Welcome to Season three of the PROTECT podcast. If you’re a new listener, sending you a warm welcome, and for my returning listeners, welcome back. I’m truly appreciative of all your time. Now we’re beginning the season with a very exciting episode.
I’ve talked to a lot of NGOs, climate change experts, people leading ethical projects, but today I’ve taken a different angle. We’re going to have a global futurist give us an in depth forecast on trends, societal changes, and how consumers, designers, creators and retailers are moving forward and have been redirected by a pandemic into a future where nature is truly at the forefront.
While COVID has been terrifying at times, heartbreaking, financially destructive, out of it, many of us have found peace. We have discovered just how much we were overusing nature’s resources. Many of us weren’t aligned with our personal work values. We were over consuming, overcompensating, just doing more and more.
But things are changing, and things will change and today I’m delighted to bring an inspiring and thoughtful conversation to you with Victoria Redshaw, who is a lead futurist at trend forecasting agency Scarlet Opus, who are dedicated to providing trend forecasting services to the interior sector, internationally and are headquartered in the UK.
Their clients include national and multinational retailers, designers and manufacturers of products for interiors, as well as home builders, architects and exhibition artists. Victoria delivers keynote speeches at trade shows conferences and exhibitions internationally, as well as leading the design and curation of trend hubs and trend tours at trade shows.
She is a panel judge for interior design, architectural and product awards, and has written articles for many trade journals, consumer magazines and newspapers, and has been featured in the Financial Times, Sydney Morning Herald and Australian House and Garden to name a very few.
I’ve also been very fortunate to work with her in the past and while Victoria is the go-to on interiors, we’re not talking about colours or what’s in or out today. But instead, Victoria and I will move into a larger conversation on a return to naturalness, zero waste materials, the environmental mindset of consumers and the circular economy.
And we discuss just how we got to this exciting place and how we will evolve from here. There is a lot of value and goodness in today’s episode. So let’s get started and I hope you enjoy our discussion.
Angela: Victoria, thank you so much for joining me on PROTECT today.
Victoria: Thank you for the invitation. It’s my pleasure.
Angela: So, let’s start with 2020, which has been a challenging year for everybody. Could you let us know what it’s been like for you as a trend forecaster and for your clients?
Victoria: Wow, 2020. For several weeks of the first UK lockdown, and as we’re talking, we are just coming out of our third. I personally felt slightly in shock I think at first it was a really surreal reality to try to process and accept and it was like we’d all suddenly being cast in this Netflix disaster series unwillingly. And our clients initially, in all honesty, they panicked at first. Physical exhibitions of course, were banned, stores were closed, and it really took them time to adjust. And at first, they froze and the last thing that they were thinking about at that point was future trends in two to three years’ time. They just needed to figure out the reality of the now situation. There was a lot of firefighting and a lot of trying to make things that already existed, work for them in a total new reality and there was no way that we’re going to shoehorn that into working.
Whilst they got themselves together, as a company we faced, of course, a lot of cancellations, cancelled exhibitions, feature work, cancelled seminars, cancelled trend reports, and I’ll be honest, that was pretty stressful at the time, Angela. But it didn’t take long for things to change. It didn’t last very long and I think that I have a deep belief and faith in human beings that we are resilient, we’re really adaptable, we figure stuff out – that’s what we do.
And that’s what happened with our clients and that happened with us as well. They embraced digital technology, they took their shows onto virtual platforms, they accepted Zoom into their lives of course and then they redesigned their warehouse systems and their processing systems and the sudden influx of online orders that at first, though, I think they were quite terrified of. And then they got their heads around it and they dealt with it and the adoption of digital technology, obviously, that’s been accelerated by years in the process of everything that’s happened with a pandemic.
And then they came back to us.
They came back to us more open, I think, more human than they’d ever been in their interactions with us, from a business-to-business kind of interaction point of view. And we then delivered these really fulfilling and innovative and exciting interactive projects and it enabled me to speak to more people in the world at one time then we’d ever done previously, I would say.
