Has the pandemic changed people’s relationship with furniture? Here, Nish Parekh, co-founder of KAPDAA - The Offcut Company, suggests that growing demand for sustainable solutions means rethinking the supply chain …
Sustainable living will come to define industry in the new world. In recent years, consumers have turned away from the novelty of single-use materials, investing in local craft and sustainable alternatives – but learned norms of the pandemic era will fundamentally change the way consumers and businesses shop.
Renewed attention to individual purchases and the planet over the last couple of years has made sustainability not only viable but necessary for retailers and suppliers. Above all, the shift to remote work highlighted to consumers the value of quality, long-term purchases that reflect their values. Limited in where to spend disposable income, the consumers that could afford to do so shopped around through the pandemic, and pressure on small traders renewed sympathy to buy from local, independent businesses championing upcycled and recycled furniture.
This is good news for manufacturers now facing the strain of post-pandemic inflation. Where in the past patchwork decor may have seemed miserly and crude, end-users now welcome businesses that can do more with less. Ersatz furniture made from offcuts and recycled materials can, today, be sold on with no loss of profit, and those wishing to stay competitive must look for a new model of keeping costs down.
Both consumer demand in general and global supply chain issues will continue to push up prices into the new year. A recent report published in City AM suggests 60% of firms expect to lift prices in the next three months, with the cost of buying materials up +14% in the UK, and retail, manufacturing and construction all pegged to be hit hardest. But, rather than searching for shortcuts – cutting wages, lowering quality – the trends around value show there is some elasticity in the prices of truly sustainable goods.
To the point, this creates opportunities for businesses to reuse and recycle waste more widely. In 2022, soft furnishings like cushions can easily be created out of waste fabrics and stuffed with old materials without offending the consumer. Rather than looking for less expensive materials, manufacturers can parade the fact their furniture has made effective use of every last piece of material offal, keeping landfills clear and consciences pure.
The solution scales, too. Delivering items in reused cardboard is more likely to win over the modern consumer than to turn them off, and, according to a survey commissioned by international branding and customer experience agency I-AM, 74% would be happy to wait longer for a sustainable delivery method – making shipping instantly more attractive than expensive air haulage. This also grants flexibility in minimum orders, creating new customers where they wouldn’t have been before.
Likewise, retailers appealing to businesses will find their decisionmakers in a similar bind. Increased demand for staff coming out of lockdowns has given workers more freedom to leave jobs that don’t align neatly with their values – 20% of young people would now quit if their employer was unable to guarantee a sustainable business policy, found a survey carried out by Trainline Partner Solutions. Pushed to save money, retailers offering sustainable products made from waste material will have a competitive advantage over those offering plasticky new furniture at a higher price.
The pandemic pushed many to consider their buying choices for the first time. If nothing else, the last two years have given us time to think – about the importance of our individual efforts to help the whole, about the frailty of life, about the threats facing the planet and humanity itself. Those who manufacture and sell the products upon which we all rely must answer to and utilise these new priorities in order to soothe customer concerns.
We start 2022 better for it – better equipped to question our behaviour and to call out the inconsistencies between our beliefs and our actions. As values change, the entire ecosystem must adapt to usher in this profound, improved new normal.