duminică, 23 ianuarie 2011

Stephon and Sarah: American Retail Revolutionaries

"The vision that we have is basically to change the world." – Stephon Marbury
For all the "isms" that rear its ugly head in our society, Americans are perhaps most schizophrenic about… “materialism”. Despite their existence, most will agree that diseases such as racism and sexism are wrong. However, when it comes to materialism, the “haves” employ history’s worst possible teaching method to the “have-nots”: “Do as I say, not as I do”. If all social issues were confronted this way, then Keith Richards would tell us not to do drugs, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman would lecture us about healthy eating, and Ike Turner might preach about the dangers of domestic violence.

We glorify and commercialize materialism nearly every chance we get. Four years after he retired, young boys all across America are still willing to pony up to $200 dollars “to be like Mike” ("Jordan" for cavedwellers). After "Entertainment Tonight" is through celebrating $50,000 dresses at the Oscars, young girls will pay more for a Louis Vuitton or Gucci purse than the amount of money it will ever hold. In America: clothing labels = status. Rich parents will often buy status for their kids. When this same value system is adopted by those who can least afford it, kids may get very creative to obtain it (even rich adults – see Winona Ryder!). What I have personally and professionally learned about materialism is that you get applauded for challenging the symptoms (youth who can’t afford “status”), but get lambasted for challenging the disease (greater American values championed by adults). Confront the former and you are “teaching good values”, confront the latter, and you are, well, un-American. What this hypocrysy all adds up to is youth getting many high-handed lectures, but few low-end options.

Enter NBA basketball player Stephon Marbury and actress Sarah Jessica Parker. They aren’t just trying to change consumers; they are trying to change the world. Ironically, both come from industries renowned for the glorification of materialism. In the past year each has recently started a clothing line at "Steve and Barry’s” discount sporting goods store where no piece of clothing exceeds $19.98. By lending their popular names, they are also lending their “status”. How do they keep costs so low? The elimination of what is often clothing's #1 cost: paid advertising. S & B's rely solely on word of mouth and free press (special thanks to Oprah!) . Having already personally purchased sneakers, t-shirts, caps, and sweatshirts from the “Starbury” line, I can attest that there is absolutely no drop-off in quality. (Note: I really hope that last disclosure didn’t just eliminate the “cool factor” for some kid!)

If “The Devil Wears Prada” then Sarah Jessica Parker is an angel for introducing her new “Bitten” clothing line earlier this month (no, I am not qualified to give a fashion review). This should come as great news to many women who consistently pay higher prices for the same exact amount of material and labor that is often required for men’s clothing. Before discussing fashion trends as “Carrie Bradshaw” on “Sex and the City”, Parker, one of eight children growing up within a modest family income, was no stranger to “hand-me downs”. In this
Glamour interview Parker states: “You’re going to be able to buy $200 worth of clothes, leave that store with six bags and be able to pay your utilities and take your kids someplace special for their birthday. It’s a very different philosophy about shopping. It’s the first and only time I’ve wanted to design.” While some skeptics will state that it was merely “a business decision”, we must ask why so many other celebrity fashionistas chose not to do business this way. If you are wondering where Parker got her inspiration, she states: “When I first heard about Steve & Barry’s "Starbury" shoe, I burst into tears…”

When Stephon Marbury first introduced his $14.98 sneakers last August, ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (usually a decent show) ran with the storyline: “Can Marbury Repair his Image?”… Huh? What? How did ESPN
[1] just miss this one? Perhaps the sneaker revolution will not be televised... While the most insignificant spats with his now-fired coach would often garner negative back-page tabloid headlines for Marbury (not the coach), the mainstream sports media rarely ever reported his substantial history of community activism. While Marbury-the-visionary was now selling sneakers, the image of Marbury-the-villain was good for selling newspapers. But when it comes to sports media, such is life for your average NBA player where big buck donations get ignored altogether, and strip club altercations get covered forever[2]. If you didn't really know about Marbury’s past good deeds, it is only because no one really tried that hard to tell you.

American Hero: Marbury has donated thousands of hours and millions of dollars to various causes; has been named as one of the
“Sporting News Good Guys” three separate times in his career; he runs basketball tournaments every summer (fair warning: before you decide to enter you must read 3 books and write an essay); and his emotional breakdown at the Knick’s “Post Katrina Conference” (go to 3 min marker of video) shows the depth of his heart to even the most hardened of cynics. Oh yeah, unlike ESPN’s website[3], we won't forget to mention that last week Marbury announced a pledge of FOUR million dollars, $1 million each to the NYPD, New York Fire Department, the NYC teachers and EMT? …But no amount of money and personal time might be as socially significant as the sneakers he now wears to every NBA game. Nowadays, mothers hug him wherever he goes. Mark Cuban, the self-made billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, called the product "the biggest business story of the year.” Given Marbury’s body of work and the movement that he seems to have started, Sports Illustrated, Time, and Forbes should all have his picture on their cover. How effective Stephon and Sarah’s efforts are at undermining an exploitative clothing industry remains to be seen. And while Steve & Barry's are members of the Fair Labor Association, some still question whether any clothing with the tag "made in China" can be free of ethical concerns. In any case, there are many multi-billion dollar companies rooting very, very hard for them to fail. Industry executives know full well that that a young person will do just about anything to feel special and accepted amongst their peers. Stephon and Sarah are American “retail revolutionaries”. They are trying to “change the game”. They are trying to redefine “status”. They are providing solutions for American values-gone-bad. They are trying to change you and me. They are… oh, I’m sorry… I’ll have to finish this column later… “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is about to come on!!!
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." -- Elie Wiesel

[1] In fairness, weeks later ESPN ran an excellent piece on its more serious, but less watched, “Outside the Lines” show.
[2] One of many examples: Just last week Stephon Marbury pledged 4 million dollars and ESPN did not contribute even one article. On the same day, NBA player Stephen Jackson pleaded guilty to a felony count of criminal recklessness (no jail time) for firing a gun in the air from 9 months ago and ESPN contributed 5 separate articles.
[3] Rumor has it that the website story of Marbury's 4 million pledge was bumped to make way for ESPN's 657th headling article (by unnofficial count) on the latest trangressions of football badboy Pacman Jones.