There was a time, not so long ago, when furniture and homewares that were eco- friendly, be it sustainable, recyclable or produced outside of modern methods, were considered aesthetically inferior to the bright, shiny, mass-produced options that felt so glamorous and luxurious. They were passed over by influential retailers and next to never sat in the must-have category for trend-driven consumers.
Fast forward through years of the planet proving to us we need to take its health and wellbeing seriously (if we want to continue inhabiting it), and a lot has changed.
The move to products that are eco-friendly and ethical, be it in their material, their origin, their production, or their carbon footprint, has been a visible factor in industries such as fashion and food for some time. Whilst fashion as a whole still struggles in these areas, given the prominence of popular, global mass-market retailers and brands, the food industry has continually progressed, and indeed created trends of its own, through focuses such as organic, sustainable, paddock-to-plate and the slow food movement, which focuses on local produce that is in planted in line with the local regions’ eco system, and eaten locally to minimise transport requirements.
Awareness and support of these issues in the interiors industry has been growing for some years, and although rampant consumerism still fuels the proliferation of mass-produced furniture and homewares, a growing number of leading brands, designers, and retailers are embracing and fostering a design ethic that is much more in-line with the future of our planet and the care and growth of the people on it.
SPENCE AND LYDA
Image: Fiona Lyda, Founder of Spence & Lyda
Women of Abyssinia weave the PET Lampshades from recycled materials
Finished PET Lamps
Fiona Lyda, Founder of leading furniture and homewares store Spence and Lyda, is one such individual. Recognised and applauded in the industry as both a leader and an influencer, Lyda’s Surry Hills-based showroom carries some of the most chic and covetable pieces in the industry, yet all fall within the boundaries of her personal ethics and values, which include an attention to original design, craftsmanship, and honesty of materials. “Who needs this” is one of the questions she asks herself before agreeing to stock any of her products. Troubled by the throw-away society that Western economies perpetuate, Fiona poses the question ‘What is it that we really need in our lives’? “That’s not to say that we need to be monastic”, she says, “but certainly buying things that have been designed to only last for a short period is not anything we should embrace. I think too, the realisation is being reached that interiors have become generic. It is impossible for an interior to look interesting and have any sense of soul if everything in it is new and mass produced. She coins the term ‘things fatigue’ to describe the mental and sensory overload we reach through years of aspiring to the constant ‘new’. “Our clients have reached this point. They want items with stories of how they were made and why”.
Another Australian furniture retailer leading the way is Koskela. Fiercely dedicated to effecting social change, their mission is to ensure the quality of their products are built to become classics, further emphasising the anti-consumerism ideology. Attention to materials, origins and the health and well-being of workers is paramount, as is their dedication to ongoing social enterprises, which includes their collaborations with Aboriginal artists and artisans in Arnhem Land.
Yolngu weavers from Arnhem Land working on products with Koskela
Director and Co-owner of Koskela, Sasha Titchkosky, weaving with the professionals.
Nikki Lisle, founder of lighting and homewares store Sala Verde, works directly with carvers and wood-working artisans in the Philippines and has a similar thought process to both retailers. “I prefer to work with small businesses and cooperatives of artisans and crafts people who are thus given employment and a chance to hone their traditional and handicraft skills. I place a big focus on sustainable sourcing and work with natural materials such as abaca (banana tree bark), hand-made paper made from agricultural waste, and acacia wood” (a fast growing readily available tropical tree).
Caption: The Woodies, hand-carved from acacia wood, www.salaverde.com.au
All Jardan’s products are hand crafted in Australiafrom sustainable materials.
Dedication to the cause is multi-faceted and constantly presents new ways for designers, retailers and thus consumers to embrace the idea of being committed to these values. Jardan manage the supply chain and production footprint every step of the way and to this end have recently been certified Carbon Neutral through the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard. The brand have held the Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) label since 2007. They employ regular reviews and reports on operational aspects of the business including raw material, waste and energy minimisation and all materials used strive to comply with environmental standards.
VAMPT VINTAGE DESIGN
Vampt Vintage Design– Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
Original, vintage furniture is in a league of it’s own. Beyond what may be required for its restoration or transport, it ticks all the eco boxes by bypassing the need to produce additional items. Pieces handed down over time will always have a je ne sais quoi that a newly produced product cannot match. Sydney retailer Vampt Vintage Design, who specialises in original, mid-century design, was built on the belief of the value in investing in furniture for a sustainable future. No matter what trends come or go, there is always a place for classic, original design.
These are just a few of the many companies doing great work in this area whilst creating stunning, desirable interior products. Consider whether the dollars you save in the short term buying mass-produced goods with no attention to the environment are worth the impact they have on the workers who produced them and the planet that we live on.
Get your Eco Chic Conscience on… points to consider next time you purchase:
Do I really need it? Despite trends changing seasonally, it’s not necessary to purchase new furniture or homewares every time a new trend hits. Find your style and buy genuine, original key pieces that you can keep forever.
Is it original design? It’s not only the known ‘replica’ companies that copy other designer’s work (which often results in mass-production). Be aware.
How many have been produced? Generally you can gauge whether a product is mass-produced, and under what conditions, from its retailer. If not, research.
Does it tell a story? Add some personal life to your interior. It’s not just about displaying desirable brands’ products or making your home look like the picture in the magazine. Anything handcrafted with unique or sustainable materials immediately has a story.
Materials – look to natural materials that are ethically and sustainably sourced, and meet environmental standards.
Production methods – were the workers or designers treated ethically in order to bring you a product at such a price?
Transportation – is there a local option that is just as good? You reduce the product’s carbon footprint via lessening or removing transport. Support local businesses, artists, designers, artisans and retailers that hold some or all of the values we have focussed on.
Does purchase of the product support remote or local communities?
If you must get rid of furniture or homewares, either pass it down, pass it to a friend, sell it or give it to a local community support group that can pass it to others that need it.
Where to go in Sydney for Eco Chic Homewares with a Conscience:
Image via Spence & Lyda