( r e ) introducing products designed to last

woman surrounded by shopping bags excitedly shopping online for more

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

If I wear this *insert garment* once a month for the next year it will only cost $X per wear.


Raise your hand if you’ve used that logic to justify a purchase… *raises all of our hands*


Some might call that girl math but we call it sustainability math.  


We should all be thinking more about products that are designed to last, especially in our society obsessed with overconsuming natural resources and planned obsolescence. As a critical consumer, you need to research brands when shopping, but we think sustainable brands have a responsibility to address the longevity of their products in addition to their sustainable qualifications. 


Let’s talk about it.

first let’s start with overconsumption & what it means

impact of planned obsolesence by Capital One

Image from Capital One

 

Merriam-Webster defines overconsumption as, “excessive consumption or use of something.” We love a definition that uses the root word but at its bare minimum, overconsumption is taking more than you need to survive. 


Of course, there is a delicate balance between enjoying life and overconsuming resources. We want to focus on the overproduction, overuse, over-purchasing, and excessive possession of goods.


Perhaps the industry most indicative of how much stuff we all have is the storage industry. Storage units cover 2.3 billion square feet and the industry as a whole is a $38 billion one. Nearly one in 11 Americans pays a monthly subscription for a storage unit and it’s on track to increase.


But, likely, you weren’t handed the key to an overflowing storage unit from your great-grandparent or even grandparents  — and there’s a reason for that. So how did we get here?

how did we become a society of overconsumers?

girl lying on messy floor surrounded by tons of things

Photo by Darya Sannikova/Pexels

 

We were made of course. 


You’re familiar with the Industrial Revolution, yes?


The time when entrepreneurs ruled; men, women, and children worked 16+ hour days in cramped factories; and the acceleration behind climate change


In all seriousness, from the Industrial Revolution to the 1920s, humans were figuring out 

  • how to make lots of stuff
  • how to make it cheaper
  • and how to make it accessible. 

We saw the introduction of household tools that made life a little comfier and easier. With so much stuff so readily available, people needed a way to buy it and so began life on credit as a means to obtain it all. And then the collapse the credit problem created in the 1930’s. 


But the intention of turning people into consumers was still there. There were a variety of people — thought leaders as we would call them today — “putting out content” about how to turn people into consumers. 


in 1928

Edward Bernays ‘the father of public relations’ wrote in his book Propanda, “Mass production is profitable only if its rhythm can be maintained—that is if it can continue to sell its product in steady or increasing quantity.… it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda … ” (This quote taken from A Brief History of Consumer Culture)


in 1929

Christine Frederick wrote Selling Mrs Consumer in which she encourages people to be open to advertising and “A willingness to spend money, a very large share of one’s income, even if savings had to be cut back or even abandoned, in order to have new things and new experiences⁠.”


in 1932

Bernard London wrote Planned Obsolescence in which he solves the problem of the Great Depression by telling the government to create a life expectancy for every product. “After

the allotted time had expired, these things would be legally “dead”... New products would constantly be pouring forth from the factories and marketplaces, to take the place of the obsolete…”


The Depression eventually gave way as the U.S. rallied around WWII. By the 1940’s the American economy was booming everyone wanted to keep it that way. 


To keep up the production of goods, people needed to be constantly consuming. The solution to making this happen was advertising and we haven’t looked back — until recently. 

there’s another way to consume: critically, ethically, environmentally 

This prolonged emphasis on overconsumption since the 1920s (or 40s), has saturated American culture, blurring our perception. It's been so ingrained that our once-rosy outlook has 

  • We can hear the echoes of exploited labor, even among children.
  • We witness the stark effects of overconsumption on our natural resources.
  • The pungent odor of overflowing landfills and incinerators fills the air.
  • We're even sensing nature pushing back against our excesses.

We are currently living in the consequences of overconsumption. 

sandy beach coveredin piles of liter and garbage washed up from the ocean and left by consumers

Photo by Lucien Wanda/Pexels

 

But you may not feel it because the Global North is producing 98% of emissions. “The United States, Denmark, and New Zealand generate at least twice as much waste per capita than developing countries.” 


It’s no surprise that these conditions have created a new consumer: a conscious one. 


In the past five years, online searches for sustainable goods have increased by 71%. Brands are paying attention because 77% of businesses say that sustainability is directly linked to an increase in client loyalty.


Would you consider yourself a conscious consumer? 

  • Are you part of the 66% of shoppers looking for eco-friendly brands? 
  • Do you gravitate towards the brands draped in blues, greens, and browns?
  • Will the “greenness” of a product be the tiebreaker in your purchasing decision? 
  • Will you spend a little more money if it goes to the birds, the bees, or the trees? 

Us too! We’re proud of it because to be a conscious consumer means you care — even just a little bit — about what you’re buying. And your deviation from mindless consumer(ism) is getting people’s attention.


