Fast fashion is absolutely not the one right now. Cheaper than cheap online brands may reign supreme but a backlash has begun. A small but determined percentage of the population are eschewing ‘single wear’ T-shirts made from cotton that damages the environment and choosing homegrown, eco-friendly designers like Birdsong, Reformation and Veja. Oxfam’s #SecondHand September has seen huge interest, Extinction Rebellion’s London Fashion Week protests have gone viral, and there are plenty of books and documentaries about the issue.
This is all rightly so of course. I am fully on board with a world that doesn’t crumble any further under the weight of cotton production and landfill overflowing with outfits worn once then discarded. Perhaps it’s catching on; both ASOS and Topshop have reported dramatic losses this year. But amid the furore about fast fashion, I see little mention of that other millennial favourite: the homeware industry. Because, besides that eco-friendly reusable coffee cup you always forget to carry with you, most things we buy for our homes are single-use and non-recyclable.
Fast homeware is so ubiquitous but so overlooked that you’ll be shocked at the amount you almost certainly own. Look around your home and you’ll see your new shower curtain, those scatter cushions, that plastic arrow-shaped sign that reads ‘Good Vibes Only’. Can you say where the cotton your duvet is made with comes from? And what about the reusability? In a year’s time, those plastic flamingo cocktail glasses you bought for a party will be languishing in the back of a cupboard. It’s hard to keep up with the trends, from cacti to rose gold, chrome to copper, pineapples (still going somehow) to Matisse-esque faces drawn on everything. Christmas is on the horizon, too, which means a whole world of fast interiors to tempt us.
You might not put homeware in the same category as a once-worn summer jumpsuit, but I’d argue that you should. We are obsessed with interiors. If I’m not cooing over Instagram accounts like Little Big Bell and Swoonworthyblog, I’m loitering in the homeware section of department stores or shops like H&M, feeling gleeful when the seasons change and bring an influx of new products. I’m not decrying those two blogs in particular – they’re just popular – but when we can’t afford that stylish side table from Copenhagen or that organic cotton rug we see on the ‘gram, we go for the cheaper, environmentally dubious, high street option.
The realisation that I am a victim of fast interiors came as I decluttered my flat, which is on the market. I realised I buy certain items time and time again, and that they come in plastic packaging, too. Reed diffusers are a regular offender, along with stationery for my home office. It’s alarming to think that we are trying to rid our wardrobes of single-use items but have no problem ramming the rest of our home full of ‘quirky’ objects that won’t last a lifetime and aren’t recyclable either. As I surveyed the range of fast homeware in my possession, I felt guilty and foolish. Swathes of clutter and novelty items that at the time had brought joy, lay dusty and abandoned.
The problem is that homeware makes us feel better. With home ownership an unreachable goal for many, furnishings offer a quick fix – a way to feel comfortable and settled in an uncomfortable world. It’s not just me who thinks a cheap cushion can solve my problems; 31% of us feel that cushions, plants, pictures and candles give a house the “ultimate homely feel”. But then our tastes change and we go off them, or they break. According to one survey, 22 million pieces of furniture are thrown out in the UK every year.
Fabrizio Conrado, who runs a sustainable lifestyle blog called It’s Not Organic, says the main culprit is the impulse buy. Our fast paced lives are also an issue: “For example: you’re doing a party and you don’t have much time to prepare the house, so you stop at a big supermarket and you buy all the things you need – plastic utensils, decoration…”
Halloween is Fabrizio’s next fast homeware concern. The holiday gives rise to an astonishing amount of waste, from the 12,500 tons of costumes sent to landfill to the eight million pumpkins that will end up as food waste – most without having the edible parts put to any use.
But it’s the decorations that really take their toll. “Mass-produced plastic, sold for a pound and with cheap, leaking batteries,” Mark Hall of BusinessWaste told Edie.net last year. “We can deal with the batteries if people bother to separate them into recyclable waste, but 99% of the time they don’t.”
Fabrizio agrees: “We’re into [Halloween] without being very conscious when we make the decision (to buy).”
The high street is crammed with fast interiors stores, and I love a jaunt around Flying Tiger, Neon Sheep or Hema as much as the next person. The ubiquitous Oliver Bonas stocks homeware aplenty. But as I scoop up a plastic novelty doorstop or a vase for a friend’s birthday, I don’t think twice about its provenance, longevity or recyclability.
Recently I’ve got rid of everything from cheap, plastic picture frames to an Ikea Kallax (the storage shelf which looks like building blocks). When I listed it for sale on Facebook, there were countless identical others. I’m not blaming Ikea – the store has an impressive sustainability programme, including a commitment to use only sustainable cotton and cabinets made from recycled bottles – we just can’t resist the lure of the bits and bobs in its marketplace section.
Cosy TV shows like The Great British Bake Off only fuel our desire, according to reports, whether we’re snapping up cake tins and silicone spoons or branded blenders. And while I love both Grand Designs and Location Location Location, there’s no denying that the final push to make a property attractive to potential buyers involves a liberal application of single-use homeware.
Anne Tuohy is a winner of Theo Paphitis’ ‘Small Business Sunday’ and writes about interiors. She says the availability of new trends is often too tempting. “You see all these photographs, beautifully curated, and you can go out and buy what you see. You never have a ‘fat day’ when you’re buying for your home!”
While our parents had the ‘good’ tablecloth and cutlery for special occasions, we use things every day, she adds. “It is an obsession, and everybody does it,” she says. “Kitchenware, as well! People who have all this bakeware but never bake!”
I’ve often sold at a car boot sale or on eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, and find myself fascinated by the sheer quantity of homeware on offer. We think we’re doing good, selling on – but why did we buy in the first place?
It’s one of many questions I’ll be asking myself when I move into my new home in an attempt to curb my fast homeware addiction. “Can I buy something secondhand?” is another. And: “Can I repair what I already have?”
The biggest question, though, is: “Can I make do with what I have and accept that a new cushion won’t bring me inner peace?” Only when I do that, will I be able to break the addiction of fast interiors for good.
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