The Perils of Fast Fashion in Interiors

Interior fashion cycles are getting faster with the gap between the catwalk and interiors stores getting shorter all the time.  Associating interiors brands with celebrity and high fashion can be good if this lifts the perceived value of an item, which is then treasured for its aesthetic and its quality.  The manufacture of heirloom pieces is great for building long-term robust and sustainable value chains.  When true craftsmanship is rewarded and quality materials are sought after then the people that grow fibre, sew garments and weave carpets and fabrics all can share the rewards.

It all falls apart however if we follow the fast fashion business model. If textile mills and retail outlets focus on fast turn-around of low quality items from non-sustainable value chains we end up creating waste, using more energy than is required and supporting the throw-away society.

It is better to create beautiful textiles from sustainable materials and to build them well so they last a long time, rather than to manufacture oil based products with the promise to recycle them one day.

The fast fashion culture encourages corners to be cut and lives to be endangered, think Rana Plaza.   This is not just an apparel issue.  There are carpet schemes that guarantee no child labour, but do not take care of the children that are banished from the rug mills.  Those children sometimes move to more dangerous factories.  No we don’t want six year olds making our carpets, we want them in schools paid for by the sale of carpets.

There are rug retailers that push so hard on price that the weavers are forced to use extremely low quality materials and pay very poor wages.  Eliminating unnecessary waste and reproduction is the best thing we can do for the planet and for the people that live here.  Buying something cheap with the aim of throwing it away is the worst legacy we can leave behind.

Children removed from rug factories are often just moved on to other industries.

Children removed from rug factories are often just moved on to other industries.

Make Sustainability Sexy.

How do we make sustainability sexy? That does not mean how do we sexualise green issues. What I mean to ask is..

“How to we market sustainability to the Me generation?”

How do we draw in a generation that puts community and family 2nd to themselves.   Part of the answer is that we have to make a story that is cool and make it easy and fun to join in, to be part of a tribe that is awesome.

The ecological and social elements of products are important for many consumers, but are still down the list of priorities below style, quality and price. Generation me just wants to know this makes them cool. It blends them into their tribe.

Sustainability has to be positioned to meet a people’s needs.    The marketing of sustainability must be positive and draw people into something neat.

“Buy this or the polar bear drowns” is less effective than “I’m saving dolphins and you can too”.

A brilliant example of positive sustainability messaging is the Camira Fabrics / Wools of New Zealand Dolphin Campaign.

Wools of New Zealand grow eco-friendly Laneve wool in a way that protects the NZ waterways where the Hectors Dolphin lives.   Camira convert our Laneve wool into their very beautiful Blazer upholstery fabric, and both companies use a portion of the proceeds to fund research by the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust which helps scientist understand how to better protect the dolphins habitat.

Interior designers can buy the fabric and help us save the dolphins.   “We are saving dolphins and you can join us.”

This post is not an argument for Corporate Social Responsibility; this post is about how we communicate our green credentials. It is more powerful to lead people to your product with positive messages than it is to say “This product contains less nasty stuff”

Start something social that people can feel a part of. Don’t alienate people and point out their bad habits. It really boils down to basic psychology – Carrot wins out over stick.

hectors dolphins

Hectors Dolphins at play. Image courtesy New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust.

I used to be a…

This pencil used to be a CD case.

This pencil used to be a CD case

Pencil from the Royal Society of Arts “This pencil is made from UK recycled CD cases”

The pencil is a brilliant piece of marketing. It allows the Royal Society of Arts (from whom I stole it) to gently remind its visitors about the need to be responsible in designing products.

There is no hard sell, no advertising, no interruptions, just for those observant enough, a though provoking piece of plastic that talks to the integrity of the organisation and asks the questions; Do you know where your materials are coming from? Do you know where they go?

If your product cannot be turned into something new, you have a design flaw.  What can we do with wool and textiles?

Measuring Goodness

We (Industry & Brands) have a habit of measuring goodness by highlighting the bad things we stopped doing.  We think we are sustainable as we are polluting less, wasting less energy, using fairer labour.   We are planning to do less bad and have a net zero effect on the planet.

