Co-op consumerism

According to the University Co-op, the arbiter of UT fashion if ever there was one, burnt orange is the new black — Black Friday, that is. After waking up Friday morning from a tryptophan-induced post-Thanksgiving slumber, millions of Americans will stampede through shopping malls and big-box stores in search of discounts on must-have holiday gifts. Not wanting to miss out on the orgy of spending that retailers call Black Friday, the Co-op has been promoting their own Friday sale through an email and Facebook campaign that conflates school spirit with consumerism. While the legitimacy of the Co-op’s fashion advice may be up for debate in general, using school pride to promote shopping on a day that has a history of fights, injuries and even deaths in the name of bargains is untoward.

On Nov. 17, the Co-op sent an email with the subject line “Burn Orange is the New Black (Friday).” The message contained a link to a Facebook group where visitors to the site were encouraged to RSVP to the Friday sale in order to activate lower sale prices on different items. The idea is that as more people commit to visiting one of the Co-op’s six locations across the state on Friday, sale prices will become lower and lower. As of publication more than 450 people had committed to attend, nearly enough to trigger the second tier of discounts.

The Co-op’s sale is unlikely to set off the kind of pandemonium that ensued last year when a woman injured 20 fellow bargain hunters by spraying them with pepper spray in order to gain a shopping advantage at a San Francisco-area Wal-Mart. Regardless, by using UT’s school color to promote their Black Friday sales, the Co-op sullies the image of the University. After all, neither the greed nor the selfishness of Black Friday mall mayhem appear in UT’s core values.

As a business, the Co-op would be hard-pressed to opt out of Black Friday shopping — the day got its name because the increase in revenue often put companies financially “in the black.” And given the Co-op’s perilous financial situation, as reported by the Texan last Friday, Co-op management may very likely be counting on Black Friday to live up to its remunerative reputation.

The fact that the Co-op’s profits rely so heavily on University-licensed merchandise puts the organization in a difficult position. It’s in the Co-op’s best business interest to monetize the UT brand to the fullest extent possible. But as a nonprofit business with a mission “to advance the educational interests of the University,” the Co-op has a social obligation to maximize the benefit they provide for the University community. The organization is quick to point to the millions of dollars it has contributed to the
University over the years, and these contributions are appreciated. But monetary largesse isn’t the only way the Co-op affects the wellbeing of the University.

The Co-op’s flagship store on the Drag is only steps from the UT campus, and the building serves as the visual anchor that terminates the West Mall opposite the Tower. The student members on the Co-op Board of Directors are elected to their positions during campus-wide Student Government elections, even though they are not actually members of Student Government. And not even on campus will you find as many items bearing UT’s name, seal and colors as you will inside a Co-op store.

Though legally a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization, the Co-op is in spirit as much a part of UT as the Tower and Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. As such, the actions they take — and the marketing they distribute — reflect on the University as a whole.

This year Black Friday is threatening to overtake Thanksgiving, as stores announce plans to open on Thursday evening, much to the chagrin of retail workers deprived of time with their families.  While Black Friday may have begun its inexorable takeover of Thanksgiving, it doesn’t need to take over our campus culture as well. Grey was declared the new black by the Los Angeles Times in 1983, but to this day black is ubiquitous in fashion. Let’s hope the Co-op’s “new black” prediction was equally off the mark.