Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons: Buy Jamaican first

Published:Tuesday | April 12, 2016 | 4:00 AM

There was once a time I used to bawl down the prices of market vendors and local suppliers I knew. If you advertised the breadfruit for $20, I would haggle the price down to $10. If a seamstress offered to make me a dress for $1,000, by the time I left, the dress would only cost me $800. I prided myself on being always able to get a good bargain.

And then I read something and my perception changed. I never go into Bath and Body Works and bawl down the price, and their owners are rich. I never go into a Forever 21 and ask, "What kind of discounts can I get today?", and their profits are millions of US dollars. So why am I doing it to the local person trying to make a living? Why am I taking food from the mouths of local vendors and manufacturers who I know are already operating on meagre margins and against greater odds?

I buy fruits in Barbican from a vendor who some say is notorious for high prices. I buy from her every week because the quality of her produce is excellent and I have never been disappointed with anything I have taken home from there. The stall is always clean and the location is convenient. She always has a turned roasted breadfruit peeled and ready for me, a ripe pear, and sweetsops no matter the time of year. I appreciate that, and in the same way I wouldn't wrangle the price in the supermarket, I won't wrangle the price with her.

When someone in Jamaica names their price, I pay it. Not because I am rich (which I sure as heck am not - ask Courts), but because it's the right thing to do.

A good friend bought a Jamaican belt for $3,000 last week and was complaining that it was just too expensive. The craftsmanship was excellent and it was handmade from genuine leather.

A Kenneth Cole equivalent would easily have cost him US$65 and he would have bought it without complaint. When I engaged him and asked what he would have preferred, his answer was, "Why can't it be priced closer to the Chinese import?" We agreed to disagree at the end of that conversation.

I've said it already, I, unlike most, am not for a ban on products from Trinidad and Tobago. That makes me no less patriotic than anyone else. Though I welcome products from the twin-island republic, and from anywhere else for that matter, I am 100 per cent in support of the effort to Buy Jamaican first!

I would be silly not to. I myself started a business because I recognised that we were eating US$7.5m worth of candy in Jamaica and producing near none of it ourselves.

If you get a chance, visit the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association Facebook page. The big complaint is that local products are always more expensive. Wrong. They have gone out and done price comparisons between the leading imported products in several categories and the Jamaica equivalent and shown how we are more affordable.

Manufacturing in Jamaica has come a long way. Jamaican producers have come to realise that although our products are made in the Third World, they are competing with products from the First World, right here on our own shelves, and we have to stand up in quality.

People won't spend their money on a pity buy. They won't buy just because it was made here. However, if we provide a quality product, people should be willing to pay a fair price.

I've become very origin conscious in the last four or so years. Reading labels has been a little tedious, but I have happily been able to fill 75 per cent of my shopping basket with products proudly bearing the Jamaican flag.

I also challenge aspiring manufacturers to look at the landscape with a fresh eye. Question every single thing you buy and ask, "Was it made in Jamaica?" If it wasn't, ask why not, and, more important, "If no one is making it here, how can I?"

I also put out a challenge to the Government. As one of the largest consumers of goods and services, take a look at the origin of the products and services you consume. Are they mostly made in Jamaica? I ask that if you see a need, if there are things you use that are imported, declare what they are so that someone with an entrepreneurial mind and a little capital can start a business, provide a local option, and create some jobs.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.