We sat down with Tuomas Tiitinen, Chief Operating Officer of Helsinki-based Anki Rugs, and learned some truly mind-blowing things about how shopping and consumer behaviour has changed over the past few decades. According to Tiitinen, by learning to shop again, we could be doing both local cultures, ourselves and the climate a favour.
In paid collaboration with Anki Rugs.
In recent blog posts, we’ve talked about the climate impact of consumption and how we can’t buy our way out of climate change, no matter how sustainable or “eco-friendly” the products we buy are. A few weeks back, we had the chance to sit down and talk about our current way of shopping with someone who has looked into its history and culture, and who thinks about this question a lot as part of his everyday work: the Chief Operating Officer of Anki Rugs, Tuomas Tiitinen.
Anki Rugs is a Helsinki-based company producing traditional Nordic handwoven rugs, custom-made for their customers. The company was founded in Northern Savonia in 1968 to provide work for local women. Today, its mission is to help customers design and buy rugs they’ll hold on to for the rest of their lives. Now that’s a mission that inspires us!
“We want to make sure our customers are happy with their product years from now and that’s why we offer them the possibility to design their own rug. But It’s actually quite striking how customers react to that. Being asked to participate in the design process is something completely new to consumers of the twenty-first century — people only seem to know how to choose from a variety of products, not how to say what they actually want and need. Instead of fulfilling a need, shopping has become a pastime,” Tiitinen says.
What we learned from Tiitinen, and actually hadn’t thought of before, is that there’s a difference between consuming and knowing how to shop. Consuming could be described as picking something out of a line; selecting the sweater or jacket that most closely resembles what you were looking for or just the one that excessive marketing made you feel you needed. Shopping with skill means carefully assessing the need you have before exposing yourself to the supply of goods for sale – and then actually sticking to your own requirements. It’s interesting to do this test on yourself: when was the last time you bought exactly what you needed instead of the other way around – feeling like you needed exactly what was offered?
“People are prepared to choose something that is good enough, but they haven’t considered that they could create something that would be exactly what they are looking for. In a way, they are more prepared to just buy than to actually shop for what they want”, Tiitinen says.
According to Tiitinen, our way of consuming and valuing different products reflects the changes in society. For example, in the end of the 18th century in Finland fabrics and rags were valuable and thus traditional rag rugs were a sign of wealth. Spent fabrics could be sold as raw material to paper factories, and the peasantry used them to weave blankets to cover their straw mattresses. In other words, being able to weave rags into rugs meant you had no need for extra money and that you could afford real bed linen instead of making rag-bedding.
The industrial revolution gave birth to mass production and now we’ve arrived at a place where it’s easier and cheaper to buy a new rug than take it to a dry cleaner. Some of the rugs in stores today are made to be replaced with new ones as they can’t be washed – they will lose their form or the colour will run off if you try to.
“We seem to have forgotten the basic reason for consumption: It’s about building a life that is functional and aesthetical. Having well designed items should improve our quality of life and not create a home that is filled with useless items”, Tiitinen points out.
In Nordic countries where consumption is high, purchasing products and services often accounts for over 30% of our lifestyle emissions. The largest share of consumption-related emissions are formed during the manufacturing of products (or services). The current norm to buy things only to keep them as long as we find something better to replace them with is a problem. When something is thrown away before it has been used until its end-of-life, the whole manufacturing process and all the raw materials used for it have been almost for nothing. Besides being a waste of work hours and natural resources, it also causes emissions for no reason at all, as well as waste.
“One challenge with today’s shopping in general is that we have focused too much on the fun side of it and neglected to keep in mind the serious aspects. Shopping is and should be enjoyable, but finding the right item that will truly fit and serve you or your home for a long time requires patience, as well as the will to weigh also the invisible costs that you know are there, such as where it was made, who made it and how much environmental damage the production caused. I believe we are now entering the time when we have started to understand the consequences of consumption. It is time to find a balance in this system.”
Our confusion when offered a chance to design the product we are looking for reveals how alienated we have become from defining our actual needs. Taking the time to figure out what it is that we actually need before we head out to look for it would be both conscious and sustainable.
By learning to shop with thought, time and effort, there’s a lot to gain: we get a less cluttered home, we get to surround ourselves with only things that we love, and if we do want to change things up, the resale value of carefully collected quality goods is good. In addition, shopping for what you truly need might save us money and it might mean that we can focus on collecting experiences instead of stuff — and that’s definitely a more low-impact lifestyle.
Sustainable lifestyles are not about living with less, but about living more. On top of that, if we learn to appreciate things and design and materials again, we can regain a respect and connection with our own roots, or with a culture somewhere else – in contrast to the global trends that change with the seasons and look the same everywhere.
“Textiles have a history dating back several millennia. There was a time when textile production took time and effort and therefore textiles were valuable. This value is something that we should bring back to our thinking. We should appreciate our history, and one way of doing this is keeping the good traditions and mindsets alive and giving them a place in our future cultures.”
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