We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, so when the yearly shopping expedition for school clothing came around a familiar pattern emerged. My brother and I would choose our jackets, then my Mum would run her fingers around the seams and give the zip a bloody good yank. Eventually an item that met her strict criteria would be found, and we could all sit down for a burger at Huckleberry’s – an ersatz McDonald’s also serving onion rings, which counted as exotic food back in 1980s Southampton.
I’ve found myself running my fingers along the seams more and more lately, both literally and metaphorically. Occasionally I’ll tut, and I’ve even emitted the odd “eeeh”. That’s right, I’m turning into my Mother. Still, since those halcyon days of greasy onion rings on the precinct, there’s been an explosion of disposable consumer goods and it’s getting harder to know how, and where, to find genuine quality.
That’s where Tara Button comes in. She founded the website Buy Me Once to address the issue, and she’s written a book that sets out a great foundation for a more responsible, happier relationship with shopping…and, perhaps, life in general. We sat down for a quick chat about advertising and what makes a good product.
What inspired you to write “A Life Less Throwaway”?
I’d come up with this website where you only found things that you wanted to bring into your life for a lifetime, if you were looking for more sustainable and more durable options than the current disposable shopping situation. That was a practical tool, but the whole philosophy that sits behind why you should buy for life – you can’t really get it across in a tweet or a Facebook post, it needed a larger medium that sets it all out. Why we consume the way we do, why it’s a broken system, why it’s damaging us and how we can change that.
“A Life Less Throwaway” pulls aside the curtain on the seductive world of advertising and marketing. For those who haven’t yet read it, are there any simple ways to defend ourselves against their tactics?
The very simplest is to look at them sceptically – to be awake in your mind, to be critical. When you see a model looking down her nose at you, realise that what they’re trying to do is make you feel like she has a higher status than you, so that you buy what she has.
The best defence against advertising is being mindful and pre-planning what you want to bring into your life. If you’re bumbling through and you haven’t really thought about it you can be very easily swayed by advertising…so if you think about what’s important to you and what your values are, then you’re being much more proactive about what you consume.
You previously worked in advertising, which you describe as a “moral wasteland”; can you tell me a little more about that?
I found it difficult because some of the brands that I was working for weren’t necessarily adding to the happiness of humanity. So, I was selling chocolate and my brief was to increase chocolate consumption in children, which I found particularly difficult. There were a lot of high sugar, high fat brands that we managed to market as health foods, essentially. A lot of the messaging was based around this portrayal of perfect people with perfect lives – it was a little bit like what’s happening on Instagram, with everyone scrolling and seeing all these filtered lives and feeling that their lives aren’t as great. In real life there isn’t an Instagram filter following you around, there isn’t a hundred people with blow driers. I feel like advertising is damaging to people’s mental and social health.
There are some handy tips on how to find well made, long lasting products in “A Life Less Throwaway”. Do you have a particular product that ticks all your boxes?
There are a couple that I like for different reasons. I love my pen that has enough ink in it to last a lifetime – that’s pretty extraordinary, isn’t it? Then you’ve got Solidtekniks which have a multi-century warranty – they’ve been made in a way that people will be digging them up.
On the other side of things, there’s sustainability. Items like Elvis and Kresse, which come with a lifetime fixing guarantee but also are made out of recycled fireman’s hoses, they’re taking waste out of the system. I’d say that was a perfect example of a product that’s both sustainable and durable.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’re constantly researching, finding new brands. We just came back from the sustainable fashion summit in Copenhagen. The book is about to launch in America and I might be about to record some masterclasses as well, which will be pretty cool. We’re also looking to have “Buy Me Once” as a certification in its own right, so brands can display it on their packaging.