Do you feel it? 

  • The uptick in brands using words like “green” and “sustainable”
  • The increased usage of recycled plastic
  • The rise in certifications like GOTS, Oeko-Tek, and more.
  • The way you don’t say you’re a conscious consumer? 
  • The weird looks when you say, “No thanks, I don’t need that so I’m not going to buy it.”
  • The pushback, “Well of course you don’t need it but it’s only $5 so you should get it.” 

The best part of it all is that you’re not hiding anything. Critical consumers simply want brands to do better. To stop the overproduction of goods, to address overconsumption, to take some sort of imperfect action.


We’ve been asked (multiple times) why we chose plastic to make our hangers with 100% recycled ocean-bound plastic to be exact. Plastic can only be recycled ~7 times before it loses its integrity. But that’s the point. We wanted to design a product that was designed to last rather than built to fail.

  • Our hangers are strong and durable.
  • They won’t need to be recycled 7 times.
  • We focus not on how quickly we can make a large number of hangers
  • But rather how we can take an existing problem (ocean-bound plastic) and turn it into a high-quality useful product.
  • That you won’t need to replace in 6 months.

Unfortunately, designing a product “built to fail” is a common “business strategy” that guarantees you’ll be spending money with them again. It’s called planned obsolescence, maybe you’ve heard of it? 

planned obsolescence, overconsumption, and the environmental effects

Junk Old Computers in Stacks

Photo by Daniel Dan/Pexels

 

In the 1950s, industrial designer Brooks Stevens popularized the term "planned obsolescence," intending it to get consumers to buy something slightly newer, better, or replace it sooner than required, not necessarily the creation of easily deteriorating products.


But however you look at it planned obsolescence — or environmental obsolescence as it should be called — is affecting the way we buy, our mindsets, and the environment. Today it’s a deliberate strategy used by manufacturers

  • to make their products obsolete or less effective within a time frame
  • which guarantees the customer will have to replace it in the future
  • And to “generate demand” for new products 

It’s essentially making products built to fail instead of designed to last.


Planned obsolescence seems like an invention of the modern era but it’s nothing new. It started in the early 1920s (surprised?) when a group of lightbulb manufacturers intentionally limited the life span of their products. 


A few years later as the automobile industry became saturated General Motors hopped on board and introduced a design studio that upgraded styles and colors so people would want to upgrade (sound familiar?). 


The most common participants of planned obsolescence are the tech and fast fashion industries. 

apple is often in the news for planned (and environmental) obsolescence

  • On older devices, repairing worn-out batteries costs the same as buying a new one.
  • Apple has a vintage list where devices go to die. Once a device enters vintage mode it becomes even more difficult to find parts, replacements, and even do software updates. 
  • Older devices can’t run new software.
  • But that software is required to run the device. 
  • In 2017 they were sued for intentionally slowing down old phones via software updates. 

planned obsolescence in fast fashion

  • Fast fashion brands like Shein have ushered in a culture of microtrends — constantly changing ‘seasons’ to get you to purchase the latest trends or styles. 
  • The quality of material used to make fast fashion is becoming of a lower quality to meet demand and (impossible) price points. 
  • The components of a garment are being replaced with inferior or quicker methods: glue is used instead of stitching, plastic instead of metal, even the stitching or pattern can affect the longevity of a garment. 
  • Underpaid and overworked employees are forced to keep up with high demand — not great conditions for producing a high-quality garment. 

the effects of overconsumption and products built to fail on the environment (and people)

Men Standing in Front of a Storage Full of Trash

Photo by Artem Yellow/Pexels

 

Sadly, overconsumption and the ‘built to fail’ concept have profound impacts on the environment, our habits, and our mindset. 

mindset

Many of us have grown up in a time where we haven’t experienced a quality item (that was a reasonably attainable price point). As a society, we think nothing of disposable products because everything is disposable to some extent. This leads to a society more willing to consume, throw away, and buy again over investing in maintenance and repairs. This also leads to a society filling up the landfills at an alarming level, polluting the oceans with garbage, and having no inclination to build out a functioning recycling industry.


When you can shop with just a quick face scan and finger tap, it’s hard to stop and easy to get addicted. “Shopping and its sensory stimulation get us to visualize positive outcomes,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Bea. Even just browsing, scrolling or window shopping can have a positive effect on your mood. 


overconsumption 

This mindset leads to the current problem of overconsumption. Think about how many ads you get daily (10,000 to be exact). How many scrolls did it take the last time you were on an app before someone you follow (or an ad) perfectly targeted toward you popped up? You can shop right from Instagram/TikTok without even needing to leave the app! How convenient! 


Amazon offers two-day shipping and free returns — so why wouldn’t you purchase that $15 thing that BuzzFeed told you was an “absolute must-have”? Who cares if it breaks or doesn’t work you’ll just return it or throw it away. The mindset of disposable products that need to be replaced inevitably contributes to the habit of overconsuming. 


