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Fast fashion does homeware

The last few years have seen the high street actively embrace homeware. Most notably H&M, Zara and Urban Outfitters. Fashion brands creating homeware makes sense after all people have loyalty to their favourite fashion brands and styling their home is often an extension of how they style themselves.

The main driver for high street homeware as in fast fashion is price and trends; raffia sideboards, rose gold tableware and brass handles are all beautiful things that look great in homes, but where are these things made? What are the conditions in these factories for them to be this cheap? There is some vagueness on where high street brands homeware is produced and by whom.

Is fast homeware something we should question and what is its impact? H&M home is now available to buy in 51 countries, the H&M group made a net profit in 2019 of £1.05 billion. H&M and Zara are high street behemoths, they make profits where others fail, they turn products around quickly and are always quick to react to trends.

Currently, you can buy a cushion cover for as little as £3.99 at H&M, a price that their Sweedish friends Ikea charge. This is great for updating your space quickly and this price allows everybody to access good design. When prices are this cheap is it easier to dispose of these items? Do we care about who made it? These brands could charge £3.99 for a cushion and ensure the makers get paid their worth…this means millionaire shareholders might lose out slightly, I would say that is fair, yet unlikely to happen.

The collapse of brands like Topshop has created a conversation around the morals of the fashion industry and its owners.

Mass production v small batch production

Mass-market brands produce hundreds and thousands of product lines which are sold throughout the world. This allows them to drive the price down to an amount which is incredibly affordable and impossible for smaller brands to compete with. But how do large brands know how many items to produce? Pre-covid, retail space on Regent Street, London allows for huge amounts of footfall. According to the New West End, there are 640,000 visitors to the West End every day with £24m turned over daily. It is simply unimaginable for a smaller brand to compete with these huge numbers, so how can we level the playing field?

Affordability is a huge factor, the adage of “buy cheap buy twice” could be applied to fashion but does it work for homeware? We all are being asked to become conscious of the impact of overproduction on the environment and low paid workers quality of life. Throw away culture can create a reliance on overproduction and the abundance of choice we have in the UK.

Many smaller brands and makers plan their stock and production based on predicted numbers. Another option is to create pre-order options which mean that the amount produced is purely based on demand, which means that overproduction is not an issue. For many people, spending more with a smaller brand is unfeasible, however, the beauty of smaller brands is that their products are made with love and the makers are paid properly for their work. This allows us to level the playing field somewhat. A home featuring homewares bought from by 50% large brands and 50% small could be a start.

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 which 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 really is. Ethicallism must extend to each aspect of a brand or it is meaningless.

Shopping for pleasure as opposed to trend 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.

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.