So, on a personal level during that first lockdown, I took time, like I’m sure lots of people did, to contemplate. And during those really long merged together, groundhog days, I sat. And we were really fortunate in the UK, we had this freakishly hot, early spring it was it was like summertime here, and a lovely level of new quietness, and this gorgeous birdsong that we could suddenly hear because there wasn’t the hum of the traffic and everything. I just sat and really calmly thought about the purpose of the business, but also encapsulated within it my purpose as well, what I wanted our legacy to be as a business. I thought about how the pandemic would affect everything in the future and then I did what I do. I researched and contemplated and analysed, and I wrote. And during that great, long global pause of the spring of 2020, I wrote our forecast for 2022.
Angela: Wow. So, the slowing definitely worked for you.
Victoria: It did, and I hadn’t even realised how fast paced life had become and how we’d gotten locked to this track. And also how time had become something that was very, very fixed. That you did these things at certain times and you’re expected to work between then and then and that has become much more fluid – and I’m enjoying that. And that allows a lot more control of your own life. You know, you don’t have to do certain things in the morning, certain things in the afternoons or evenings or when you do personal stuff.
We started purposefully as a team moving days around. So going, okay, we’re going to have Saturday on a Tuesday. We’re going to have our Thursday on a Sunday – mainly because we just desperately needed to change because every day was just a Tuesday for the longest time.
Angela: Absolutely. And I guess you travelled a lot for seminars and things. So, it’s probably allowed you to connect with so many more people now.
Victoria: Absolutely, and people ask me about travel. And I always answered yes, we travel a huge amount. But it wasn’t until we stopped travelling, that I really realised how much we did travel and how much that was maybe taking out of us as well. You know, the jetlag, the time out to recover from all of that of both ends of doing exhibitions and trips and how intense those meetings and those actual events can be, in some ways, you know, that it’s a really, really encapsulated environment, particularly when you’re at an exhibition.
Though, these kind of very condensed intense days, you know, a lot is expected of you. And we were whizzing around the world doing this constantly. And for me always trying to give our best, you know, that’s really important that we do it to the best of our abilities and that we better ourselves each time. You’re asking a lot of yourself a long way from home, constantly. It was good to just stop. That pause felt really healthy, the quiet, felt healthy. And time, whilst everybody you know, in a way was really on this big pause to be able to think okay, what is my life about? What am I doing? What do I want to change? What do I want to keep from this current situation, actually, as we come out of it, what do I want to continue with what’s become precious?
Angela: Brilliant. So, with everything slowing, I want to just clear up what the word trend means. Especially in mainstream media here, in Australia. It’s regularly misused as a fast fashion term or seasonal word but it’s actually embedded into our history and in our movements. So could you please define it or redefine it for us if it has changed?
Victoria: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, the word trend and my absolutely most detested word trendy – I can’t bear it. It’s really lazily used to talk about fads, fast fashion styles that are having a moment , crazes and upticks in sales of particular types of products and that can be something that you know – that that lasts a long time. There’s a near obsession I would say with colour trends. And really that’s something that’s used as a marketing tool to create a pseudo desire and implant a type of fearful you know, you’re not in, you’re out inner voice in consumers simply in order to drive sales.
So it’s a manipulative use of the word trend and it suggests even to some degree – promises that you can make life changing purchases, when in fact, it just delivers, let’s say a new purple handbag to add to your other 20 handbags – it isn’t life changing. It’s used to drive constant replacement, constant newness and that encourages a throw away consumer mindset. And in the process, it’s also completely screwed up people’s perceptions of the word need. I’m digressing, but you know, there’s a big difference between the idea of needing something when actually it’s just that you want it. And whether that’s a genuine desire as well as something that’s really interesting to us as trend forecasters, but me personally as well. Well, to what degree is that being manipulated and driven by outside sources?