“As we continue to produce and consume more than we need, the gap between the haves and the have-nots grows larger, and the population in the “have” column gets smaller and smaller as resources become more scarce.” Net Impact

waste, waste, and more waste

Net Impact states overconsumption, “strips the earth of natural resources, such as forests, fish, soil, minerals and water, which collapses ecosystems, ruins habitats and endangers the survival of countless species that contribute to an intricate, vibrant circle of life.”


And reminds us that “80% of the world’s natural resources are used by only 20% of the world’s population.” 


Tech and fast fashion are two of the industries most often guilty of planned obsolescence but they’re two of the most polluting industries as well. 


unregulated mining

Unregulated mining has the potential to release harmful substances into the soil, air, and water.” In addition to creating other environmental issues such as carbon emissions, land and soil erosion, destruction of endangered species habitats, high water demands, and wastewater pollution. Not even mentioning child and exploited labor. The materials are mined to create electronics and due to a lack of recycling abilities, tossed into a landfill to be discarded.


toxic e-waste

E-waste that accumulates in landfills and scrap piles contains toxic chemicals, fumes, and metals. The technology that exists today makes it difficult, unsafe, and not financially viable to recycle the existing materials. As a result, it is often sent overseas to countries in the Global South where it contaminates their homes and landfills and becomes their responsibility to sort through — to their detriment. 


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated in a 2015 report, “that 60-90 per cent of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly USD 19 billion, is illegally traded or dumped each year.”


wasted energy 

Not only is the product itself going to waste but all of the energy and fossil fuels needed to:

  • get the raw materials out of the ground
  • get them to the factory
  • run the factory to make the product
  • transport the product around the world 
  • and transport it once again to the landfill or back across the ocean

This overproduction and overconsumption are impacting the planet we live on, directly contributing to climate change. 


For these reasons (and many more) we think it’s incredibly important for sustainable brands to consider the longevity of their products whenever possible when talking about their sustainable features.

sustainable companies should be designing products to last, not to fail

Recently the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, wrote a piece for the NYT (ironically paywalled) saying, “We can’t afford to keep making cheap stuff” continuing on to say, “low-quality and disposable goods are killing people and the planet.” 


There are many things you can say about Patagonia, but they have been fighting for the planet since before it was profitable cool. They haven’t always done everything right but they’re willing to take an imperfect step forward while everyone else stands around arguing about how it’s not perfect, making no progress at all. 


It seems obvious that Patagonia would make high-quality products — someone’s life could be at stake when using their climbing equipment. The same can’t be said for a set of knives, dishes, air filters, or air conditioners but that might be an even better argument. Sustainable companies should be creating products designed to last because they can, because it’s the right thing to do for your customers, and because it’s the best option for the planet. 


Of course nothing is going to change if nothing changes. The work doesn’t (and shouldn’t) fall entirely on you as a consumer but this is a reminder that your voice and your purchasing decisions have power.


so what can you do to stop overconsuming and stop supporting brands that overproduce? 

Green Yellow Red Needle Pin and Safety Pins

Photo by Pixabay/Pexels

 

We’re not telling you to forgo the latest iPhone (although… no, no), but considering adding longevity and durability to your list of demands and concerns when conscious shopping and of course, we can all work on our mindsets. 


shop secondhand

Purchasing pre-owned items, whether it's cars or clothes, helps you save money and prevents waste from ending up in landfills.


prioritize maintenance and repairs

Investing in taking care of your high-quality products extends the life of your things. It reinforces the importance of repairing what you already have and prevents a fair amount of waste. I.e repairing a dishwasher instead of throwing the whole thing away because one part doesn’t work. France even has a ‘repair bonus’ that will allow people to claim back money after having a clothing item repaired! 


choose sustainable brands (when you can)
This one is always the hardest but as a critical consumer, you know how important it is to do your research. Not just on the brand’s practices and how their products are made but whether they’re designing products to last; reinforcing overconsumption; and not giving a hoot about the end-of-life plan.


adjust your mindset

This might be the hardest of all, especially in an attention economy but let’s start the conversation on not needing so many things. Not purchasing just because there’s a sale and not pressing “check-out” for the dopamine boost. Have these conversations with other critical consumers and adjust your social feed to include deinfluencers and exclude anyone doing “hauls”. 


advocate

Lastly, your money matters but your voice matters too. Advocate for the brands doing things right (with your money) and advocate for legislation that helps address overconsumption (like labor laws in the Global South and right to repair laws). 


It’s really difficult to stop and enjoy what you have when you’re constantly looking at everything you don’t have. We get it! Sometimes it’s nice to look at the people and things around you instead of what life looks like on the internet for a gentle reminder that you’re doing okay. 


Whenever you can shop small, small local, and shop consciously.

 

Shop our recycled plastic hangers (designed to last)

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