living underground in the real world

small is all. well, for me at least. But, you know, to each her own.

I recently had this interesting discussion on Facebook, and figured I’d repost it here so that we could open up and continue the discussion. Your thoughts?

I said: Really upset about another company acquiring Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson whiskey line, but hey, it’s all about making money, right? Capitalism demands mergers and acquisitions in order to consolidate wealth among the fewest people possible. Good to see our friendly small local artisan whiskey makers are down with business as usual.

I also said: Can you imagine being contracted to produce ***your own product*** by a bigger company? If you don’t even own what you make with your hands, what are you?

My friend Paul said: What if larger distribution allows a quality product to reach more people? As long as the quality of said product doesn’t suffer, what is the problem, in practice?
AND, it says something (hopefully positive) that larger corporations are seeing value in smaller, local artisan companies, right?

I can’t get down with the concept that things are better when fewer people know about them. And things increasingly suck as they become popular.

Lagusta Umami Yearwood: I know, I know. I think in a larger sense you’re right. Distribution is different from outright takeovers, BUT as far as I can see, they are not just distributing the whiskey, which I would have no problem with. They actually OWN the whiskey and are contracting the same people who developed it to now make it for them. That terrifies me. (I’m pretty sure I’ve got my facts right there). I’m sure that the owners figure that though they will make less per bottle, they will make more from increased volume. But what happens when we no longer own our own products?

On one hand, yeah, it’s great that smaller artisan companies are attracting interest from bigger companies. If you want to reform capitalism and make it a better mechanism for getting better products, hopefully more ethically-produced products, into more people’s hands, that is certainly a route to go. Temporarily.

But in time larger corporations will demand, because capitalism demands that they do, because they legally *must* put profit above all or else cease to exist, that these small artisan products lose their specialness and ethical production systems.

I also don’t believe that “things are better when fewer people know about them. And things increasingly suck as they become popular.”

But I do believe that once you get into bed with multi-nationals, you’re going to get fucking raped. No two ways about it.

Instead, we need to create alternative distribution models that ignore the predatory giant corporations. We need to find ways of getting artisan products into more people’s hands at better prices without giving ourselves over to the system we tried to escape by making those artisan products in the first place.

Shit, I gotta get to work!

This is a super relevant issue for an about-to-be-huge band, isn’t it?? ;)

Paul: Haha! Exactly. More soon…

Rick: i agree w both ( most ) points! ALL companies START small, the “invisible” hand helping them grow bigger until they lose that something special that made them . . . special ?

Lagusta Umami Yearwood: True. But some retain their specialness. And some, by so doing, challenge the whole system and lift everything up.

Paul: one thing, mike from fucked up wrote this amazing piece after sxsw. i think it’s completely applicable to your situation as owner and producer of your art/food. same as owning and producing music.

“Like any other industry, there are producers and owners. The reality of music can be the same on as any factory floor, and there are the same economic units that get spread around – if you are in a band, you have a miniscule amount of power, and if you are an owner (a record label, a corporation, the sxsw company), then you have a lot more power. Bands often try to deny that they are part of any economic system – and in some cases that’s true. But if your band has anything to do with sxsw, has released a record on any sort of record label, plays in any sort of club, then you are an economic unit just like any Walmart employee or Chase Executive, and at least a part of your energy as an artist should be spent trying to get more power.”

full article here:
http://lookingforgold.blogspot.com/2010/03/sxsw-why.html

look, outright takeovers (where the larger “predatory” business scraps the innards of smaller company and just maintains the brand, like “ATARI” or something) ARE different than corporations investing in successful “small businesses” as a tactic to grow money and consumer base–where the small business is allowed to operate autonomously but still have the resources, backing, and clout of the major corporation.

Here is the fucking problem. People of our generation, see growth as the horrible, unsustainable thing. cancerous really. For good reason. But everything has a natural growth process. Plants, people, whatever. Growth is not bad, in itself. The problem isn’t even companies wanting to grow, or people wanting to make more money.
If a product is successful and people like it, it will (ideally) grow. We shouldn’t feel guilty or let antiquated punkrock ideologies mess with us.

I need to think about this more.
But i ask you, if some bigger bon-bon conglomerate offered you a contract where they advance you money, offer greater distribution, and offer resources to reach people in the manner you want, what would be wrong with that?
i’m really worried that my peers are holding onto punk concepts that actually harm them and actually allow unsustainable, harmful products to continue to flourish and prosper.

Things like whole foods (however you feel about it) are just the beginning. Imagine every gas station being re-figured to offer locally raised food and products. imagine sneakers and coke cans and car tires not only completely 100% biodegradable but also containing nutrients to nourish the earth.

sorry if i’m going on a huge tangent, but the point is, if mcdonalds starting sourcing all materials locally and creating sustainable products, and made really quality food that was healthy, would there really be a problem with it except that it’s BIG and everywhere? the problem isn’t that it’s a big omnipresent corporation, right?, it’s what comes out of it…

if your local whiskey company makes better whiskey thank jack daniels, isn’t it really important that they reach more people and take JD down a notch?

good times!

