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'There's no future in finding value only in the new' - meet the women adapting the circular economy to interiors


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Caroline Foran and Jo Linehan, founders of GAFF Interiors and the new GAFF shop

Caroline Foran and Jo Linehan, founders of GAFF Interiors and the new GAFF shop

Co-owners Caroline and Jo have just opened their online shop where people will be able to share, swap and sell pre-loved homewares

Co-owners Caroline and Jo have just opened their online shop where people will be able to share, swap and sell pre-loved homewares

Mihalis A. - stock.adobe.com

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Caroline Foran and Jo Linehan, founders of GAFF Interiors and the new GAFF shop

Welcome to Ireland in 2020, home to a generation of renters and barely-on-the-ladder homeowners. Ireland is currently at its lowest rate of home ownership in more than 50 years, and property prices and low stock levels make trading up difficult - so as a nation, we have turned our attention to making the most of our current living spaces.

Interior styling is the weekend hobby of choice for many 30-somethings: you may never get to own or to move, so you're sure as hell going to make where you are now look good.

The Covid-19 lockdown kicked this into overdrive. For many who may never have had time to consider their home decor before, the endless days of being at home sparked a period of closet-clearing, shed organising and home-rejigging, and a new interest in updating their interior decor.

And thanks to the arrival of a slew of affordable high-street homewares ranges over the last 10 years, that has become easy and inexpensive to do.

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Co-owners Caroline and Jo have just opened their online shop where people will be able to share, swap and sell pre-loved homewares

Co-owners Caroline and Jo have just opened their online shop where people will be able to share, swap and sell pre-loved homewares

Mihalis A. - stock.adobe.com

Co-owners Caroline and Jo have just opened their online shop where people will be able to share, swap and sell pre-loved homewares

A new wall print, rug or lampshade for less than €20 might be just the retail hit you need on a Saturday to spruce up your living room and boost your mood. Think about it like your wardrobe - you have the staple pieces, the ones you invest in that stand the test of time, but you also have the trend pieces, the ones you impulse buy, wear twice, and then forget exist.

Where fast fashion went, homewares has followed suit. According to Mintel, consumer spend on furniture grew by 4.5pc to £17.2bn (¤18.7bn) in 2018 in the UK, and the stats in Ireland are on par. We are spending more and more on our how our homes look.

However, all of this home-bird activity is set against the backdrop of a changing time. Before the arrival of the pandemic, 2020 was set to be the year of sustainability. Green goals are key issues for our newly formed government. That overall shift in consciousness has been present in our consumer behaviour, too; we began this year proudly wielding our bamboo toothbrushes and KeepCups.

According to a study conducted by PwC in 2019, socially, environmentally, and locally conscious retailers and brands who demonstrate responsibility and sustainability have a competitive advantage in Ireland.

"Companies need to be mindful of the growing ethical and ecological consciousness of their customers," it stated, "And those same consumers are increasingly willing to pay a premium for products and brands which are transparent about the sustainable origins and production practices of their goods. Forty-one per cent of Irish consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products."

As Covid-19 hit, that trend was compounded. Without access to high-street shops for that delicious retail fix, many of us slowed down and re-evaluated our shopping habits. Do we really need to buy something new every time we leave the house? Probably not. In fact, despite the images we saw of winding queues for the likes of Penneys and IKEA when they reopened last month, many of us have shaken off the quick-fix shopping habit.

It's not all been good news for green advances when it comes to the Covid-19 effect, though: disposable masks and discarded latex gloves are littering our streets, and we have a real challenge on our hands when it comes to balancing our health and hygiene concerns with the waste-management challenges of creating a cleaner Ireland.

As the publishers of online interiors guide GAFF Interiors, the environmental impact of the throwaway homewares culture has been playing on our minds over the last few years. We knew we needed to do something to accelerate our effort to be more sustainable within the interiors industry.

One of the biggest barriers to sustainability is that we don't want to have to sacrifice. No one wants to give up their favourite mascara just because there's a cleaner, more eco-friendly version available. Many of us choose to ignore the truth about our favourite retailers and their ethics in favor of that retail hit or Instagramable moment.

So we asked ourselves the question: how can we help people enjoy being creative at home and explore their interior style, while also helping protect the planet?

The answer for us, lay in the circular economy model, the best example of which lies in the fashion industry. A recent report by thredUP, an online platform selling secondhand clothes, estimates that in five years' time, used and second-hand clothing will be a bigger market than the luxury clothing sector - and within 10 years, it will outstrip fast fashion.

In early April of this year, online second-hand luxury retailer Vestiaire Collective managed, in the midst of the Covid crisis, to secure €59m in funds to help grow its platform - further solidifying confidence in the future of pre-loved purchasing power. Vestiaire Collective currently boasts nine million members across 90 countries, a customer base which it credits to a backlash against fast fashion and a desire to dress well and refresh your wardrobe without sacrificing the planet.

Closer to home, we have the likes of designer fashion re-saler Siopaella. "Siopaella was founded upon the belief in sustainable fashion and a circular economy," says owner Ella De Guzman, who now runs three stores in Dublin city centre alongside a burgeoning online e-commerce business. "For us, the secret to making a pre-loved bag or piece of clothing as covetable as a brand-new one is our attention to quality. We authenticate all of our items and if there's even a 1pc doubt in a product, we don't take it in.

"People know when they come to us they're going to find something secondhand, yes, but also really special. You are buying something unique, and in doing so you are also preventing the manufacturing of something that already exists."

We decided to take this same approach and adapt it to interiors.

Our GAFF Interiors Instagram is the hub of our business, the place where we connect to our audience, and what they need. We regularly fielded questions from followers asking us where they could sell their good-as-new sofa. They didn't just want to send it off into the ether, they wanted to know it would go to a home where it would add value, and be enjoyed. They wanted to know how their beloved bedside locker, which no longer worked in their new apartment, could be adopted by another interiors lover. We knew we had to create a place online to do just that.

We spent two years designing and creating GAFF Shop, an online marketplace for pre-loved interiors and furniture, which launched this month. Sellers can create an account and upload pictures and info about items they want to re-home. We personally approve every item, to ensure each piece is GAFF-worthy, and then potential buyers can browse and contact sellers to arrange a deal. It's simple, sustainable and it solves a big waste issue when it comes to interiors shopping.

Our hope is that our Instagram community will now have a place to share, sell, and swap homewares in a way that allows them to fulfill their interior style goals. Long-term, we'd love to see GAFF Shop become a place where retailers can sell out-of-season pieces or items that have been on the shop floor that now need to be disposed of. Why can't we create a circular economy within Ireland where interior and home pieces enjoy a long lifespan? For us, there's no future in finding value only in the new. Appreciating items that have a story, or have had a life before they come to you is a new way of thinking that opens so many doors and opportunities. We want GAFF Shop to be that doorway.

Already the excitement has been palpable among our audience, with many people telling us they can finally shift a few things that they couldn't bear to dump. Some are excited to shop GAFF-approved interiors pieces at a more affordable price, while others are looking forward to shopping in a new, sustainable way.

For us, this labour of love is about to set a new standard for how we shop, live, and decorate. And we can't wait for you to join in. The future of sustainable consumerism doesn't have to be drab, boring, and boiled down. Thanks to the power of pre-loved marketplaces, it can be anything you want to be.

For more information on GAFF Shop, see gaffinteriors.ie

Sunday Independent