live in Philly where the UO headquarters is located.. And in fact I know many folks who work there. And all of those folks I know are some shade of g-a-y. And yes the man who started the whole shebang known as the umbrella company is very well known as a GOP mover and shaker. A long time ago when he was married his ex-wife started the sustainable farming use for restaurants in this city. Her restaurant is probably the first local sustainable food place here in the city. Him and his now ex-wife were the movers and shakers once in this fine city.. each for entirely separate causes! On opposite sides of the aisle so to speak. And so it is an interesting thought.. I don’t support his businesses in general, but I am very proud of my friends who do such good work for him. I do support the local food movement in the city, which in its own way was helped along by him and his wife all those yrs ago (altho I would say she is one of the biggest voices still today).

    I have my own issues with what I should buy and all.. much like you. People keep talking about buying local in my circle of friends, but they only mean food. I mean to buy local when it comes to the everyday as well. the local hardware store instead of the big box stores, etc etc. I try recycling in my own ways.. weeding my books last yr and then inviting friends over to take as many as they want, participating in naked lady parties for new to me clothes.. but as you point out.. everything is fraught with politics. Sometimes I do want new shoes, or some other item.. and how many levels of red tape should I look before I decide if I really want the item or not?

    I think about these things alot btu writing them down as articulately as you did doesn’t usually happen. Sue and I usually just talk about them together and make our own choices.. adn that is really what it boils down to.. the choices we can make vs the ones we can’t. Thanks for the brain food.

  8. caroline Says:

    Amy, I know of Richard Hayne from back in the 70’s when he and a communal group of other friends started, I am serious, the Free Peoples’ Store across from the Acme market on Spruce Street in Philadelphia near the Univ. of Pennsylvania campus. The Free People’s store and the group of friends that started it changed it’s name to Urban Outfitter’s before moving to a bigger space on Irving Street behind the dental school. I do NOT know Hayne personally so take this with a grain of salt,but the word in west Philly was that Hayne got rid of his friends’ ownership of the store by much less than ethical means. I knew him only my sight, as I’d browse the store and see him walking around, changing from his hippie jeans into preppie khakis and adding to his mid-section over the years. He developed a rep for not treating staff very well, either. If all of this really is so, he seems to have continued along his path. You may want to check on his actual stock ownership of the company ( this can easily be done by ordering the most recent proxy and 10K from Urban Outfitters’ Investor Relations). Not sure if that will help but it’s an idea. As it stands, the best option may be to take the inspiration and knit your own knockoffs. As so many of us do (see the Anthropologie group on Rav). Thanks for raising an important issue in a thoughtful way.

  9. marnie Says:

    You and I have had this conversation in person. I think where ever possible we should spend ethically & locally. Look at the larger picture not just our immediate wants. The minute any business owner, independent or not, uses their business as a platform for their beliefs, it’s going to have an impact. If you don’t agree with them, you vote with your feet. There use to be a little art supply store near my house. For years, I absolutely refused to shop there because the woman had some views on certain woman’s right’s issues that were diametrically opposed to mine. She had literature in the shop so she was clearly using it as a platform for her opinions. It was a very happy day for me when I saw the sign saying under new management. the literature and the posters were all gone, the new owner was lovely and if she was of like mind, there was no evidence. I’ve been shopping there ever since. On this issue, you should read Barbra Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” It’s on the same topic, more as it relates to the food industry but certainly some of it applies.

  10. Clumsy Knitter Says:

    Very thought-provoking post. I struggle with the same questions often, and it is very easy to find reasons to support one conclusion or the other. I guess it comes down to whether or not you feel uncomfortable with supporting the store, and whether the reasons FOR shopping there outweigh the reasons not to.

  11. Susan Says:

    Thanks for letting us know about this. I won’t be taking my daughter to Urban Outfitters anymore. Santorum isn’t just conservative, he is positively hateful towards the LGBT community! I definately won’t support a business that supports him, and I will let UO headquarters know why.

    The only power we have is with our votes and out wallets!
    There will always be someplace else to shop.

  12. Cindy Says:

    “All I know is that life is complicated.” I love this sentence best of all. Too often we try to simplify complicated issues. As a friend is fond of saying ‘simple answers for simple people – these are complex issues’.

  13. Heather Says:

    Maybe it’s just that there comes a point when you have to start picking your battles and saving some of the old ‘fight’ energy for the day to day living we all have to do. I dunno. I don’t get as riled as I used to about things, and part of me misses that. But I just don’t seem to have the oomph to be indignant over so many things anymore.

  14. SamLaTricoteuse Says:

    On getting softer…
    Well, wait til you get your long awaited-child…
    I was always the one on the forefront, fighting, etc.. once I got my daugther – you continue with everything that you feel good about, but then you tend to understand a bit more, maybe becoming softer – hopefully in the proper areas / subjects / matters of your life.. but somewhat softer, more open or more understanding of what people go through. Having graduate with a Bachelors’ degree in Political Science, you can imagine where I am coming from. Thus once I got my daugther, I decided to change things that were closer to me, and found that it changed faster than trying to change the world – all at the same time. Same combat, different tactics !!

  15. Tim Chung Says:

    Why do you suppose that gays are executed in Muslim countries ?

    I thought Islam is a religion of peace. I don’t understand why Muslims have public stonings and executions of gay people.

    Weird, huh ?

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