As we emerge from the aftermath of the lockdown, we are all painfully aware of what this has meant for our favourite small businesses. We have watched our friends' or family's visions, passions, and craftsmanship struggle, and have watched our local haunts attempt to adapt to an unprecedented historical event ethically and compassionately – all without the buffer of wealth large corporations had at their disposal. Now, as the uncertainty is lifting, it is important to remember the vows we all swore to each other as members of our communities: "We know you made free meals. We know you donated masks. We know you gave your staff, your time, your materials. We will buy local. We will buy from you."
Yet this "buy local" theme that passed around on social media is not just sentiment. It is building our own resilience. As local businesses are those most knowledgeable of the communities in which they operate, they are naturally the most in tune with immediate needs during times of trouble and stress. They know the locals. They know suppliers. They know where to get resources, time, and energy from. They have connections. Because they are embedded within the community – born and grown – they care about their employees and work extra hard to maintain hours for staff and they understand that the jobs they create feed into the well-being of the community that supports them. It is a cyclical, self-strengthening cycle.
This job-creation and resilience is not something needed only amidst a once-in-a-lifetime event: these ties and communal interconnection will be increasingly important as the world struggles to adapt to a rapidly changing climate, particularly as we are required to find new ways of reducing our consumption and carbon footprint. The old ways of mass production and complex international supply chains will become increasingly unviable and are environmentally costly. We have seen these supply chains waver given their vulnerability to disruptions like COVID. Further, the global economic trend is for large corporations to surpass profits each year by cutting wages and quality.
However, communities can fight back by supporting small, local businesses that not only care about their employees, but also are more nimble and able to adapt to new production methods and demands. Production can no longer afford to be as environmentally wasteful and as labour-abusive as it currently is. According to a recent Guardian article, during the pandemic fast-fashion conglomerates rescinded on 3 billion USD in clothing orders in Bangladesh alone in order to cover their own profits, leaving millions of Bangladeshi women without payments for the orders they had already sewn or started. Many women are barely surviving, and it is clear that these old models of cheap production will not survive in a rapidly-changing future. Companies like Amazon resisted pay-raises to their exposed employees who they touted externally as "essential", and as soon as there was word of re-opening, they slashed any pandemic pay-raises while pocketing their own record-breaking profits. This is not to company-shame, but rather to draw attention to the serious flaws in how we currently think about goods, labour, profits, and business.
Here at Pure Magnolia, we were volunteering to sew ear-savers for medical staff and continue to look for side projects for our seamstresses to work on amidst the absence of wedding-dress orders. It’s been a real struggle. There have been tears and sleepless nights. Yet, we know that our work matters to those we employ, and to our brides who want ethically-made and eco-friendly fabrics crafted into gowns that continually innovate around waste reduction. Brides who care about their future with the partners they marry. Many other small businesses and organisations in Vancouver are doing the same, and it's time to remember that small businesses are the ones who care about the health and resilience of the communities they serve – support them however you can.
- Pure Magnolia Team