Lagusta Umami Yearwood: I think your points are all great, and probably overall make more sense, in the real world that we’re living in, than my position.

Which is:

There is something irreducably special about not wanting all the power. There is something to be said for wanting to run your own business with principles other than money-making at its core. Our current economic system literally legally does not allow this. Some corporations run by people who have their hearts in the right place have managed wonderful ways to still do good while doing well, as the slogan goes, but I’d rather change the system.

Not that I am going to change the system, but I can at least stay out of it. And thus, I can have a good life. And, not to be high and mighty, but if everyone thought like I did, then wow, look: the system is changed!

It’s a selfish position: I don’t want to become a factory owner. I want to come to work whenever the fuck I roll out of bed, and I want to interact directly with my customers, and I want to be the one who makes their chocolates. In time, I’d like to grow a bit so that I can provide some quality jobs for quality people interested in quality. But that’s it.

I don’t believe there is anything good whatsoever about my/anyone’s products being available everywhere. That takes the fun and the specialness out of it. (Music might be different than food in this respect!) I love the idea that my chocolates are something you can only get from me and a handful of other stores. They are a treat, not something you shove into your shopping cart while fishing around for your credit card in line at the supermarket because your blood sugar is getting low and you have to pick up your kids from daycare soon.

You could easily say that because my chocolates, like their whiskey, are made using more ethical practices than the ones more available, that I should be fighting hard to get them available everywhere.

I’ll leave that to those few fair trade chocolate companies who are doing the good work of getting ethical chocolate to the masses. In the meantime, I’ll be here, on the edges, shouting into the void, and never, ever, compromising. Someone has to not compromise, right? We can’t all be fighting for mainstream acceptance. I’ll fight the good fight in my own way, knowing full well that it’s limiting me, but at least that I’m being an example of that you don’t have to compromise to have a good life.

It’s not the best way, I’ll readily admit that. But someone has to stand way the hell over on one side, and refuse to move.

Moving on: “Things like whole foods (however you feel about it) are just the beginning. Imagine every gas station being re-figured to offer locally raised food and products. imagine sneakers and coke cans and car tires not only completely 100% biodegradable but also containing nutrients to nourish the earth. ”

Totally. But in my view, that has to happen from below, because, again, the system we currently have actively prevents it. So I don’t see how trying to gather power in that system will bring that about. You know?

I’m for a very simple economic revolution, one that is not violent or difficult: dropping out. Living underground, and creating our own society.

Tuthilltown Spirits started small, and wants to become big. I started small because capitalism makes me sick to my stomach, and don’t want to interact with it. We both make quality products. They make many many times more money than I do. But I am many times more pure. It’s such a dumb, outmoded, punky quality, that whole thing of wanting to maintain purity. But I don’t care. I still believe that selling out is the worst sin.

I just can’t believe that the “growth process” has to be always getting bigger. I want to see 20,000 tiny chocolate companies across this country, so you could travel the country, tasting amazing local treats all along the way. I don’t want to see my chocolates in 20,000 grocery stores. Consolidation of wealth, no matter for what lofty lefty aims it might accomplish along the way, just can’t be my goal.

I’m regressive, I know. I’ll never be rich, I know. But I have to believe that there’s a place for the middle class small business owner who wants to do the work herself, not become the boss who oversees the work.

So sorry for the ridiculous length! This is basically what I spend my life thinking about!

xoxox

Marc: I was watching some show the other day, I forget what it was about, but they were at some organic/natural food trade show and the person walking the floor pointed out all of the companies now owned by large conglomerates like unilever, proctor + gamble, etc. Some of them shocked me, like Tom’s of Maine. The point was to show that organic and homegrown companies have been getting bought up by the larger companies because they see money in it, not because they truly believe in what the companies stand for. This upset me.

The reporter walking around with this person asked about the ideals of the companies now that they are under a huge corporation and how much they’ve changed. The guy didn’t know but said that some will still maintain their independent, founding spirit, but most will succumb to the man and some will just vanish.

One company that always springs to mind for me is Stonyfield Yogurt. Still run by the founders, but found all over the place, including Wal-mart. The founder writes a column in Inc. and spoke about being in wal-mart and how that was a good thing because now there was organic yogurt available there. I didn’t know how I felt about that. His stance was definitely, “The more we get out there, the better food will be for all!” Which is a nice ideal, but I doubt that will ever happen.

They should make “Blood, Sweat, + Takeaways” and “Blood, Sweat, and T-Shirts” required watching for all middle school students. It was on planet Green and followed 6 uk young adults as they really saw where their food + clothes were made.

It’s hard to not want to fault the small manufacturer for ‘selling out’ … but maybe they had to, to stay in business. Or perhaps, that was their goal all along. They could have been passionate about their whiskey, but when someone dangled money in their face, they went for it.

Selling out was a huge issue for me when nook was open. A few of my vendors sold out to Chronicle Books and their original products that THEY made no longer sold. Why? Their chronicle books cards, paper, journals could be found at bn, borders, etc for a fraction of the cost. They went for the money and didn’t think of what it would mean for their bottom line.

