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Being a More Conscientious Interior Design Consumer – What’s that about?

Posted by Phoebe Oldrey in Interior Design Advice, Shopping & Stuff

Many people claim there is a movie that changed their life. From Schindler’s List to Hotel Rwanda, cinema can open our eyes to the dark side of our history and make us say “No more!” That film for me was “The True Cost”, a documentary about the true cost of “fast fashion” on our planet and the factory workers involved in the production of that “must have” seasonal dress. As the final credits rolled and the tears were running down my face it was easy for me to think it was someone else’s issue to resolve so I could feel better, but really it was mine.

As consumers we are a powerful force making the decisions that drive our economy. Our personal decisions to switch brands can make company CEOs quiver in their boots. Just look at the big High Street brands who are posting financial losses quarter after quarter, then ask yourself when you last stepped inside their doors to buy something.

Since the horrendous disaster of Rana Plaza in 2013 when a factory collapsed on the garment workers sewing away inside, many of us could no longer hide from the truth of how our clothes were produced. This has led to a backlash against fast fashion, with their micro season collections and the disposable nature of clothes. However I think it’s time to stop yelling and pointing the finger at fast fashion’s sketchy ethical consumer model and ask if perhaps “instant interiors” could be just as bad.

Fashion and interiors have started to walk hand in hand, with many of our fast fashion High Street brands having their own homeware lines. It would only be logical to assume that the £3.99 cushion covers are produced in the same factories as the £15.99 dresses. It is also logical to ask how a brand can afford to sell us a cushion cover at £3.99 with its long manufacturing and supply chain and transport costs to get it into our shopping baskets. Suddenly it doesn’t look as pretty. 

Before I started to question things more post watching The True Cost, I was an advocate of topping up my designs with High Street steals. After all, people only have so much money in the bank to build the homes they love.  I also know it is all well and good saying something is wrong, but what is the plan to create achievable interior design looks without fracturing your moral compass?  My plan was to become a more conscientious interior design consumer. Instead of my gluttonous ways of “buy cheap, buy now and chuck later”, I started to research more and to experiment with my designing and purchasing habits. Though I still have far to go, here are the 4 key steps I’ve been taking.

Reduce

Do we need so much? Calmer, less cluttered interiors are interiors that don’t need you to purchase so much. This way you can afford to spend money on the furniture that isn’t throw away. Also, the less stuff you have the easier it is to maintain your space. If you only have to move 3 things to dust instead of 23, your life is so much freer.

Reuse

There are two elements to the reuse section.

The first is to reuse the stuff you have as much as possible. If you have a quality armchair that is starting to look shabby then it is worth the investment to have it reupholstered. When I grew up my mother only bought antique furniture and was constantly getting chairs reupholstered. It is a great way of bringing something unique to a space as it will be one of a kind, especially if it is a family heirloom.

The second way to reuse is to buy second hand or antique. Ebay is your friend where other people’s unwanted treasures could be yours. Retro furniture is still going strong in the design market and this is the best place to find it.  If you are looking more for an online antiques dealer then check out Vinterior.  I am also a fan of the charity shop and find a casual browse can unearth some amazing things. My highlights so far are a signed vase by glass maker Will Shakspeare (yes that really is his name) bought for £10 which normally costs £100.00, and a full coffee set from Melitta for £5.00.

Buy Better, Buy Longer

I still love new stuff so buying second hand isn’t always the answer, especially when building a contemporary space. So when you are thinking about that new sofa there are a few questions you should ask to be able to make your consumer purchase.

Could you buy from an Independent? Independents know their supply chain really well. Also, when you support an independent business your money goes directly into helping them invest into their business and live their life. There aren’t a million people between you and your product all taking their cut.

Buy a better quality item that will last longer. Yes, you might have to save up for it, so not the instant gratification hit. But it will mean more because of it. Better quality also means something that is robust enough to take the hits of life. In fashion people are starting to use the phrase #30wears. The ethos behind this is that you are meant to ask before you head to the till with your new pair of trousers, “Will I get 30 wears out of this?” or is it just about wearing them to the office party where hot Dave will be? If not, put them back, Dave’s not worth it! I have been trying to come up with the interior design equivalent but #30sits just doesn’t really work. For furniture I would ask, “Will I get 5 years or more use out of it?” If not, then put it back. Most cushions and throws on a sofa won’t last that long so just have a think what the supply chain for those items looks like. Does the money you part with at the till go to fund slave labour? Yes, the question really is as simple as that.

Recycle

We don’t always get it right when we fill our homes or our tastes move on. However the bin isn’t the answer. Our planet is groaning under the weight of what we toss in landfill. I believe we should recycle as much as possible. Large items like furniture can be collected by charities and housing trusts. Smaller items can be taken to charities. If you wish to fund some of your new design you can sell on your stuff via car boot fairs or ebay. The joy of buying collectable retro furniture in the first place is you can often sell it for the same price you purchased it for. It’s like you got to use it for free! H&M run a recycling scheme where they will take all textiles. For each shopping bag’s worth you get a £5 discount voucher. I use this to buy from their Conscious range or have been known to hand it to the person behind me in the queue.  I use this scheme all the time for items that are beyond selling, predominately my kids’ school shirts. This textile waste then gets shredded and turned into products like loft lagging. Dog and cat rescue centres are always desperate for second hand towels and blankets to keep their residents warm and dry.  Just because something has finished its useful life with you doesn’t mean its useful life is finished.

I still have a long way to go until I’m as pure as the driven snow. But my plan is that every time I specify something for a client or pick something for myself, I check if I’m being a conscientious interiors consumer and try to vote in favour of a fair world with the way I design and spend my money.

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