This festive season is likely to be another ‘big spender’ for South African consumers – how you spend that money can make a positive impact on the country and its people.
You can walk into any shop at the moment and get the message: this is the season when we spend it. In fact, South Africans spend almost twice as much money in December than during any other month of the year. Last year, compared to the monthly average, consumer spending increased by 13.5% in November and by 46% in December.
We spent almost R 34 billion more during those two months. If 2014 follows the same trend, the money changing hands this year’s festive season will increase to an extra R 36 billion.
The biggest portion is spent on textiles, clothing, footwear and leather goods. Purchases at non-specialised general retailers, including food, beverages and tobacco, come second.
This is not meant as encouragement to consume more or to contribute further to our worrying per capita indebtedness. But if we are going to spend it anyway, why not make it a gift that keeps on giving – a gift for good – by buying local.
Create local jobs
Unemployment is one of our biggest challenges. Of course we also support local retail if we buy imported goods, but we give more South African jobs a leg-up if we buy goods which are manufactured in South Africa. South African industry needs all the support it can get – the data published throughout this year shows that the South African manufacturing sector is shrinking.
While ‘rigid labour laws’ and ‘unstable labour relations’ may be partly to blame for this, South Africa’s record trade deficit also tells the very simple story: we are buying many, too many, imported goods.
Buying local makes a difference. Research from the US shows that almost three quarters of the money ($73 out of $100) spent at a locally owned business stayed in that local economy and was used for wages, for buying local goods and services and for paying taxes, compared to money spent at a non-local business where less than half the money ($43) benefited the local economy.
For the sake of buying local this festive season, supporting smaller local businesses with few but sustainable jobs makes sense. Small business plays an important role in employment in South Africa: In March 2012 the Adcorp Employment index reported that 68% of South Africans workers were employed by small businesses employing fewer than 50 people, with the typical small business employing 12 people. Adcorp also reckoned that the small business sector could potentially create a significant number of new jobs.
Indulge in great local quality
The belief that imported products are somehow superior to local is a colonial hangover and it is in many cases not supported by facts. Food and drinks made in South Africa easily stand-up to their overseas equivalents: our wine, olive oil, artisanal cheese and meat products are world class and South African whiskies keep winning top awards. South African agricultural products in general are great quality and sought after for export. On non-grocery items, the slump which the South African textile industry finds itself in is not because of a lack of skills and quality: South African seamstresses are comfortable making high quality business suits. Locally produced shirts, t-shirts and jeans are equal if not better quality than imported ones.
In recent years there has also been an explosion of quality, original local products that combine creative South African design with solid quality manufacturing. You can now buy anything from great clothes and shoes, to magical leather accessories and furniture.
Give with a clear conscience
An unexpected upside of buying local is that it does not matter if you come down on the side of Palestine or Israel or if you believe that Tibet should be Chinese or not. Buy local and your money stays in the country. Plus you can enjoy that warm green glow of having made an environmentally sound choice and having lowered your carbon footprint by not buying imported goods.
If you really don’t believe in consumerism but you still believing in gifting there are dozens of good causes you can donate to. The postal strike has led to many charitable associations being hard hit because their annual appeals not having been delivered. A gift to a charity close to you heart in lieu of a present makes for a great way to show someone you care.
Hit the weekend markets
One simple way to buy local is to trawl the growing number of weekend markets, many of which will feature a special festive season event. While these fairs can be aimed at the deeper pocket, there are plenty of affordable local things on offer: home-made jams or chutneys, hand-made chocolates or special honey, olives and olive oil. An additional upside of food treats as gifts is that they won’t clutter up the house: They are so appetising and yummy that there will be only crumbs left before the festive season is over.
Markets are also the best bet to find some locally made children’s toys. Any toys you buy at a shop are almost certainly going to be imported.
On the other hand it is relatively easy to buy locally made children’s clothes at either markets, in special children’s stores and even at the big retailers. Local children’s clothes’ offerings range from the affordable to the once-off indulgence, and they will make the little ones look even more endearing.
Identifying the locally produced goods in big retail shops used to be an adventure involving patience and reading glasses, because the staff did not know the local from the imported and only the tiny hidden manufacturing label would tell. But the stores are getting with the programme: Look out for ‘love local’ labels or tags in the South African flag colours. You’ll be surprised what you will find.
Dare to look good
If you are looking for non-food treats, there is a great range of locally made personal care products: Quirky soaps and bath ingredients won’t break the bank or if you want to spend a little more you can look for high-end products in organic or natural care. Alternatively you could go to a local service business and get a voucher for ‘beauty’ services in the widest sense: Anything from gifting a pampering massage to a big photo print or photo book voucher.
South African clothes designers will have both genders looking good and there are more small local shoe brands everyday. Apart from visiting markets and designer studios, head for the designated shops or small centres which sell South African designers and stock everything from jewellery to bags to shoes to clothes. Here you will have the choice of simple jewellery and T-shirts as well as of ‘how to spend it’ unique pieces. The average price of South African design may not be cheap, but if you peg the Rand exchange rate, it’s a lot more affordable than imported brands.
Enjoy some local booze
If your religious or ideological persuasion allows for alcohol, delight your friends and family with some local booze. There are award winning South African whiskeys as well as hand-crafted brandy, gin, rum, vodka and liqueur. Discerning liquor stores will also supply any number of enticingly named craft beers. Given the price of these fermented malt and hop juices, a six pack will make you look like a generous friend indeed.
If you are planning to pop a cork, get a local bubbly of the MCC variety. It is just as delectable as French champagne and will give you much more bang for the buck. Just don’t mix drinking and driving.
To wrap it up, you can add a special touch to small or consumable gifts if you forego standard gift wrapping which ends up in land-fill anyway, and use some local fabric instead. Try a cushion cover, a scarf or one of the many beautifully designed local tea towels.
Finally on the topic of dishwashing: A sustainable way to boost the local economy is if we all give our domestic employees a healthy increase for 2015. After all, it’s the season for giving.
By Ute Kuhlmann
Ute Kuhlmann is the author of ‘Happiness in a Handbasket – Buy Local, the practical guide’ and runs the non-profit shopping guide www.proza.co.za.