Know What You Buy, Choose Local Product


Once upon a time a boy ate gado-gado which was made from fresh vegetables that his mother bought earlier at the nearest local market. It was sided with half-boiled eggs, acquired from his father’s chicken farm. Meanwhile a woman light-heartedly tried a new batik dress which she sewed herself with batik from Pekalongan’s artisans.

Do you notice the distinction between the story and current situation? In the story below, the boy and the woman fathom the resources and where they come from. A scarcely happen situation in today’s society, particularly for kids. My friend told me that her little nephew didn’t know that cheese is processed from cows since he never saw any cows in town. He also had a hard time believing that in order to fabricate paper, we need trees. The reason is her nephew merely exposed to the final products in modern supermarket and didn’t engage with the process.

Apparently there is a mist that blocks our knowledge about manufacturer and distribution process. We become indifferent because of all the ease, comfort, and instantaneous provided by today’s commodity. Whether it is food, cloth, or gadget, everything just happened to be in our hands without further ado. The urgency of ‘Where did it come from?’ question constantly vanished. Moreover people often think that this question is unattainable to answer since the process is much more elaborate nowadays. But look at the photo below.


The photo was taken by a restaurant owner who provided homemade organic food for a wedding celebration in Yogyakarta. She ensured that the meals were fresh and handled responsibly because she values sustainability and healthy lifestyle. Another example is from the video below. It shows a teacher in Japan who explains distinctly about the meals’ ingredients. Most of those were harvested from school plantation. Therefore the school perceives the importance of sustainability in daily life.

Sustainability is an ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself. It’s about taking what we need to live now, without jeopardising the potential for people in the future to meet their needs (source: Sustainability does not solely refer to environmental act. One prominent approach is the triple bottom line which consists of economic, social, and environmental impact. If we are not concerned about most of our goods’ resources, we are not living a sustainable life. We have to see in bigger picture beyond tangible occurrence, not only in pragmatic frame of mind. Some things that happened today will leave long term effect (causality), even hundred years after we die.

At any rate the big corps provoke this indifference. While inflation skyrockets, on the contrary the price of lifestyle products is getting cheaper. For instance even people with low income force theirself to buy the hippest smartphone or television. This also can be seen in fashion industry. Clothes, shoes, and accessories are more affordable than before thus we can dispose it and buy newer pieces without remorse as long as it embodies trend. Conspicuously the big corps also proposes trend that keeps shifting, then it generates never ending cycle and consumerist culture. Other implications are shorter product lifecycle and more waste. The True Cost, a documentary about vicious truth behind fashion industry, unveils this matter thoroughly.

The most eye-opener part from the movie is the Bangladesh garment industry catastrophe. For the past few years people in Bangladesh do not make clothes other than t-shirts which were exported to major western fashion brands. They were paid with insufficient wage, but the factory owner desperately cannot refuse the offer. If he refuses, he is afraid the brands will choose another factory and there will be no job opportunity. In general the brands prefer factory in poor country so they can hire the cheapest garment workers for less than $3 a day. Some people also consider this as unethical since they have to cope with the risks of dangerous chemical exposure and work under stressful surroundings. This is slavery in disguise.

Later on April 2015, things started to change. A factory building in Bangladesh was collapsed and killed hundreds people. There were more people than the building capacity and the owner decided to add more stories with minimum budget and neglect safety standard. Of course this is a demand from the big corps who aims to gain more profit. Finally people aroused in demonstration and Bangladesh’s workers were convinced that they must obtain fair treatment. A worker said they strived to craft every piece of clothes and might sacrifice their blood (because of the accident and disease) so they deserve less intimidation.

But how about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, isn’t it enough? Like the phrase above, we have to fully understand about the true cost. Besides production cost there are also impacts and risks. Is the CSR worth the risks? Or does the CSR handle different problems while the true destruction keeps happening? Good corps will put purpose beyond profit. It is not only about CSR but more into holistic sustainable process. Giving $10 when you are selling $100 is different than giving $10 when you are selling $100.000. CSR is mandatory and it does not always mean the company do something great.

On the other hand there is an intriguing phenomenon in China, a country we all know dominates world market. In a documentary titled Factory of The World we can explore inside the enormous factory in Xiamen. It has the size of a small town with independent community who works like robots. All factory employees work there, live there, get married there, and their kids go to school there. They even have recreational facility such as karaoke room and sport fields. Clearly there is no boundary between work and life but at the same time they feel content. The manager makes sure they all well-rested and well-fed thus they can enhance their work performance. The routine is insane but still it is better for them than to be beggars or homeless. This is why we are flooded by ‘made in China’ product.

Eric Ries (2011) in The Lean Startup conveyed that the right question to ask before creating new product is not ‘Can it be built?’ but ‘Should it be built?’ The main purpose of product is to solve problem and now there are more products today than we actually need. Those products were built to satisfy our pride and desire. Furthermore some products claim to be eco-friendly but is it really what the world seeks? To answer this question I recommend you to watch this TED video by Leyla Acaroglu and contemplate her thought about product-system failure.

These videos completely change my perspective on products. Now whenever I glance at overpriced imported products I am no longer have intention to buy. In other words, with this essay I want to propose ‘buying local products’ as one of the simple yet relevant solution. Local product is nearer with us which means the distribution process does not waste too much energy. If we put more effort, we can trace local products directly to the source and double-check the quality. Some people might be hesitant since the price is often more expensive, but bear in mind that these products are not manufactured by big corps whose motive is to lessen production cost unreasonably. Local products will also support local community and economy to grow, for instance lately social enterprises that collaborate with rural community are thriving. For me Indonesia is a truly rich country-especially in terms of natural and human resources-and has to strengthen its self-sufficiency. So let's support local brands!

Think Globally, Act Locally. Local Products Display in Cave and Cove Store, Bali.

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