At what cost? Why we must start the sustainable homewares conversation

At what cost? Why we must start the sustainable homewares conversation

I’m thrilled to see the traction that the slow fashion movement is getting. The latest Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide has recently been published here in New Zealand and is not only guiding us to make more ethical fashion choices, but also pushing companies and brands to think longer and harder about their sourcing methods, supply chains and sustainable practices. The guide is also generating increased publicity around the true cost of fast fashion, keeping the conversation going and sparking further debate on the sustainability of our shopping habits.

FACT: Fast Fashion is unsustainable

Yes, we need change in our fashion industry. The US alone sends around 10.46 million tonnes of clothing-based textile waste to landfill each year, with the UK adding a further 300,000 tonnes. Australians send 6000kg to landfill every 10 minutes. This is madness. Even where our cast-off clothes are sent to developing countries to prolong their lives, this practice is decimating the local clothing industry and cannot be a sustainable solution. The fact is we need to buy less, and when we do buy we need to ensure our clothing is sustainably made, ethically sourced and designed to stand the test of time.

But aren't we missing something?

So another year, another Tearfund report and a continuation of the conversation regarding the importance of slow fashion. Amazing. Yet still nothing about how we can make better choices for our homes. We sneer at $2 tops and scoff at the hypocrisy of cheap ‘Girlpower’ T-shirts being made in exploitative conditions. We snub Primark and stick two fingers up at cosmetic products bursting from plastic containers after being tested on animals. But then we’ll pick up $10 cushions, discounted decorative items and on-trend patterned bedlinen because 100% cotton is a natural fabric, right?

The fact is that when we don’t shop for ethical and sustainable homewares, we do the world a disservice. But because reading about how damaging our consumerism can be is far too depressing, I’m going to flip things and focus on how much better the world is when we do choose ethical and sustainable for our homes over price and convenience.

Buying sustainable means sending less to landfill

Well designed and well-made pieces not only look beautiful, but they also last longer. That flat-pack desk made from MDF is less able to tolerate the dings and scratches that come with everyday use, and will be even less likely to survive a house move. Where will it end up after a year or so? Yup, you guessed it - landfill. But say instead we opt for a second-hand oak desk picked up from an op shop? Or a hand-crafted designer piece made from sustainable timber? I’ll wager a tidy sum of money that both options will look gorgeous and unique and can be sanded back when the kids scribble over them in crayon. Sturdy furniture can move house with you if needed, and I’ll bet you’ll still own those pieces in twenty years when you’re sat there writing your memoirs.

Eco-fabrics mean happier & healthier textile producers

I wrote a piece a few months ago on the horrors of cotton production. It truly shocked me how something that I had once viewed as a sustainable fabric could be so damaging to the planet and its people. From harmful chemicals that poison people and waterways to exploitative pricing and unfair trade, regular cotton is a no-go for me now. Instead I seek out organic cotton, bamboo, hemp and flax for my home furnishings. It does cost a little more but that helps to limit unnecessary splurges - I save up to buy what I need, when I need it. And you know what? I love and cherish those purchases far more despite forgoing a few extra flat whites in the process.

Ethical sourcing creates empowered communities

When we shop from brands that work closely with artisan producers, we know that we are directly supporting the makers. It’s as if we have our arms around their shoulders, like friends whispering a supportive word in their ears. Our purchase helps them to make a living, provide for their families and continue to create beautiful products in empowering, uplifting conditions. The irregularities in the weaving, the coloured threads that zigzag throughout the fabrics and the motifs that tell of bygone times add texture and vibrancy to our homes in ways that brands making mass-produced, machine-printed products cannot replicate. Yet they do try - cultural appropriation is on the rise with traditional designs being copied and capitalised on by even top-end designers who should know better. I long for a world where big brands partner more closely with artisan producers on capsule collections that celebrate their talents and pay them handsomely, rather than making a profit by mimicking their designs without a thought for what they mean.  

Getting creative results in a conversation-starting home unique to you

A room should start a conversation before people actually start exchanging words” - Barry Dixon, US interior designer. When we are mindful about what we buy and display in our homes, it shows. Our personal style starts to shine through and links the rooms in our houses together with a cohesive thread. It’s so much harder to find your style in a world of mass-produced goods, don’t you think? Sure, you can create a beautiful home from an afternoon of shopping in Freedom Furniture or Habitat, but what that home really says about you gets lost in a sea of pretty styled items with no soul and no story to tell. All fur coat and no knickers.

So next time you’re in need for a homewares fix, I challenge you to think differently about where to shop. I’m working on a directory of ethical homewares brands so it is much easier to find what you’re looking for. And I promise you that there are ethical and sustainable products for all tastes and styles. In fact, there’s never been a better time to be a conscious consumer with impeccable style, you just have to know where to look.

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