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FEATURE | THE DISPOSABLE CULTURE – IS THERE A WAY BACK?
If you had to pick a buzzword for the 21st century (so far), it would have to be ‘speed’ and a close runner up is ‘24/7’. Life is every hour of every day and everything must be done immediately but there is a price to pay for speed. Speed is often at odds with quality. Closely related to speed is ‘cost’. Saving money is an artform, a degree at the University of Life. Price is everything.
Thrift is important undoubtedly especially as it feeds into the broader picture of reducing waste but making price the king of kings is dangerous. It was Sir John Betjeman who said, “We will be remembered for our works of art, not our blasted attempts to save money.”
Image left: Timber being prepared in our joinery workshop. Image right: Bespoke panelling in our Winchester project
THE DANGERS OF PRICE AND SPEED
Speed and price are close cousins, but it is usually price which is in the driving seat.
The quest for low price flattens everything in its path. Low price inevitably means economies of scale, products from emerging economies which have questionable worker and human rights records. These countries also frequently have a very poor environmental profile, using manufacturing processes which pollute the planet, and which are the very opposite of sustainable.
Products are commonly poor quality and not built to last.
UNSUITABLE FOR REPAIR
Alongside the quest for ever cheaper goods comes the culture of throwing something away if it doesn’t work or is simply outdated. Most products have a dazzlingly short shelf life and manufacturers will happily admit to this.
Bespoke bunk beds and solid oak doors in our Brockenhurst project
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOUR HOME?
Many homeowners are starting to make more ‘aware’ decisions about purchasing for the home. This might be an awareness of where something is made or who has made it. It could be the origin of the materials and whether they are sustainable or if they can be recycled when they are no longer needed.
Manufacturing processes also come under scrutiny with savvy householders penetrating deeper into what goes into a product. The irony of the bulk of electric car batteries being produced in China, one of the worlds’ biggest polluters, at huge environmental cost, has not been lost on those who seek to examine green credentials a little more closely.
In a period home, much of the original structure would have taken time and effort to build. This was partly due to the lack of available machinery, but people expected things to last for decades if not forever. The same applies to antique furniture which people are still using two or three hundred years later. Could you say the same for a modern sofa?
THE TIDE IS TURNING
Where something is made, what it is made from and who made it are increasing questions from purchasers. Think about your local supermarket - Fair Trade coffee growers who receive a fair price for their beans, and meat from British farms which is traceable to source with better welfare standards and lower food miles.
However, making something slowly, not cutting corners in terms of the design, using properly remunerated workers, quality parts or materials which come from ethical and sustainable sources comes at a price and often that is price many people are not prepared to pay or can’t pay.
Making something slowly will simply cost more in terms of man hours and time invested and that’s before you consider raw materials, carbon footprint and sustainability. However, there is an emerging movement called ‘the slow movement’ which is seeking to change modern practices and return to a more sensibly paced way of life where output is not based on price, mass production and speed.
Image left: Bespoke wardrobe, dressing table and sliding barn door in our Egham project.
Image right: Our timbers are from suppliers who are certified and committed to ethical and sustainable sourcing
WHAT IS THE SLOW MOVEMENT?
Unbelievably, the slow movement began in 1986 when an Italian, Carlo Petrini, started a protest against the opening of a fast-food restaurant in Rome, in this case, McDonald’s. Fast food is an anathema to many Italians who pride themselves on fresh ingredients with mealtimes a real focal point in their culture for different generations to get together and talk and eat.
Over the next few decades, the slow movement or slow culture began to be applied to other activities and areas of culture like Cittaslow, an organisation for slow cities.
The premise of the slow movement is simple, fast is not always better. The slow movement is not about doing things deliberately slowly but taking the right amount of time to execute a particular task. It is also about doing something as well as possible rather than as fast as possible. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you are investing in your home, then think about the quality of what you choose and how it is produced first without necessarily focusing on the price. Budget and quality don’t have to be in opposition to one another - value for money is perhaps a better way of looking at it, with a corresponding pride in how well something has been produced, something you can share with the maker. Support green designers, artisan traders and craftsmen, people who do things differently and always remember...nothing good or worthwhile was ever done in a hurry.