Resisting Capitalism As a Small Business
Many of us are reflecting on our deepest values this year and with that comes clarity into that which we choose to devote ourselves to and that which we resist for the sake of preserving said values. Resistance to participating in systems that don’t align with our values — political, social, economic, or otherwise — can create boundaries of protection around our wellbeing and personal energy. One thing many folks have been reevaluating in their lives this year is the personal and societal tax of overworking and a long-overdue surrender to the necessity of rest. [thank you, Nap Ministry, for preaching the importance of saying “no” and taking a nap.]
Last week’s post dug into some solutions for sorting out feelings of what I’m calling “Creative Over-Inspiration”. In it, I spoke of the ever-elusive sweet spot between the spectrum of purposeful productivity and rest, a balanced place that inspires but doesn’t overwork. Have you found it or does your quest for it continue?
As a working creative person, meaning you rely, to some degree, on your creativity as a means of income, there is an exuberant amount of pressure to produce and to do so consistently. As working creatives, we must keep up or risk fading away; stay relevant or be forgotten; produce new things and ideas or lose our income. So how do we, as conscious business owners and makers, resist this system while offering our things and ideas for sale?
Capitalism expects of all businesses a steady upward growth which requires an exhaustion of finite resources, both physical and energetic. It breeds an insatiable appetite to consume by fostering an illusion that consumption leads to joy and fulfillment. A hungry audience demands more to consume which requires more to be made which makes for more to consume; it’s a “chicken or the egg” question, which comes first and perpetuates the other? I suspect each is a parasite on the other and both require the other to survive.
Commerce has existed in various forms for centuries and will continue to do so, but in what ways can we participate to secure a healthy model for all, selves included? A sustainable model includes safe working conditions and fair compensation of the people growing or processing the raw materials and working in the production, it includes the intentions, actions, and accountability of the business owner to offer quality goods made to last, and it includes the responsibility of the consumer to make the best choices they can.
I believe accountability in ethical business practice is up to both the seller and the consumer — which, when over simplified, reduces down to making better choices — and also that the businesses that are doing the most damage are much bigger than the little folks working on a micro scale. While trying to run an ethical business in a capitalist system feels a bit like being stuck in a whirlpool, many folks, both buyers and sellers, are now reflecting on and questioning its sustainability having witnessed [or been victim of] its taxing effects on the planet and people. It’s the micro businesses who are both struggling to keep up in the capitalistic wheel and who are also unharnessing themselves from the heavy cart and saying, “Enough. I can’t work like this” and perusing a different path. As usual, change gets stirred up from the bottom.
Someone close to me once said “convenience corrupts” and the longer I meditate on these words, the more their truth is revealed to me. In the age of Amazon, we’ve been trained to expect the lowest possible price and fast and free shipping — we want the thing, we want it now, and we don’t want to pay much for it. But the truth is, that shipping is never free, it requires many resources and labor hours, and that quick-cheap-thing most likely means someone along the way was not compensated fairly for their labor. Small businesses stand no chance of competing with corporate incentives. The loss of small businesses impacts not only the individuals who own them and who work for them, but it affects the wellbeing of their local community.
The conversation of diverting ourselves away from the destructive natures of capitalism must include issues of wealth distribution, accessibility, and privilege. Aja Barber has some impactful advice for us as consumers, which loosely sums up as “if you have the means to make better choices — meaning you are not in poverty and better choices are accessible to you — then make the better choice; shop local, shop small, avoid fast fashion, buy from your farmers.” This stuck with me and has served as a reminder for me in moments when I’m tempted to choose that quick-cheap-thing that I have both the option and the means to choose better, and to do so is my responsibility as a consumer. It’s not any different for business owners where we’re also playing the role of consumer, purchasing raw materials or curating goods from other people. There is always the option to choose the best of what is available, and sometimes the best option can look like resistance if the alternative means compromising on our values.
Hina Luna has always felt to me like more than business, in fact I rarely even use that word to describe what it is that I do. First, and foremost, I identify as an artist, and the micro business that has bloomed from my creative work has always quite loosely played by the traditional rules of business. I work with plant dyes and pre-loved fabrics for their unique, one of a kind beauty and for their accessibility, but also in resistance to a business model that perpetuates producing more new things that take more from the planet and the people producing them. I carefully curate treasures made by fellow small makers for their ethical production processes, natural materials, and like-minded ethos. Hina Luna prioritizes collaborating with and buying from women, local-to-me creators from Hawai’i, and Black, Native, LGBTQ+ makers. While I do believe wholeheartedly that these efforts do matter, ultimately, I am still offering you things to buy [there’s that capitalistic whirlpool I mentioned].
Our relationship to things need not be demonized; there is something beautiful in our cherishing of precious tangible things and how our love for them can make them almost sacred. Through Hina Luna, I carefully consider every item I offer through a lens of intention, form, and function. Ultimately, I seek items that intersect beauty with purpose with meaning with inspiration. I consider my sources and choose from the best available to me that align with my values and mission for my business. While I seek to create and curate items that are made to last, I also consider what the afterlife of each item may look like when it becomes too well-worn to function. Ideally, it can return to the earth from which it came.
Moreover, the pace is slow, un-rushed, and undemanding. Often times my creation process takes many months before it is even shared. For me, this is how I ensure quality and heart in what I do, and I treasure the same in the items I buy from other makers. I am still unlearning the pressure to produce as a creative business, how to let go of the fear of missing out and of the illusion of needing to compete. Being aware of this as a consumer supports my business-self too. The more I resist the corruptive conveniences of the quick-cheap-and-easy, the more I am able to retrain myself away from the expectation that production needs to be fast, prices need to be cheap, and shipping needs to be free. The story is better in the slow and in the intentional and that is what I want to bring into my life and into my own shop for you.
This post does not conclude with a nicely packaged, concise list for how to resist capitalism as a small business or as a consumer; I myself fill both of those roles and am consistently on the journey of learning how to improve and practicing what I learn. I don’t think there is an easy fix-all solution beyond all of us doing the best we can with what is accessible to us. Perhaps the best guidance I can offer is this quote that I often refer to by Vivienne Westwood who ties all of this up so simply [which often is best]: buy less, choose better, make it last.