Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Tis the Season for Catalogs

This time of year, my mailbox gets stuffed full of catalogs selling unusual gifts, gifts to fill every stocking, gifts that matter. While gifts that matter can work my nerves, for me, the catalog that bugs me most are the special, precious, Sundance catalogs. (one for jewelry, one for stuff) If you visit the Sundance web site, you'll see that they're committed to caring for the environment, they really are. They try to buy paper from people who are responsible stewards of the environment, although the paper they print on isn't recycled or anything, it's just regular catalog stock. But guess what? When the catalog started they started with just four employees and Robert Redford and now, they have a lifestyle!

But here's my question: Why did Robert Redford start a mail order catalog? On the web site it says because they have this general store at the Utah spread and people kept calling up and asking for stuff from the store so they decided to start a mail order business. But from the catalog itself to the packaging of goods sold to the fuels used for shipping, there's no way you can say that mail order is great for the earth.

One could argue Sundance creates jobs. If an "artisan" is selling through the catalog, he/she has to have the capacity to produce a large number of goods. Nothing wrong with that for the artisans, but for Sundance it means they're selling mass produced items wrapped up in an expensive package of 'craftsmanship' and 'individuality.' This is an old trick, of course, and they manage it well for sure.

But my question is this: Why is Robert Redford in the consumer goods business in the first place? Why did he and his business partners feel they should "extend the Sundance brand" into lifestyle products? Just because they could? Surely Redford already had a pretty comfortable life when he started the catalog in 1989. Does he really need the money? There's something not only opportunistic but offhandedly cynical about this particular brand. Everything is done in the best of taste, but, like everything else, good taste makes waste. Do we really need one more catalog sent out in the mail? Even if a company is scrupulous about buying paper from responsible mills, it's pretty clear everyone who lives the Sundance life could probably live it just as well without yet another paper catalog to recycle.

(To get yourself off unwanted catalog lists, go to To get yourself off Sundance's list, you'll have to email them directly at

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