Long live the product

7.5 minute read

The third article in Earth Matters explores how brands can leverage product longevity to create meaningful sustainable connections with consumers based on better design, stronger bonds and a culture of repair and reuse.

In the previous edition of Earth Matters, we looked at the importance of brands building an honest, collaborative relationship with consumers based on shared values and a commitment to sustainability. There is much common ground to be found in offering products and services that are more ethical, less environmentally destructive, easier to recycle and more energy efficient to make and use. However, there is still a fundamental flaw in behaviour at the heart of the modern relationship between consumers and brands:

In an era of fast-changing fads and high-powered production, it is too easy to match consumers’ demands for the exciting and the new with a plentiful supply of thrilling upgrades and shiny replacements.

Many of today’s products are not made to last as long as those of our grandparents’ generation. Back then, things like clothing, footwear, technology and appliances were built to last. And, when things did break, consumers had the skills and the mindset to make-do and mend.

Although innovation and renewal are important for progress, they require resources and generate waste, and are often the result of a vicious cycle of throwaway culture that can be challenged by increasing the lifespan of products.

Legislators have already started to address the issue: for example, at the end of 2019, the European Commission ratified a set of “right to repair” regulations, which will require appliance manufacturers to design with longevity in mind and to make spare parts readily available.[1] These rules should also apply to phones, tablets, and laptops by 2021.

So how can today’s brands leverage the idea of product longevity in a way that adds value, reduces environmental impact and gives consumers a better experience?

Design better

Product quality and longevity are often seen as synonymous to a higher price tag, which can make sustainability seem exclusive and elitist. However, it is possible for better design to improve the longevity of a product, retain its desirability and maintain cost effectiveness.

Following a robust design process – including selecting the most appropriate materials, creating a timeless aesthetic, making products repairable and updateable, and investing in the user research needed to ensure performance and functionality – can keep products both attainable and long-lasting.

Upgrade Included

Frustrated with planned obsolescence and electronic devices treated as semi-disposable objects, Fairphone designs phones that are designed to last and respect people and planet. Their handsets are inspired by the simple aesthetics of modern smartphones, but are modular and come with a special screwdriver to facilitate repair, replacement and upgrading of everything from the battery to the audio jack.

Fairphone

Tread with care

Everlane creates sustainable fashion by focusing on responsible wardrobe staples. Their latest trainers are designed to be long-lasting through a timeless design aesthetic, neutral colours and carefully selected materials. The shoe’s sole is a blend of natural and post-industrial recycled rubber, making it 94.2% virgin-plastic-free, while the laces and inner lining are made from recycled plastic bottles.

Everlane Tread trainers

Flatpack for life

Grain’s mission is to break the cycle of buy and replace associated with flatpack furniture. The brand’s range of sustainable furniture is made from quality, FSC-certified materials and is designed to be customisable and easy to assemble and take apart without loss of integrity. The pieces are inspired by a warm, simple, versatile, tirelessly desirable aesthetic, to inspire consumers to keep them forever.

Grain flatpack furniture

 

Love for longer

There is much that brands can do to design products with better durability. But these efforts need to be met by a shift in consumer behaviour and, more specifically, in how people use a product, how they care for it, and when they choose to dispose of it.

Today’s consumption patterns often result in fully-functioning products in pristine condition being thrown away and replaced with shiny new models.

Brands can help people want to keep things for longer by forging an emotional bond between the consumer and the product, and helping them to care for their beloved belongings.

Laundry against landfill

Research has found that if the active life of clothing is extended by just nine months, carbon, water, and waste impact can be reduced by up to 30%.[1] with this in mind, eco-cleaning brand Ecover has collaborated with musician Professor Green with a campaign that encourages consumers to take better care of their clothes so they can be worn for longer and even go on to have a second life.

Ecover x Professor Green, Wear Not Waste

Kit for care

Attirecare is a Manchester-based brand focused on shoe, garment, home and lifestyle care. Their kits are designed for materials such as denim and leather, and are handmade using organic ingredients and without harsh chemicals, to ensure they are environmentally friendly, biodegradable and ethical. Attirecare’s aim is to build simple, pleasing rituals for consumers to take better care of their things.

Attirecare

Broken beauty

Kintsugi (meaning golden joinery) is the art of Japanese pottery repair. As a philosophy, Kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. A number of brands offer Kintsugi repair kits containing the tools, materials and instructions to guide consumers in mending broken ceramics and decorating the cracks and joins with gold, silver or platinum.

Kintsugi repair kits

 

Ready to repair

Part of the reason why younger generations choose to replace rather than repair is a lack of knowledge, manual skills and confidence when it comes to getting hands-on with their products.

Concepts like the Kintsugi repair kit can help create a highly specialised sustainable hobby, but brands can go further in training consumers to mend and maintain.

Learning lab

The Ikea Greenwich store was created to be sustainable through its design, its architecture, and also the desire to turn it into a hub of eco-knowledge for the local community. The store’s Learning Lab offers bookable workshops and activities where participants can learn how to reduce waste, re-use materials and repair. Workshops cover lessons in reviving old furniture, up-cycling and remaking textiles.

IKEA Greenwich Learning Lab

Decorative mending

Welsh clothing brand TOAST have been touring the UK offering workshops on The Art of Repair. The sessions help teach participants how to extend the life of their clothes using Sashiko, inspired by the traditional Japanese practice of repairing textiles through piecing, patching and stitching. Sashiko stitches create patches to reinforce fragile and delicate fabrics giving them a new lease of life.

TOAST and Sashiko workshops

The restart project

Sometimes, consumers choose to take repairing and upgrading into their own hands: the Restart Project was born out of a community’s frustration with semi-disposable electronics and the growing mountain of electronic waste. A series of grassroot-driven, free workshops, aims to help people learn how to repair their broken electronics and also question and rethink their consumption habits.

The Restart Project

 

A second chance

Items that are built with durability and repairability in mind are perfect for the second-hand market and sharing economies that appeal to today’s younger generations (for more on this, see our first article, Sustainability for generations).

Forward-thinking fashion and apparel brands are challenging the norm and creating appealing platforms for consumers to resell and share their well-cared-for, long-lasting goods.

Worn wear

Patagonia are trailblazers when it comes to increasing their products’ longevity. Their clothing is made for performance and durability. In 2015, they took this a step further with a tour that offered customers free repairs of damaged and worn Patagonia items. And, in 2017, they launched Worn Wear, an online store for second-hand clothing that now includes recrafted items made from waste clothing.

Patagonia, Worn Wear ReCrafted

Instagrammably thrifty

Half social network, half shopping platform, the Depop app has made second-hand clothing cool and #instaworthy. User profiles act like digital-storefronts on which to post pictures and descriptions of wares, creating a space for influencers in the world of pre-loved fashion. The brand has also opened its first physical stores in LA and NYC to deepen engagement with its young, subculture-immersed fans.

Depop app and stores

Green mother

Le Tote is a clothing subscription and rental service helping to address the throwaway nature of maternity garments and keep these items in use for longer. Membership allows customers to choose, wear and return items throughout their pregnancy. After birth, customers can switch to its regular fashion subscription service, a move that promotes brand loyalty beyond the traditional nine-month period.

Le Tote

A true commitment to sustainability is also about changing each consumer’s relationship with products and services to make longevity, repair and re-use the norm. It is an opportunity for brands to become lifelong companions, and helps keep waste out of the global equation for as long as possible… Or even entirely.

 

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