This “less bad” attitude is just not good enough.   The true measure of sustainability has to be about what positive impact our value chains have on the people our products touch in their creation and their use and their re-use.

We use only renewable energy is a step, but if it meant putting C02 into the atmosphere for the 1000 tonne concrete base of a wind turbine then it is really just less bad than burning fossil fuel.  Planning to need less energy is better than finding slightly cleaner energy.   It can take 30 years for a wind turbine to become carbon neutral!

What kind of earth do we want our grandchildren to inherit? I vote for a clean one with 9 billion happy people.

We get to Utopia by imagining the ideal planet and by building smarter value chains.   We measure sustainability by what we do to reach Utopia, not by measuring the stupid activity we reduced.

We remember the athlete that wins the race, not the guy that went from last position to somewhere in the middle.   We can celebrate success when the rivers are clean and the people are fed, we should not celebrate that we still have landfill, just not as many as we might have done..

earth from apollo 8

Finite Earth from apollo 8

Future Materials.

Remember Crumbwool?

Crumbwool is a carpet underlay which is the result of a partnership between Wools of New Zealand and Anglo Recycling.   It’s made from 100% recycled content,  Wool carpet off-cuts and discarded car tyres.   The proceeds go towards the Woodland Trust.

Its a nice story that underpins the integrity of the world’s most sustainable wool (Laneve)

Actually that’s a bit modest,  Creating Crumbwool meant developing a dedicated machine and some quite remarkable logistics and industry arm twisting.  Anglo Recycling worked a minor miracle to make this possible.

We built the Crumbwool story for the right reasons.  We did not do this for fame, we did it for integrity and to build value.

Now Crumbwool has been listed by Future Materials magazine in its top 100 innovations!

So we are getting noticed, for the right reasons.  The website is www.crumbwool.com

crumbwool creation

Crumbwool is created

The Case for Sustainability.

The business case for sustainability has been won, but somebody forgot to tell the generals and the troops.

Sustainability is not just about being green,  it is the difference between success and failure.

There are people with their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut. People who stopped trying to be alpha male and who started listening.  These people have figured out where the market is going.   The market, all markets are driven by consumer sentiment and by legislation.

The trend for ethics, responsibility, trust and perceived value is one way. It is only getting stronger and we are never going back to rubbish products made who knows where using who knows what by who knows who.

If you cannot see the future, if predicting trend and shaping the future is a mystery to you, then well, you stumbled into the wrong blog.

In the future we only buy from brands we trust, manufacturers compete on quality, ethics, transparency and price. Price is driven through efficiency not through cutting corners.

The race to the bottom that killed western textile mills is in the past. In the future we are not just clever, we are wise.   The mills are coming back, but they will never be the same, they will be awesome, efficient, quality organisations with highly motivated and educated teams.

 The future is now. Tell your boss, your CEO and your Chairman, your customer is already there.

New Zealand wool factory

Wool growing in New Zealand

 

Einstein and Spherical Sheep in a Vacuum

Today is Albert Einstein’s birthday, and weirdly there is no Goggle Doodle celebrating the great man?

Albert Einstein

Albert Eintein

With no Einstein we would not understand the curvature of space and time, we would not know how to bend light and we could not colour wool to be purple using surface Plasmon Resonance, What a dull place the world would be.

Its 135 years since Albert Einstein was born,  at that time the light bulb, which has become a symbol for new ideas, was about to be demonstrated.  Science was about to take us from the industrial revolution into an incredible period of human enlightenment.

Science can now do anything with wool.  Providing we use a spherical sheep inside a vacuum. (Science joke there)

We are however at the start of the next great period in human history when we take the enormous accomplishments made by science and use that knowledge to create a world that is a better place for all of its inhabitants.

The next revolution is about finding ways to deliver luxury without burning through the world’s resources.  We are exploring how we can use science to turn the clock back to 1879 before the world became dependent on oil and to re-invent technologies using rapidly renewable materials, like wool.