“Brand” is one of those words – a little like “luxury”– that feels the very antithesis of “sustainability”. For many, it bespeaks glossy magazine ads, splashy parties, and a general glitz that feels gross, vulgar.
And in many ways it is, as it pumps up demand for things we don’t want. But ironically, for all the importance of using sustainable materials and processes, the single most important act of sustainability is to not create more waste to begin with.
In our society, waste implies that there is no market demand for a given item and that while it may have inherent value, it doesn’t have economic value. And things that lack economic value are waste. SO the imperative is to create value.
One of the most powerful ways to do that is through brand. In classical branding parlance, brands create a preference. They help buyers make choices among a variety of options. Over time, a brand becomes a signal – a shorthand – of quality or design. In that way, it begins to make one product more valuable than the one next to it, not just in the short term, but in the long term.
This even applies to the altluxe, very assertively non-brand / post-brand world.
It’s de riguer for an artisan, indie designer, or craftsperson to say that they are committed to sustainability because they’re creating “heirloom quality” goods of enduring value. They insist that they do not create throw away products and that their products will be handed down from generation to generation.
But what if that next generation doesn’t want that heirloom product? What if the current generation tires of it for whatever reason? Do we just have higher quality throwaway?
There are, of course, alternatives to the dumpster. Take it to a consignment shop. Better yet, pop it online, on eBay, or a high end consignment (aka “re-commerce”) site like The RealReal. Find someone with a thriving storefront on 1stDibs. Find a global audience, all hungry for lovely, timeless, products. That’s the theory, at least.
Here’s the challenge, though. If no one knows that makers “mark”, it’s far less likely that that product will be bought. Sure, a discerning, committed dealer could take a shine to a particular piece or maker and pump up the promotion, but that’s the exception not the rule. And IF that no-name product is sold, it will be sold for less: it will be less valuable.
The VALUE of product isn’t just about its inherent quality. It’s also about the market, and the demand for that product. And that’s where brand comes in. Brand isn’t just about selling more in the now. Brands are about increasing the value of an item in the future. For anyone who purports to care about sustainability and not creating a throwaway, branding matters.
For all those “timeless” products to be truly sustainable and maintain their value across the generations, they need to be associated with a great brand. Not necessarily big and beaudacious. Just great.
It’s not easy. But it is possible.