How tonlé is Navigating Sustainability, Ethics, and Business on Black Friday

Thanksgiving is coming up, and along with it comes Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and of course, Christmas. As we approach the holidays this year, we are asking ourselves; how can we participate in this season in a way that feels true to our values?

 holiday home items

What’s Wrong With Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the Holiday Season?


"I used to love Thanksgiving, but now I feel really conflicted about it."


The holidays can be a wonderful time of year spent getting cozy and enjoying the company of loved ones, but there are also a number of issues that they bring up. There is the problematic history of genocide and oppresion of Native American Peoples baked into the story of Thanksgiving, followed by the consumerist frenzy that is Black Friday, and now Cyber Monday. Each year it seems as if the ads for pre-sales, holiday gifts, table decorations, and mass-produced food start popping up earlier and earlier, which can make it hard for us to see the joy of the holidays through all of the overconsumption, spending, and waste. 

What lies beneath the shopping madness of the holiday season is a global system of exploitation and pollution. Big brands are able to offer deep discounts because their wares are made by low-paid, poorly treated workers in foreign factories with little to no environmental regulations. By paying less for production, brands can afford to slash their already low prices for Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, but at what cost to people and planet?

Woman standing in a pile of remnant fabrics

We think it’s important to acknowledge these issues and sit with the discomfort that they bring up, especially as a triple bottom line company in the fashion industry. Black Friday and the shopping season that ensues is the epitome of consumerism and exploitation, which goes completely against our values and mission. As a small business paying a fair and living wage to all of our workers (we will be writing more about this soon - stay tuned!), it is impossible for us to keep up with the deep discounts that big brands offer during this season.

We would love to opt out of Black Friday weekend, but the reality is that the sales we make during the holidays fuel our mission-driven work and ensure that we can pay our makers fairly. We also recognize that many of our customers shop during this time, and want to offer them an opportunity to purchase gifts that are in line with their values.

Here’s How We’re Doing Black Friday This Year...

Over the years we’ve tried different ways of participating in Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. We’ve studied what other brands are doing and thought a lot about how we can engage in a way that feels right for us. In 2018, we took this weekend as an opportunity to make an impact in our community by donating one item of clothing per purchase to folks affected by the Camp & Woolsey fires in California, where our HQ is located. 

This year we want to show appreciation for the people who make it possible for tonlé to thrive; our customers. We will be offering a small discount throughout the week of Thanksgiving, but sales will only be made available to our email subscribers. (Sign up now to take part) We are so grateful to the people who have continuously supported our brand and this sale is our way of saying thank you, while reducing our environmental as well as digital footprint. 

One of our main goals is to help our customers understand the value of zero-waste, fair-trade fashion and encourage them to slow down and consume less. This applies to our digital lives as well, which is why we are committed to sending only one email before Thanksgiving and refraining from posting on social media on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Our San Francisco store will also be closed on Thursday & Friday this week to allow our shop employees ample time to spend with their loved ones. We will reopen on Small Business Saturday for an event with local makers.


Instead of shopping, we’re also encouraging our followers to participate in activist challenges - where you can earn points through our activist program that can be credited to future orders. Sign up for our activist program and start earning points by doing work that benefits people and planet. 

The Best Way to Shop Sustainably & Ethically This Black Friday & Beyond

“I think one of the problems with the shopping weekend mentality is that it incentivizes people to buy quickly, and not necessarily thoughtfully.” - tonlé founder, Rachel Faller

We are always working to educate and encourage folks to think differently about shopping. Rather than succumbing to trends and advertising campaigns, we want shoppers to spend time thinking about their true needs and researching the products that can best meet those needs. So before you head into the holiday madness, we hope you’ll take a moment to read through the following options for saying no to consumerism and supporting a more sustainable & ethical world instead. For each point - we’ve created an activist challenge that can earn you points towards a future tonlé purchase, while spreading the word and creating a positive impact in your community. (To claim your thank you credit for participating - be sure to sign up here.)

Challenge 1: Experiences over things. Shop less, or don’t shop at all. It’s a simple solution that makes a lot of sense. Spend your time with family, going outdoors, volunteering, or cooking something delicious instead. 

Challenge 2: Shop sustainable & ethical brands. If you plan on shopping the holiday sales this year, we hope that you will choose to support brands that align with your values first. We recommend doing some research and making a list ahead of time, so you can be sure to only buy from brands you want to support and get items that your loved ones will truly appreciate. A good way to avoid temptation is to unsubscribe to newsletters from brands you don’t love, leaving your inbox open for the ones you love. Our challenge is to only purchase from sustainable and ethical brands that you have researched. 

Challenge 3: Get Active! If the thought of consumerism makes your blood boil, you can take that energy and channel it into something that will make an impact. This year, the youth-led group Fridays For Future will be protesting the climate crisis on Black Friday. In past years, workers have asked the public to join them in boycotting & protesting big exploitative brands like WalMart, Target, Ross, and Amazon. Check out your local news for actions going on in your area. Join the Climate march or event that calls for change in these areas to participate in this challenge. 


For more - read our gift guide for gifting mindfully  (it's not just about shopping!) 


A sustainable and ethical holiday gift guide that's not just about shopping

The holidays can be a complicated and difficult time for the individuals and brands trying to navigate our imperfect capitalist system. But it can also be an important time to take a stand and do things differently. We hope you’ll join us!



This piece was written by Faye Lessler - a California-born, Brooklyn-based freelance writer and founder of lifestyle blog, Sustaining Life. She enjoys writing mission-driven content while sipping black tea in a beam of sunshine.

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