welcome to trend timesa column that explores design fads in the age of doomscrolling.
Browsing through TikTok can sometimes feel like the algorithm is a capitalist machine pushing you to buy things you didn’t know you needed but suddenly desperately want. According to the company, TikTokers are 49% more likely to post product or service reviews than the average internet user, frequently selling “viral” products as #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt hashtag, which has over 19 billion views.
And for what seemed like an eternity – but it was probably only a week this year – the object of today’s obsession was the Ultrafragola Mirror/Lamp; even though it was designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1970, it aligns almost too perfectly with the chic nursery aesthetic that is currently in vogue. I’ve always coveted this playful piece, but just wrote off an Italian mirror that cost over $10,000 on First Dibs as out of my price range. Until the TikTok girls find a solution.
My friend who was moving and needed to furnish an entire house texted me, asking what I was thinking: should she order a “dupe” from China, using a site like Alibaba or Aliexpress? Yes, it would still cost over $1,000 once shipping was included, and it would take god knows how long to arrive, but was it worth it anyway? I had seen this sort of thing before with sofas too. One woman claims, for example, that you can get a “custom togo sofa” from the same Chinese manufacturer as the original, even though the actual togos are all made by Ligne Roset in France.
Counterfeit ethics aside, one buys a mirror made in China for the same reason one buys a mesh shirt on Shein for $2 – although the link between fast furniture and fast fashion isn’t enough. established. Called flat or ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture because it is often disassembled in a box, your Amazon chair is cheap because labor in China is much cheaper than labor in the United States, it can be made very quickly and it is lightweight. , which facilitates its distribution. Instead of being made of pure (heavy) wood, as most furniture was before the mid-20th century, the RTA is made of lightweight particleboard or medium-density fibreboard – essentially particleboard. compressed wood, often glued with glue or held together with plastic. .
Anyone who’s owned one of Billy’s Made Every Three Seconds bookcases knows they’re not “made to last”, but that doesn’t really seem to bother young people, especially those who grew up shopping online. For many, speed, ease and cheapness are expectations built into the consumer experience. There are other forces at work, too: Unlike their grandparents, who had the privilege of buying a house and staying there for the next 50 years, Millennials are broke nomadic renters. Maybe they don’t care if something has power, because they will probably move to a new apartment with new dimensions next year. Home decor trends follow one another at a dizzying pace, not only as a byproduct of social media, but also of the unstable cultural forces that shape our lives.
While it seems many shoppers are somewhat aware that fast fashion is problematic, few face what happens when you throw a Wayfair end table in the dumpster in favor of the latest. enthusiasm for cottagecore. Some 12 million tonnes of furniture and furnishing waste (also called f-waste) is created each year, and most of it cannot be recycled due to its composition. For context, in 1960 the number was 2 million tons – and a growth in population does not explain this 567% jump. (Even between 2005 and 2018, furniture waste increased by 30%.)
As with fast fashion, given the societal issues that make RTA furniture so popular, it is unfair to place the burden of waste reduction entirely on one individual. The lion’s share of the responsibility should lie with the big companies that create it and the governments that regulate them. Likewise, insisting that someone is morally bankrupt because they can’t afford to buy a handmade dining table from a local craftsman for more than they make in one month is absurd.
But it’s not one or the other; Raising your hand entirely as an individual eliminates the fact that there are more resources than ever to source affordable, durable and unique furniture – and some of it is even free! My interest in second-hand furniture in particular did not start out as a lofty pursuit; I have always been addicted to hunting. I love that vintage pieces keep your home from looking like an Ikea showroom – and what a bonus that a 1955 bookcase doesn’t shake when you put books in it! During the pandemic, when I wasn’t free to roam my local Salvation Army, I became obsessed with digital alternatives, which I discovered were even better and cheaper. Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and my neighborhood Buy Nothing group are full of people who want to sell their stuff and are in such a rush that they don’t really care about making money. Others simply like to give away valuable things for cheap or for free.
Although it feels like it’s taking place in an entirely different world, there is something of a community of creators with a passion for sustainable decoration operating inside the “mall” that is TikTok. They’re dedicated to showing you how buying local (or even just dumpster diving at HomeGoods) can benefit more than just your aesthetic. Over the past year, the ‘#furnitureflip’ hashtag has grown 23% as users aim to emulate the work of people like @graceful_designs_diy, which teaches nearly 600,000 followers how to salvage and inflate furniture from landfills , and Amanda Smeltzer, a 30-something who flips furniture she finds on the side of the road to pay off her student loans.
Rehabilitating furniture is beyond my abilities and certainly a very big demand for your average consumer, but you don’t have to literally do it yourself to reap the benefits of consuming this type of content. These creators inspire us to think more creatively about our purchasing power and what is already available around us. If anyone can do that for a set of $20 nightstands, surely you can take a few more minutes to browse Craigslist before hitting “order” on Amazon.
When my friend asked me if she should buy the counterfeit Ultrafragola mirror, I asked her to think about what she could get locally on the same budget. After moving to Milwaukee, wasn’t it worth investigating what’s at a garage sale or OfferUp? Or maybe there is even a local artist who would do something bespoke for half the price?
We both agreed it was best to ignore this viral trend and instead go flea hunting at her new town flea market. Now, six months later, we both laugh at how China’s Ultrafragola mirror dupe would likely arrive; we had already long forgotten that it once ruled our deadlines.
Top illustration by Tiago Galo.
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