The Student
Lifestyle
A New Tribe: can global consumerism be ethical?
by Laura Baliman, 29/10/20

Independent brand, ‘A New Tribe’, launched in 2016 in East London, stocking a variety of interior crafts from independent designers across the world. Shops like this play into the new desire for an ‘ethical’ consumerist culture, popularised by Instagram-born brands such as Grace Beverley’s Tala. But can global consumerism be truly ethical?

Immediately evident from their website (anewtribe.co.uk), is a gorgeous contemporary style, with neoclassical features such as the greco-roman imagery of BFGF’s wall hangings, but also with the fashionable minimalism of Sophie Alda’s ceramics. Colours are often soft and earthy, in stark contrast to the built-up area that surrounds the shop.

The aesthetic is undoubtedly lovely, and what draws one even more to their products is the ethics behind the business. The ‘About’ section of the website claims that ‘every object has been carefully considered and is loved by us – not only for its beauty, but also for the ethos and care that has gone into each item and brand that we stock before it arrives.’ This is a compelling statement, that rises above the fast-fashion philosophy that has plagued the 2000s. A New Tribe also states that everything sold is either ‘hand-made’ or created in ‘small-batch production’. This suggests that the company is invested in ethical labour processes – such that also support an environmental cause.

But is this all talk? Thinkers in the field of ethical consumerism believe that we can ‘vote with our money’ by purchasing ethical products, supporting such businesses whilst neglecting unethical brands.

However, it is very questionable as to whether there can ever be ‘ethical’ consumerism under capitalism, which doesn’t necessarily align with an environmental or minimalist ethos. Furthermore, it is not possible for many to vote with money when there is a lack of it: A New Tribe’s blankets can cost up to £475, a price far out of reach for even the most comfortable of consumers.

But the market has a long way to go before prices can be low enough for people to vote with their money, since hand-made and small-batch processes are far less economical.

Businesses that support global brands also have to be careful with the colonial history involved in art and trade where goods were stolen, appropriated and even destroyed. As western consumers, we have to be careful with how we make use of global culture in our homeware. Appreciation and appropriation definitely differ, but the line between them is thin.

A New Tribe does appear to be aware of this history; their website includes a ‘Journal’ through which one can read about creators and their cultural history. For example, an article on the Berber people addresses the history of colonial violence, as well as the issue with the name ‘Berber’, which was given to them rather than self-defined.

The company goes on to advocate for their business model, which keeps ‘these age-old traditions alive and well’ and ‘helps to support and sustain these communities’. Whilst the ‘Journal’ is a positive step in ethical business, it has further to go in introducing each artist, their communities, and exactly how they are supported.

Transparency is arguably the most important aspect of ethical consumerism: even though A New Tribe appears to support its independent creators, it would help the conscious consumer even more for there to be a greater transparency and further information on the details of their ethical practice. For example, do their workers have a union, and how much agency do they have in the relationship between the brand and the business?

A New Tribe definitely represents a step in the right direction for artistic business under capitalism, but further transparency would help even more to advance their ethical cause.

Something I’d love to see from the brands I buy from is honesty about what they could do better, or what they are working on. Knowing that their business is working forwards towards a better version of consumerism would encourage dubious buyers and critics alike.

Image credit: anewtribe.co.uk