Slow design trends and challenges

In terms of sustainability, when using the word “fast”, we immediately think about fast fashion. But as the market for luxury furniture is expected to grow, sustainability is just as relevant for this industry as it is for fashion.

Kodzia Edenharder

By Kodzia Edenharder27 juillet 2021

The YOKO line of outdoor furniture by Rolf Benz, Design: Toan Nguyen (Rolf Benz)

Luxury fashion giants are put into spotlight and often criticised for their insufficient actions. What people often forget, is the sheer market for fast furniture, which does not receive the same level of publicity. As the market for luxury furniture is expected to grow by USD 6.5 billion until 2024, sustainability is just as relevant for this industry as it is for fashion. On top of that, we have seen soaring home furniture sales during the crisis, as people became home-centric and started to redecorate, repair and refurbish.

What does it take to produce slow furniture?

Buying second-hand items is not just a trend, but something necessary for conscious change

Barnebys co-founder Pontus Silfverstolpe

For centuries, the most influential design country was Italy. However, in the past decade, competition arose more and more from the Nordic design countries Denmark and Sweden. While Italian brands, such as Armani Casa, are combining heritage and craftsmanship with R&D, Nordic design is often rooted from newly established companies. As in any major industry, CO2 emission reduction is becoming a key priority. The biggest lever to minimise the footprint, is local sourcing and production - which, due to the complex supply chains, is the biggest challenge at the same time.

The famous Made in Germany brand Rolf Benz is sourced within a radius of less than 60 miles(Rolf Benz)

According to a study by Dodds & Shute, Swedish furniture brands locate their manufacturing within a radius of less than 450 miles on average. Italian brands produce their products within a radius of no more than 300 miles. A notable example is the German design house Rolf Benz. Known for its famous “Made in Germany” brandmark, the sourcing of its main materials takes place within a radius of under 60 miles. But there is a lot more to slow interior than only local production. Starting from using renewable materials, assuring a non-hazardous production, respecting labour rights, and enabling recyclability of products. The latter one is a major weak spot of the industry. Since products are assembled by using many different parts and materials, recycling becomes complicated. Rethinking design and using innovative technologies can help to close the gap in order to reach full circularity.

Study by Dodds & Shute (DR)

Modularity, simplicity and innovative materials

The Bell Chair in recycled polypropylene created by designer Konstantin Grcic of the Magis brand (Magis)

Design brand Magis has proven its effort towards a sustainable innovation with the “Bell Chair” by Konstantin Grcic, a stackable monobloc seat made of recycled polypropylene. The brand took it to the next level with the modular sofa “Costume” by Stefan Diez, which can be arranged flexibly with numerous combinations. This exemplifies two mega trends of the luxury design industry: Modular interior and innovative materials. The advantage of multi-functional design is obvious, they can be adapted to chang living conditions and thus support a longer lifecycle. Season-less and simple styles are required for these kinds of products in order to increase longevity. Novel materials can further help luxury brands to respond to customer demand for greener textiles. Among which, recycled plastic is often used by many designers today. However, it is controversial, whether this is tackling the root cause of the sustainability problem. Nature based materials, such as mushroom leather or pineapple fabric, could really satisfy the emergent demand for organic and ecofriendly luxury furniture. But industry experts are in agreement that these are still in the early stages and far away from commercialisation at scale.

The Costume modular sofa by Stefan Diez from Magis (Magis)

So, is this enough? Taking a series of sustainable actions are a commendable first step, but real sustainability can only be achieved if it is molten with a company’s culture and mindset. What we need are purpose driven companies to design ethical products, while using sustainability marketing to provide transparency and consumer education.

Digital antique auctions putting circular economic intro practice

The desire for sustainability and exclusivity leads to a comeback for antique auctions. This is not a surprise, as antiques follow the origin of design and reflect the ideal values of artesian craftsmanship, tradition and storytelling. It sounds contradictory that the renaissance of antique trade is led by young, trend-oriented millennials. But the new mindset of this conscious generation, who will represent two-thirds of the luxury market by 2025 according to Bain & Company study, leads to a redefinition of the concept of luxury. Sustainable investments instead of throw-away mentality, timeless instead of short-lived trends and a sense of responsibility for the environment & people instead of downright consumerism. Auction platforms are adapting to the needs of these digital natives, such as Christie’s offering special sales for "first-time online bidders".

According to Barnebys co-founder Pontus Silfverstolpe, “buying second-hand items is not just a trend, but something necessary for conscious change". This industry naturally reduces CO2 emissions and minimises waste, by giving products a second and third life, thus puts the idea of circular economy into practice. In addition, the return to pre-owned, or much more pre-loved furniture decelerates mass production.

Sustainable products can only be realised by design

Designers play a significant role in the sustainability transition. They have the greatest power to influence and lead the way, as design is where everything starts. Holistic sustainable products can only be realised by design. However, this mindset starts with education, which is why we are seeing more and more design students and graduates going public with ingenious ideas. All in all, sustainable design is ready to voice new awareness and push the boundaries.

This article is the result of an editorial collaboration with the digital media Haus von Eden.

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