Our daily work and studio research is based in many different areas of design, but ultimately, we try and ensure that our work is interesting and ethical. They are the two mainstays of everything we do. Many other adjectives get put in there for each project, but these are the two that stay and without compromise. But, regardless of how we are working, we are very aware that we are still consumers – we are designing things to be made, used, inhabited, enjoyed. We are creators of stuff.
Now, we are pretty proud of the fact that we design and make things and places in the best possible way we can, using responsible materials, recycled materials and ensuring that things can have another life through reuse and disassembly, but it is still stuff.
Which really makes us think.
In our personal lives, we very much live what we preach. Avid collectors of secondhand books, regular trawlers of antique shops and boot fairs and massive fans of charity shops, my own Twitter feed is rammed most weekends with the photos of secondhand stuff I have found and purchased. I love telling people how little a t-shirt cost from an Oxfam, or that my new (old) laptop bag came from Emmaus. I have pride in being a user of secondhand things.
But, as I realised the other day during another clearout of stuff – I am still a massive consumer. Sure, a consumer of hopefully ‘ethical’ things, but a consumer none the less. My house and the studio is full of things that perhaps I do not need, so does the fact that we got it secondhand make it ok to own too much stuff?
Where does the over consumer start and the ethical over consumer end?
This was also something that struck us whilst at the recent Brighton Peace and Environment Centre Carbon Conversation event in Brighton with Cat Fletcher of Freegle. In an ideal world, the good quality, well made goods that are traditionally higher in initial cost would be used, then filter down through services such as Freegle and the charity shops. And this is sometimes the case – I have found the most incredible stuff that would have cost a pretty penny new, in secondhand stores that still had many more years use ahead. If we were able to utilise this kind of quality goods at a price that suited more consumers, then perhaps we would not have to turn to the low cost, low quality high street stalwarts of fashion.
But, this is still consuming. Unless we are truly only buying what we need, then we are part of that all consuming cycle – whether we are buying new, or buying second hand.
So is this a problem? Perhaps. But if more people bought secondhand, then not only would charities benefit, but we would literally be keeping things in the loop. We would be ethical consumers.Equally, when you don’t need something any more – donate it so someone else can benefit. This is the basis of the circular economy, and the more we can keep travelling around the cycle before it is ‘reclaimed’ for fibres or materials, the better…
And so I am making myself a deal. I know that I am an over consumer, despite it being second hand, but I own stuff that I will not use anymore, which is surely worse. Someone could, and should be wearing those clothes and reading those books – and with a bit more space from the things I don’t need, I can refill the shelves with second hand treasures that I will…
(images by claire potter – all bought second hand…)