This whole discussion makes me so proud of what I did with nook. I held fast to not carrying clothing + bags made in China and other third world countries. I’d walk away from vendors at trade shows who would tell me “I had to have my onsies made in china, it’s cheaper.” I’d tell them they didn’t look hard enough in the US/Canada. Some people took offense to it, but I didn’t care. Some smaller vendors now put on their products: Made in PRC.

Going on a major tangent, what really, really pisses me off is when a company says they are “green/eco” and ALL of their products are made in China and India. Um, really? How is that green and eco when they have to be shipped half way around the world to get to the consumer?

I’m going to open again and be even more stringent about the products that I carry. Lagusta, like you, I love talking to my customers and having a relationship with them. Some of the best friends I had in Rochester I met through the store. I also like having a personal relationship with my vendors and knowing their stories, processes, and families. I don’t want to carry the products that you can find in 300 other stores. I want to carry the product that is in 6 stores and tells a story.

Nook (a great little shop Marc ran in Rochester, NY) never made any money, but I didn’t care. I opened it to make people happy, and I did that every single day. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important to me, and it should be important to every small business owner. Love what you do and make sure it makes you happy while not damaging the world.

Paul: I agree with so much. I’m gonna email the next chapter to you…

Mary: This is real interesting, guys. Paul, you should post it so we can read and think :)

8 Responses to “small is all. well, for me at least. But, you know, to each her own.”

  1. britt

    OH GOD. you can imagine what i thought this was going to be and i am SO GLAD IT’S NOT!!!!!

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I’m not above posting ridiculous rants where I go insane and tell perfectly nice friends of yours to “look into condoms,” but this time I restrained myself. Thankfully for all of us.

      Reply
    • lagusta

      I also sort of think the subject line of this post is a little bitchy, and really, I don’t mean it to be. Just wanted to throw that out there.

      Reply
  2. Jen

    This is really interesting. There are a lot of parallels to this in the art/craft/handmade world. I’m a seller on Etsy and I remember a discussion on the forums there about someone getting one of their designs bought by Urban Outfitters to be put on T-shirts or mass-produced wall art or something (it was a while time ago so I’m a bit fuzzy on the details) and how wonderful it was for that person and how great it was how the whole handmade thing was becoming so popular. And I was just grossed out by it. Great, so now you can go into Urban Outfitters or wherever and buy gloves that look hand-knit but they were made in some awful factory in China. Hoo-fucking-ray.

    Things get tricky anywhere a creative passion meets business. In business, even in the art/craft-business community there’s always pressure to do more, sell more, more, more, bigger, bigger. Part of it is an understandable desire to be able to support yourself with your craft, but I also think part of it is just mirroring the larger capitalist paradigm we find ourselves in. Which so often contradicts the idea that started the business in the first place. I make one-of-a-kind necklaces. I’m sure I could make more money if I stopped making each one unique and figured out a way to mass-produce them and market them, but then what? It would become something else, it would kill the specialness of it, and I wouldn’t want to do it anymore.

    Reply
  3. small is all. well, for me at least. But, you know, to each her own. (via resistance is fertile) « OntheWilderSide

    […] small is all. well, for me at least. But, you know, to each her own. (via resistance is fertile) Posted on June 14, 2010 by wilderside those chocolates taste as wonderful as they look. did I mention they’re vegan? – IW I recently had this interesting discussion on Facebook, and figured I'd repost it here so that we could open up and continue the discussion. Your thoughts? I said: Really upset about another company acquiring Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson whiskey line, but hey, it's all about making money, right? Capitalism demands mergers and acquisitions in order to consolidate wealth among the fewest people possible. Good to see our friendly small local artisan w … Read More […]

    Reply
  4. calvinhisboldness

    There’s a value statement that really bothered me when it came up in my microeconomics class. When modeling the possibilities of what a ‘system’ or society could make, the ‘best’ example always maximized efficiency. My uncle is an economist, and I know he does much more complicated work than that- but I’m on a track with people who want to make public policy, so we won’t get many opportunities to go deeper into the implications of maximizing efficiency- and I really do not know what the people who run great big corporations learned in terms of what’s ‘good’.
    I guess I just want to get around to saying that I agree that our economic system is flawed. The profit-carrot has drawn people away from sustainability and the value of loving what you make. I also want to make sure that I say that I have faith that there are people who work to understand and fix what’s going wrong and to make sure that there is a better definition for what’s ‘good’.

    Reply
    • calvinhisboldness

      Let me revise that actually. In a ‘microeconomics for public policy’ class, there was an additional focus on how governments are necessary, and deserve some taxes and power over the market because markets fail sometimes. However, I’m in Europe- which is less focused on market righteousness than the USA, and has examples of failure-ridden markets that strike much closer to home; in a class focused on how and why governments interact with economies; and the professor was much more positive in his discussion of government intervention than the [American] textbook was. Because of all the circumstances of this class, it would be difficult to leave thinking, ‘must only focus on profit’, however, I imagine that for some students in other circumstances, it would be easier to pick up on the vibe that the market is supposed to sort itself out through money incentives and miss that as a person who can observe and think, it’s their responsibility to make more than just money and ‘utility’.
      Sorry that that got a little long-winded

      Reply

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