With 800 million users worldwide, Facebook’s Messenger has become the quick-fire communication tool of choice for people everywhere. But if the excited blogosphere is to be believed, the social network giant wants to not only be the go-to place for people to chat to each other, but also the number one destination to do plenty of other things too, such as order cinema tickets, buy groceries and seek out the best new fashion trends – essentially, buy stuff.
Making it easier, fail-safe and attractive to buy things online is something that preoccupies many tech start-ups right now. The quicker companies can entice you to part with your cash for things you want, need and desire, the better.
While many of the world’s economies are stagnating, we are still buying like never before – shunning the high street in favour of cheaper online sales, and choosing discount stores over traditional supermarkets.
Of course, in places like China and Brazil, an emerging and growing group of middle and upper-income consumers are spending like never before, with better than average growth forecasts and improved access to credit providing buying confidence.
In the face of resource constraints, climate change and an over-consumption epidemic, which is making people obese and filling our oceans with plastic waste, the market is stacked in favour of business as usual. The concept of buying our way our of economic troubles was borne out of Depression-era America. The trouble was those that could afford to buy things already had them, so the notion of encouraging people to buy things they already had or didn’t know they ‘needed’ was born. Ever since, consumerism has been flourishing as companies have succeeded in making planned obsolescence the norm with things – from mobile phones to fashion – not built to last, rather created with an inherent need to be replaced in the short term.
But do we really need to buy so much? Most smart phone sales in the UK are upgrades – bought to service a desire to have the latest and greatest technology, not because the old phone has broken.
Even Stephen Howard, the chief sustainability officer at IKEA, one of the world’s greatest stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap retailers, believes we have reached “peak stuff” in the UK. He says that the company, which aims to double sales by 2020, will continue to help its customers live in a more environmentally friendly way, by helping buyers to repair and recycle products.
Timber, plastics, coal, tin, aluminium, cobalt and all the other minerals, metals and fossil fuels that are mined and burned in pursuit of putting goods on shelves have to come from somewhere. And that usually involves ripping up our planet, pumping more and more dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and rapidly filling up our landfill sites.
The groundswell of environmentalism and more enlightened customers that have emerged in recent years supports the reversing of current trends of consumption, and a number of companies have risen up either to highlight the problem or to shout louder about the built-to-last qualities of their products.
We all know about Patagonia and it’s anti-Black Friday marketing campaigns urging people not to buy their products unless they really need them. The outdoor clothing company issues a guarantee that it will repair any of its products for free over their lifetime, and employs a team of seamstresses to do just that.
The eco fashion designer Tom Cridland is another great example. So confident is he in the quality and sustainability of his products, he offers a 30-year guarantee on the t-shirts and sweatshirts that he sells online with the philosophy of ‘buy less, buy quality’. It’s no wonder the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Stephen Fry and Daniel Craig are customers.
Tara Button’s new website Buy Me Once offers up a host of examples of companies that possess similar qualities. You see, Tara will only feature products on her site that are designed to stand the test of time – from Le Creuset kitchenware and Dr Martens shoes, to Feelgood beds and Mason Pearson hair accessories.
Her mission: to make buying things that are built to last easy. And through accompanying blogs, she offers a range of tips on how to take good care of things and to repair them if necessary. “We want people to buy just a few great things they love rather than huge amounts of clutter,” she says. Ultimately, she wants her business to start challenging manufacturers to build products that last longer and shift our culture of consumption – from ‘throwaway’ to ‘keep’ or ‘pass on’.
The challenge is – and probably will be for some time yet – the cost of buying more solid and sustainable goods is prohibitive. It is something Tom Cridland is conscious of and while his range of garments are still beyond many Primark-loving fast-fashion junkies, he hopes not to price too many people out while ensuring that those along the supply chain are paid fairly.
But the growing movement for built-to-last products, as well as repair and remanufacturing, is only likely to grow as more companies shift their models to tap into new consumer ideals and to protect themselves against ever-worrying resource constraints in the future.
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