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Is Sustainability Commercially Viable?

In this article, I talk about our recent experience at the Paris and London design shows. The joy of travel is to immerse yourself in culture and experiences. We always return from a trip with concepts, ideas and industry developments to analyse and determine how they are applied in the real world. This recent trip was no different. 

The MC&Co team have recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Paris, London and New York where we immersed ourselves and soaked up the latest home and lifestyle trends. We visited flagship retail precincts and hotels at the forefront of global design. We spent days at the major design fairs of Maison & Objet and the London Design Fair. This experience cemented our current thinking on trends in homewares, tableware and furniture design. It also highlighted some ‘pre-emerging trends’, that we expect to see evolve over time and will need to consider when we are pulling together our 2023 trend predictions.

We were interested to see an increased focus on sustainability particularly in London. This presents a challenge to home and lifestyle brands who remain focused on costs and meeting customer demands for stylish goods at a good price point. Over recent years, deflationary pressure, particularly in furniture production has meant that brands are using petro-chemical based raw materials to meet a price point without reducing their margins. 

New Raw Materials: Industrial Waste

The concept of using industrial production waste to create materials for use in the production of consumer goods is one that has been talked about academically for many years. This is the first real time we have seen practical applications of these concepts, particularly at the London Design Fair. We saw several variations where industrial by-products were reimagined into packaging or useable homewares, accessories and furniture. 

PalmLeather created by Dutch designers Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven.

Some of the more interesting sustainable products we saw were:

  • We saw reading glasses made from Potato waste that had been made into plastic type chips
  • We saw palm leather made from palm leaves in India
  • We saw corn husks made into veneers from Mexico

The exhibition cleverly demonstrated the original product, the by product and the new end raw material. 

The end materials were certainly sustainable, but posed some interesting questions. They had limitations in relation to their ability to take on colour, and were more costly to use than polyester and plastic materials. The raw material may still need to be transported to the factory that makes the consumer goods, meaning that there may be carbon considerations.

Glasses frames made from potato waste
Fernando Laposse exhibiting Totomoxtle at London Design Fair – a veneer made using discarded
Chip[s] Board uses potato waste to create ParblexTM Plastics which can be used in many ways.

Will Customers Pay for Sustainability?

Sustainability seems like a noble goal. Why wouldn’t we as an industry want to reduce land fill and single use items? The big question we came away with was whether consumers would pay for more expensive raw materials in the interests of being able to say to their friends that their couch/ sunglasses/ shoes are produced sustainably. 

We spent a bit of time visiting iconic global retailers in London, New York and Paris and stores were busy. People around the world are still busy consuming, keeping up with the Jones’ and instagramming their latest purchases. 

This experience presented us with 3 philosophical dilemmas: 

  1. How will mainstream furniture and homewares companies bring sustainability into their company ethos? 
  2. Will consumers pay for more expensive raw materials so that their homewares align with their environmental values?
  3. Can the environmental movement actually change the psyche of consumers? 

Retail is Changing

We have seen Country Road’s new innovative Chadstone store fit out being made entirely from recycled products. The store achieved a 5 star Green Star Review Rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.Country Road have aspired to be a retail industry leader by reducing the waste involved in shop refitting. They are promoting the idea that luxury and sustainability can coexist in harmony. Many sustainable products are beautiful. Imagine fixtures made from recycled yogurt containers and carpet fashioned from fishing nets.  

Country Road’s next “Green Store”
Country Road Chadstone

We live in interesting times. Extinction warriors are protesting across the globe and whilst we were in New York the teenager Greta Thunberg was addressing the UN General Assembly on climate change. This is juxtopositioned with challenging retail environments, potential trade wars, economies that may be slowing and consumers who continue to clamber over each other for the newest and latest thing.

Premium home and lifestyle brands can use these unique circumstances as an opportunity to promote the longevity of great design and products built to last. They can also consider sustainable ranges to appeal to consumers who are making deliberately sustainable purchase decisions.

We will continue to watch this emerging friction between sustainability and consumerism with interest. Will sustainable home and lifestyle products become mainstream? Or will this be a niche owned and delivered by brands who have managed to produce sustainable products in a commercially viable manner? 

If you want help making strategic trend decisions for your home and lifestyle brand, get in touch. We can help you determine the trends that are right for your consumers. We can help you increase sales and transform your customer journey in store to one of excitement and inspiration.

If you’d like to know more, Contact Us.

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