For those of you who don’t know me personally yet, you might be wondering why in the world I am writing about consumerism? Well, first off, I am a consumer, and a pretty good one at that. I have already ‘consumed’ quite a bit sense moving here and setting up life. Second, sometime during seminary I had a huge burden laid on me (by Jesus) to become an informed consumer. I needed to know as much about my consumption as possible, and make some Christian decisions about some of what I was finding out. Where things are made, how they are made, how the workers are treated, the impact on the environment, etc. are some of the things I began to research.
Well, I wanted to continue living as much ‘in the know’ as I could in Ukraine and that has proved a bit trickier. Labels are sometimes missing, and when they are in clothing, they are not a big enough brand to be on the internet so I can’t follow them up. A lot of shopping is done in markets here, and that also makes things challenging. I’ve tried to ask some of the bigger stores about their clothes and they look at me like I’m crazy. There is a good chance that my words didn’t come out exactly right either, so I’ll chalk it up to that.
However, when asking my Ukrainian friends and the students I work with about these kind of things, they just laugh. Well, they don’t really laugh, they say 1) I’ve never really thought about it or 2) Shannon, we have bigger things to think about. At least now I can say that I have shed some light on a topic that has never been introduced to them before.
I had an experience over the summer that reminded me that this is a passion of mine (yes, sometimes even passions get forgotten when you move to a new country, with a new culture and new language, to start a new job with a semi-new husband). I was shopping in one of these markets with the American team that came this last summer. One girl saw a dress, picked it up, looked at the label and said this is the exact dress that I bought in Texas before we left. She said she paid $16 for it, and wanted to know how much the dress was selling for in Ukraine. The seller of the dress said $45. Yes, $45 and that was in USD, not hrieven, which is the Ukrainian currency. I couldn’t believe it, I was furious. The girls thought they were coming to the market to find some deals. We pretty much stopped shopping after that…they said they would wait until they returned home to buy anymore clothing.
Well this sent me into a whole new realm of ‘enlightenment’. Ukraine has a crazy high import tax, hence the $45 dress that is only $16 in America. All imported goods are spiked in price relative to the cost of goods produced in Ukraine. The only thing that I have actually found in Ukraine that is cheaper than in America is food, electricity and water. Furniture is generally more expensive, rent is the same, clothes are higher, drinks are about the same, electronics are higher, entertainment is the same.
Being exposed to another group that is being taken advantage of, even though they are the consumer in this go ’round, is sad for me. You might be saying, that is just how it works. Maybe, especially if we all say that. But it will continue to baffle me that in a place like America (average household income of $50,000) people are able to buy cheap clothes while Ukrainians (average individual salary being about $6,000) have to pay three times as much for the same dress.