This column was written for CRAFT09: Crafting green in August 2008.
A good friend of mine recently married a guy who is devoted to minimizing his ecological footprint by consuming as little as possible. She totally appreciates this, no problem, but at the same time she wonders if being green and having little bit of luxury in their life from time to time are mutually exclusive desires?
My colleague Tuuli Sotamaa and I recently asked 100 people to answer a simple question: “what does luxury mean to you?” Instead of associating luxury with money or any imaginable form of wasteful consumption, the majority of the respondents connected luxury with a lifestyle rich with time, space and love. Many said it is luxury to eat food made of healthy and tasty ingredients, spend time in nature, enjoy beautiful interiors, and have time for personal development. Doesn’t sound too wasteful, does it?
Some years ago Ikea constructed an ad campaign around the spitting image of a haute-couture designer who boycotted Ikea for selling design furniture at prices regular people could afford. An example would be the Ikea Frosta chair ($12.99), a copy of Alvar Aalto’s classic Stool 60E ($255.00). Ikea’s copy is cheaper because it is mass-produced in China using low-cost materials.
Harvard Business School’s innovation theorist Clayton Christensen would call Ikea’s business model disruptive innovation because it is floods the market with the same design at a much cheaper price. Still, business success that relies on cheap labor and cheap materials has time and again been shown to plant the seeds of humanitarian and ecological catastrophe.
We are also not proud of things that have a suspicious past. Cheap things don’t feel like luxury, because luxury is not just a sensual, but also a social experience.
In the recent Sex and the City movie there is a wonderful experience of consuming luxury in a sustainable way. Carrie notices that her assistant-to-be brings a genuine Louis Vuitton handbag to the job interview and asks the young woman (Jennifer Hudson) how she can afford it. Her answer is: “I rented it”. Indeed a breed of new online services, such as borrowbagorsteal.com, froxylady.com, and fashionhire.co.uk offer designer dresses, hats, bags, sunglasses, and jewellery for hire.
We are already used to rent apartments, washing machines, paintings, bikes, laptops, phones, copy machines, badminton rackets, power tools, and even pets for short periods of time. But perhaps we should think about renting and borrowing on a broader scale, as a real alternative to owning.
Apartmentreviews.net has calculated that if we need furniture for less than two years, it’s smarter to rent it. The same should apply to 90% of the things we need daily. Renting can save our money, avoid the hassle of delivery, assembly, and repair, not to mention getting rid of stuff once it’s no longer needed.
The idea of luxury typically infers ownership, but perhaps renting is really the practice that embraces the idea of sustainable luxury. To consume more ecologically, we need a large-scale renting revolution. Renting quality should be the next disruptive innovation that shakes up the market of buying cheap.