Skip to main content

Fast fashion does fast homeware

In recent years, the high street has enthusiastically embraced homeware, with notable entries from H&M, Zara, and Urban Outfitters. It’s a logical move – people often have brand loyalty in fashion, and home styling is an extension of their personal style.

The primary drivers for high-street homeware, much like fast fashion, are affordability and trends. Raffia sideboards, rose gold tableware, and brass handles are all visually pleasing additions to homes. But questions arise: Where are these items manufactured? What are the working conditions in these factories that allow for such low prices? There’s a certain ambiguity regarding the production sources and conditions behind high-street homeware.

Is the speed and impact of fast homeware something we should scrutinize? H&M Home, now available in 51 countries, contributed to the H&M group’s staggering £1.05 billion net profit in 2019. H&M and Zara are giants in the high street market, excelling in profitability and trend responsiveness.

Currently, you can purchase a cushion cover for as little as £3.99 at H&M – a price point also shared by their Swedish counterparts, Ikea. This affordability allows for quick space updates, but it raises questions. When prices are this low, is it easier to discard items? Do we consider the people behind the production? These brands could charge £3.99 for a cushion while ensuring fair wages for makers. This might impact millionaire shareholders slightly, a trade-off worth considering, although perhaps unlikely to happen.

The recent collapse of brands like Topshop has ignited conversations about the ethics within the fashion industry and its ownership.

Mass production v small batch production

Mass-market brands churn out countless product lines sold globally, driving prices irresistibly low, and stifling smaller competitors. But how do these giants gauge production quantities? Before COVID-19, Regent Street in London saw staggering foot traffic. New West End reports 640,000 daily visitors and £24 million in daily turnover. Smaller brands struggle to match these numbers. So, how can we level the playing field?

Affordability plays a major role. ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’ applies to fashion, but what about homeware? We’re increasingly urged to consider overproduction’s environmental impact and its toll on low-wage workers’ lives. A throwaway culture fosters overproduction, given our immense choices in the UK.

Many smaller brands and artisans plan stock based on predictions. Another solution: pre-orders, where production aligns with demand, mitigating overproduction. While spending more with smaller brands isn’t always feasible, these brands offer handmade, fairly paid work. Striking a balance with 50% from large brands and 50% from small can start levelling the field in our homes.

What are the options?

Platforms such as Instagram and Etsy allow smaller brands to connect with larger audiences and go direct to consumers without the need for a storefront, an outlay that feels risky at the best of times. The Covid pandemic has driven us to shop online. Social media has created an opportunity for brands to share their values with their customers in an unprecedented way. Reformation, a “conscious” fashion brand from the US prides itself on its ethical production but complaints of racism from staff allow us to see who the brand is. Ethicallism must extend to each aspect of a brand or it is meaningless.

Shopping for pleasure as opposed to trends means that we buy with heart. and will be less inclined to throw those items away. The act of hunting down second-hand furniture has sweet satisfaction for finding something unique and affordable and you can also customise furniture to blend into your home by changing legs, handles etc.

Charlier Porter runs Tat London a fantastic source of all things antique and vintage. I asked her what the benefits are of hunting used and vintage homewares and for her tips on sourcing it.
“For me, the reason to find something vintage or antique is the satisfaction in firstly knowing you are not contributing to landfill, secondly you are acting as a sort of caretaker of the piece & thirty its nice to know that it is something not readily available to the world and its wife. Places I love, Salesroom – Islington Auction House – in non-Covid times it is such a fun way to spend your weekends. Ardingly, a bit further than Kempton but you will be remunerated for your efforts as I always think it has such a great selection”.
Scouring Instagram and Facebook Market Place is a great way of finding unique second-hand pieces, preventing them from going to landfill. Shopping with small brands also helps, read my blog post on sustainable shopping.

As the high street continues to fluctuate and conversations around production are widely spoken about, we are all more aware of our place in the retail chain. Where we go from this moment is collectively up to us.