This month is Plastic Free July – an opportunity to pay attention, and actively reduce, our use of single-use plastics. What started as a handful of participants in Western Australia has grown to a movement that spans millions of participants on a global level. We are waking up to our environmental impact and small steps are gathering big momentum. It’s exciting and it’s necessary.
Recently, I’ve noticed another area of consumerism, I believe is contributing to our environmental footprint in a big way – affordable homewares. I truly believe affordable homewares come with a huge cost to our environment (and the design industry).
You see affordable, or perhaps what’s better described as ‘low cost’ homewares allows consumers to update their homes regularly so they are able to keep on top of trends. This is great in theory but what happens to last season’s items? Trends are constantly evolving – they come and they go that’s what makes them trends by definition. What is popular one minute is not going to be popular the next. Items are priced so low that you can now afford to fill your home or office with on trend items and then redecorate when the next trend comes along. Don’t feel the same way about Scandi design anymore? Not to worry you can now throw it all away and start again at a fraction of the cost. Does that mid century buffet no longer work in your living room? Don’t stress you can replace it for under $100. Do you see where I’m going with this? This unwanted product has to go somewhere and unfortunately, in most cases, that somewhere is landfill and there it stays.
Whilst this product might be cheap to buy, it does have a cost to produce. From the cradle to the grave – everything we purchase has a lifecycle. I urge you to consider how much energy, water and fossil fuels went into making that $8 cushion. Synthetic materials such as nylon, acrylic and polyester use up to five times the amount of energy to manufacture than a natural material like wool* and wool is also able to be recycled. So whilst wool is more expensive for a consumer to purchase its considered environmental impact is remarkably less than more ‘affordable’ synthetic textiles.
Then there is the psychological cost to consider. The psychology of buying suggests that if you’re only purchasing items because they are cheap then you’re also sending a subconscious message to yourself that this is all you can afford. Each time you walk past your cheap furniture, homewares and decor items, you’re subconsciously reinforcing the idea that this is all you can afford. Whether you realise it or not. Let’s take a throw rug for example. If you were to save up for, and purchase a more expensive, better quality item. Each time you see, touch or use the rug, your mind is being sent a message that you deserve, and are able to afford, quality. If however, you purchase a similar looking, cheaply produced throw rug, then you guessed it, each time you use that rug your mind is sent a subconscious message reinforcing the idea that you can only afford cheap things. This is only further reinforced, when the lesser quality product starts to wear and tire over time.
Finally, it is really important to consider that most affordable homewares available from larger retail outlets are blatant and obvious copies of unique quality design pieces either created by design icons of our past or smaller boutique designers working hard to make a living and produce something that is actually different. Remember these larger cooperations are taking a unique design that someone has literally spent hours of love designing and creating, then without permission or credit, unsustainably producing it on a mass scale with a significantly larger global footprint, than the smaller company and without doubt, taking advantage of creative minds. If you truly are a lover of interiors, then I urge you to support the industry and its designers.
Source: *International Wool Textiles Organisation, 2018. The Wool Industry Supply Chain. http://www.iwto.org Accessed: 5th Jul, 2018.