Note – I’ve still been thinking about some of the questions which No Logo left me with. So I am going to cheat a bit and build upon last week’s post to add some more of my thoughts. Deleting/editing last week’s post did occur to me, but I felt it will be better to leave it so that I can look back at this as the process I am working through in the attempt to post every week. It won’t be perfect, and I have to learn to be okay with that.
My copy of No Logo, which as you can see is a 10th year edition, was purchased around a decade ago. During this time, it traveled with me as I moved between 3 countries. Only now have I been able to move it out of the “to-be-read” section of my bookshelf. I’m tempted to think about how I would have reacted to the book if I had read it then and not now.
When I was younger, I used to take care not to cover the label of my jeans with a belt. How else would everyone know the brand of jeans I’m wearing? And now I wonder why does almost everything by even half a decent brand have its logo plastered so loudly all over? After all, I’m paying to buy the product, not being paid to endorse it.
That’s one of the things which Naomi Klein talks about when discussing big brands, the way culture shapes around them or rather how they embed themselves into and co-opt culture. The ways in which youth from deprived neighbourhoods would pay big money to buy a pair of sneakers only because they were the cool thing to wear. In a sense, that world is still around today because I still see young people wearing parkas that cost more than £1K and wonder how they got that money and if it had to spent that way.
Yet today, we live in an age where the definition of cool has changed. From relying on the association of a piece of culture — art, music, sports — with the brand, it has moved to a space where cool is about building a better world. So that now, the Vejas and Allbirds of today are the Nikes and Dr. Martens of yesterday. Which isn’t to suggest that the latter have lost out. In the book, Klein talks about Nike becoming part of the game. About being seen as for the sport and the athlete. Today, it projects itself as a supporter of activism in sport about issues which affect the wider world we inhabit. And while things may have changed — the extent can be debated — at the factories it employs in places such as the Philippines and Vietnam from how they used to be twenty years ago, the brand continues to face questions about its suppliers employing Uyghurs as forced labour. Regardless, stuff like this doesn’t deter any brand from calling itself sustainable.
It’s easier for consumers today to know better because they don’t have to read No Logo to know the working conditions in which suppliers located in places like Bangladesh work. They have their phones. The culture jams which Klein talks about are now not played out as massive murals on the skyline of metropolitans. They are created, circulated, consumed and rehashed on phone screens. Phones which are manufactured in countries which have questionable human rights records, countries which pose themselves as a threat to the established global order of power and influence.
Countries as brands. It’s no longer so much about who is manufacturing and how, but where. Apple is finding it difficult to continue making iPhones — the same phones where we play our battles for culture — in China. Assuming it can, does it move the facilities to another country which has a questionable record of treating its minorities and which continued maintaining relations with Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, and still interestingly didn’t get a rap from the US? When we think about questions of sustainability and ESG, how do we factor countries into the equation? China may have an abysmal record on human rights, India can be terrible for its minorities. But then the US has gun laws, anti-abortion laws, flattened entire regions by war including being the only country to use nuclear arms. Most of Europe has a history of colonisation and slave trade. So how do we decide which countries are the most ethical and sustainable places for a product to be manufactured so that we can buy guilt-free?