Clothing company UNIONMADE, which sells goods that are not union-made, has been in the news recently for being a bunch of lying shitheels. Apparently some people don’t like their misleading name, but their PR department doesn’t know what the big deal is. As echoed by the Huffington Post, the company doesn’t think using UNIONMADE as a brand name is problematic at all. Turns out you’re missing the point, because it’s really about semiotics:
“The name UNIONMADE is an overarching concept and narrative for the store, signifying that we strive to carry well made and aesthetically timeless goods.”
Clearly, there is hope for all those sensitive, soft souls who were seduced by theory classes in humanities departments (we can usually identify our own): when UCSC turns down their application for a spot in the History of Consciousness program —because, let’s face it, they never really “got” the whole thing about social dynamics flowing from class relations — they can simply become shills for boutiques catering to the comfortably wealthy, using skills they half-developed in undergrad.
Those skills are in grotesque display in the company statement. Look at its language: “overarching concept and narrative for the store,” because that’s what is alluring to the significant market — vague notions and an aura of using their consumption as, some would say, “a vehicle for political agency.” The fact (remember those?) that most of UNIONMADE’s goods are not union-made has nothing on the jouissance of the free play of signifiers: in this context, UNIONMADE becomes at once a concept and narrative appealing to the yuppie desire for “well made and timeless goods.”
These ideal customers would never actually peel back the surface on things: all they have are words. And these words do not refer; they signify in an open linguistic field. Which is cute and delicious, ironically-wise: in order to really speak UNIONMADE’s lingo, you’d need to have studied some critical approaches to language, to appreciate how exactly “narrative” and “concept” can operate in unison to “signify.” At the same time, you would really have to not think too hard about literal meaning — pesky facts! — because if you did you’d get caught up on UNIONMADE not being union-made. You have to disassociate your narratological theorizations from what you learned from life...wait, I mean “everyday lived existence." But, if you want your “shopping experience” to superficially display your vague affinities for “enacting positive change in the world,” now you know where to shop!
The indeterminacy of meaning can be fun and profitable. We don’t have to deal with our goods being assembled by non-union workers, or even remember that union workers get a whole bunch of perks with their jobs, especially if they’re low-income (more job stability, better wages, better pensions). Instead, we can spin a tale about — I’m sorry, we can “conceptualize an overarching narrative around” — timelessness and beauty and warmth and joy and responsible consumerism. And feel like progressive consumers, for having bought UNIONMADE goods — like the $375 "dock worker's jacket."