Carol O’Callaghan talks to the woman behind the new push for long-lasting products in a throwaway culture.
Hands up anyone who has ever heard of Joy Mangano? Well, neither had I until I saw Joy recently, a film loosely based on the inventor of household products that work in the way we need.
Most famous of these is the self-wringing miracle mop with built-in longevity, thanks to a removable, machine-washable head that doesn’t have to be replaced when it became a stinking, greasy mass.
In the middle of the film I had a flashback to an ancient vacuum cleaner that lived under our sofa.
Having once belonged to my grandaunt Mabel, who bought it 30 years earlier, it was still doing a perfectly good job of sucking up the debris of domestic life.
Hard to believe, isn’t it, but there was a time, and not that long ago, when products were built to last.
Washing machines and kettles are just two of our household goods that have become throwaway items, and not necessarily because we’ve tired of them or they no longer match our décor, but because they break down, and are often designed that way deliberately.
This is called built-in obsolescence and it’s costing us unnecessary expense while increasing manufacturers’ profits, and rubbish to landfill.
In a moment of virtue I began an online hunt for durable products, a task I expected would yield little without massive time investment, but instantly I came across Tara Button, an enterprising English woman who has already done longevity research which she’s made available to us through her website.
If you want homewares, gadgets, tools or even clothes, Tara has the information, and while she doesn’t sell directly from her website, a ‘buy me’ button next to each product takes you straight to the supplier.
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The idea came to her while working in advertising in London.
One of her clients, the French brand Le Creuset, (which is noted for the durability of its products and gives a guarantee for life), got her thinking there must be other manufacturers and products like this.
“I didn’t want to drop my life at that point to do anything about it, but my eco-conscience kept nagging so I decided to build a website,” she says,
She also has strict criteria for something to make it onto the site. “I want a no-quibble lifetime guarantee, even if a rhino stamps on it — and a classic look that won’t be outmoded,” she says.
It’s been a time-consuming process and remains so, as she continues to increase the range of products.
“I would spend 11 hours searching for the right light bulb,” she says, “and still not find the right one.”
Her philosophy is simple: Buy something once and tick it off your list so you don’t have to keep buying the same stuff over and over again.
Admittedly, prices are often higher than a product that doesn’t last so long but it won’t have to be replaced in a couple of years.
However, what was once an idea, now manifested, is also a crusade, as Tara campaigns for legislation against obsolescence, where manufacturers are obliged to keep spare parts indefinitely.
“We need to vote with our wallets,” she says. “Washing machines should have a 15-year guarantee instead of three.
Imagine one that can be fixed, where you won’t be told they no longer have spare parts, and if it breaks completely the manufacturer will take it back and reuse the parts?” she asks.
It seems there are plenty of converts to her way of thinking.
“People who visit my website don’t like waste, landfill or the idea of throwing away tables, chairs, appliances, computers and shoddily-built products.
“They also like that someone has already done the research for them,” she says.
With people now writing to her from the US and recommending brands she might not already know, she is developing a second website aimed at the American market and has made the brave move lof going into business full-time, just last month..
She’d also like to hear from more manufacturers for the site, “as long as they are durable and sustainable,” she says.
“If we can talk about sending men to Mars and have them survive, we can blinking well design a kettle that doesn’t break for six years.”
My favourite is a pair of socks that have a lifetime guarantee. Really, if we can achieve that, we can achieve anything.
Next week: Furnituremakers of the future
Easy storage and multi-function define the Astro, a range of oak trays in five different sizes which slot together.
Designer Nestor Campos was inspired to create them after attending a workshop at NASA where he contemplated the relationship between order and chaos.
Uses include keeping jewellery tidy on a dressing table, keeping office paraphernalia in order, or for serving food and drinks.
Together they have an expression of harmony but look equally good used separately, thanks to lovely rounded organic forms which characterise the design.
From €14-€55 at www.normann-copenhagen.com.
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Before you land yourself in the dog house of romance, take a dash around your local shopping centre and pick up one of these for St Valentine’s Day
Candlelight is a must on Valentine’s night. Try the retro-patterned votive holders from Next Interiors to create a romantic atmosphere (€9 for set of three).
What could be nicer than a photo of a special moment you’ve shared, set in the LOVE frame from Penneys (€4).
Dream of summer days ahead and intimate picnics for two with the Spring Bloom heart-shaped hamper from M&S (€60).
Healthy eaters will love a gadget like the 3-in-1 Ultimate Juicer which combines a fruit and vegetable juicer with a smoothie option and soup blender all in one (€149).
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