Will the tropical leaf print pillows that are currently on your sofa end up in the trash along with the black and white chevron throw you had three years ago? If fast furniture continues to rise as quickly as fast fashion has, the answer is yes.
According to EPA statistics, over nine tons of furniture and home furnishings ended up in landfills in 2015. In an ideal world, all consumer goods would be sustainably manufactured and affordable. But that isn’t the world we live in. Is it really worth it for consumers to overextend themselves financially for the sake of being green? Where should we draw the line and it is possible to find balance?
Fast Fashion To Fast Furniture
In previous decades, great deals on furniture could be found in stores (likely with the word discount in the name) that sold the whole room. Packages would include a sofa, loveseat and coffee table for a low, low price. They’d even throw in a free set of lamps. But that’s no longer the only game in town.
Several fast fashion retailers have parlayed their popularity into the home market. A great example of this is Zara Home, which offers lots of chic designer décor dupes for every room in the home. They also have a limited selection of furniture including occasional tables and chairs.
However, fellow European fast fashion retailer H&M has a different approach. They don’t offer any furniture, but have a larger selection of décor and accessories. There are several lines within the home collection including Conscious, which features items like pillows made of sustainable organic cotton. In fact, the brand’s larger goal is to use entirely 100% recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030.
Wayfair Gets On Board
Wayfair has always offered a lineup of products in every price range from sofas under $200 to over $27k from its upscale brand Perigold. In June, they launched Hashtag Home, which is specifically marketed as fast fashion. The line has furniture and accessories for every room in trendy, social media friendly colors. It’s a smart, bold, and honest move for the brand.
Consumers are smart enough to know that the inexpensive pieces they’re likely to assemble themselves with tiny screwdrivers might not even make it to their next apartment, never mind their grandchildren. So why pretend otherwise?
They Don’t Make It Like They Used To
It’s fair to say that many Millennials and likely some of Generation Z spent enough time in the living room with Dad’s old recliner or a sofa that never really needed to be replaced. But, it will likely be a different story for their children. “[Furniture] is becoming more disposable than collectible and that means pieces are not well made enough to be handed down through generations,” says interior designer Barbara Schmidt of Studiobstyle.
Much like fashion, it’s easy to find inexpensive versions of designer styles. “The most pinned and popular styles are offered by vendors cheaper, faster and with less quality than ever before. As a designer, I see iterations of expensive designs in the major chain retailers almost as fast as a new trend hits Pinterest,” she says.
Schmidt feels it is very important that consumers, designers, architects, and builders look for eco-friendly, ethically and sustainably sourced products. “Even with these efforts, we wonder if it’s enough to help the environment and slow climate change. I’m a big proponent of reusing pieces and upcycling furniture to give them new life. This is the truly sustainable furniture that I want to source for my clients.”
Schmidt takes as much personal responsibility as she can, by recycling building materials, furniture, fixtures and anything else that can be repurposed. She also donates supporting leftover design materials like samples, wall coverings, fabrics and tile to artists.
The Need For Fast Furniture
While many furniture purchases are wants, need is also a factor, especially when families have to fill a larger space, explains Brian Sheehan, marketing manager of Hollingsworth. “In a world where mortgages are increasing, people are still having to move from apartment to apartment and need new furniture to fit their spaces,” he says. “With an efficient supply chain, people are less likely to move furniture from home to home. Instead, it is more convenient to sell/throw something away and replace it with upgraded furniture.”
Sheehan recognizes while this may not be the best for the environment, it’s worth stating that 13% of Hollingsworth’s warehouses are occupied by fast furniture. As much emphasis as we put on sustainability, in reality, fast furniture isn’t going away any time soon.
Subscription models are one alternative to fast furniture that’s on the rise. Startups such as Fernish and Feather have reinvented the rental business offering stylish pieces from well-known retailers. While the average family isn’t their customer, people who are in transitory life stages are.
The used furniture market is also thriving in different ways. Many people are buying and selling higher quality pieces used through Facebook Marketplace as an alternative to Craigslist.
Kaiyo is another online marketplace that sells only pre-owned pieces. They say they’ve kept over 800,000 tons of furniture out of landfills.
In June 2019, Poshmark launched The Home Market. While furniture isn’t available yet, a variety of home accent categories including bedding, bath accessories and wall art are.
While the environmental impact of fast furniture is clear, that isn’t the only problem. Eugene Kim, who is the founder of home furnishing brand Dims says there are issues to consider. “Most furniture is made with the cheapest possible finishes and adhesives, which (not surprisingly) means they emit hazardous fumes and pollutants,” he says.
Dims uses premium Greenguard certified finishes and adhesives on all of their wood products because they meet rigorous standards for low emissions of harmful chemicals. “These materials do cost more but as furniture makers, we think it’s a no-brainer that the furniture we make should not actively harm our customers,” Kim explains.
In addition to ending up in landfills, synthetic fibers in textiles can be hazardous in other ways, says Armadillo & Co co-founder Sally Pottharst. “Armadillo & Co purposefully avoids synthetic fibers due to the fact that virgin synthetics are made from fossil fuels, which expel huge amounts of energy to extract oil from the ground and to manufacture.”
So how does the average person find balance? Thinking about footprint is one approach. Generally, the larger a product is, the more sustainable it should be. For those on a budget, items that don’t need to be durable like occasional tables, accent chairs and decor can be purchased inexpensively. Then choose high quality sofas, beds, dining tables, etc.
It’s also possible to find pieces built to last at a reasonable price. Kyle Hoff, Co-Founder of Floyd, started the brand to find that happy medium. “You can make a product out of recycled materials all day, yet if it’s something tossed out a year later, what good is that? In addition to quality materials and being deliberate about how our products are manufactured, we think one of the biggest differentiators is really designing the product to be kept. That means you assemble and disassemble it.”
The brand’s furniture is designed with parts that are serviceable, so if something breaks in the future, only a component needs to be replaced.
Hoff also believes that style can be part of sustainability. “While most furniture companies are focused on this season’s sofa, Floyd is spending years perfecting a product that we’ll stand behind for years to come, a critical factor in the equation of creating a timeless piece.”