My objection to the word trend essentially, though, is that it is mostly at the moment connected to stuff. So products and the persuasion of the purchasing of products when actually, we as trend forecasters approach trend from the starting point of people, citizens, society, and yes, later products, but we’re primarily focused on examining social change and the reasons the catalyst, the mood and society sentiments, people’s behaviours. The shifts in society and opinion. What’s on people’s radars, how are they reacting to things, what’s happening now, and then what that means for what could happen next. And of course, as I already mentioned, the wants and the needs and the desires, but also their fears, and their ambitions and their objections and their passions and their causes, their political stance. It’s all about the people.
So whether brown is the new black is way down our list of priorities, and I can tell you that kind of stuff, and I can tell you what the new millennium pink is you know, it’s yellow, fine. But that isn’t the first thing that we figure out. It’s the last thing. And it’s the least important thing. It’s the most important thing for “selling product”, it seems to factories and retailers. What are the new colours that you know, that’s what they’ve got us in the room to understand but often times, that is driven by so much more. And that’s what fascinates us. And I think that that’s the information that’s important that the manufacturers and the retailers understand everything that takes you all the way up to figuring out what shade of blue is what’s really important to understand.
Angela: There’s so much background work isn’t there?
Victoria: That’s the important stuff. It’s understanding people not saying, “let’s drive a desire for tropical prints and you know, a new shade of purple,” because no one’s got purple have they at the moment – we haven’t bought that for ages. So we’ll bring that out and then they’ll be forced to buy something because we’ll make them feel as though if they don’t, they’re not really clued into what’s happening in the world of Instagram.
Angela: Now to RESET, which is one of your forecast reports. So, I’ve been fortunate to have a sneak peek and there are some incredible observations of what can happen when we reduce human activity and movements through this pandemic. The way I’ve seen it is that it’s allowed nature to breathe and as you said earlier, humans to breathe. So tell us about – I guess a lot of countries are still in a mid-pandemic – but mid/post pandemic observations and what RESET is and what it will look like.
Victoria: I really like that idea of nature breathing. I think that that’s really nice, Angela, and you’re so right, perhaps unexpectedly for many people, the restrictive measures that were introduced around the world – and we’ve still got them in the UK – to try to reduce the spread of COVID. It’s really brought nature into sharp focus, you know, and I think that has been unexpected, positive in many ways people reconnected with nature, sometimes for the first time in years.
On a very deep and physical level, I think there’s a widespread appreciation, a realisation even that we’re just a small part of a much bigger ecosystem, and that we need to live in harmony with nature. And the resistance has reduced regarding the reality, the validity of climate change. People have seen for themselves in their own towns and cities as well as obviously images that have been shared online, the impact of things like less commuter traffic that’s resulted in a drop in pollution. They’ve seen clearer waters, they’ve seen animals of nature coming back into spaces. So, really, a new appreciation of the well-being benefits and the beauty of the natural world, the great outdoors. And when you’re trapped indoors, the only time that you can leave your home is for an hour to exercise, suddenly being outdoors breathing in the fresh air, seeing the open sky sea and greenery hearing the birdsong. It becomes really precious to us and we can appreciate it on a whole new level.
I believe that part of that pandemic experience has kickstarted a much greater urgency to act and what we’ve witnessed can’t be disputed or ignored. Now, you can’t unknow that so the environment’s very clearly improved, I would say, from our normal life being put on pause. Perhaps also, there’s been something in the whole awareness of how vulnerable we are – that feeling of humans being vulnerable ourselves during the pandemic, that might have given people a greater empathy, or at least an awareness of the vulnerability of the species and the environment at large. So, I think that’s given us a new, perhaps difficult, but very enlightening perspective and it’s awakened us to the degree to which we’ve disrupted the equilibrium of everything.
Angela: For the longest time as well,
Victoria: Yeah, and we’ve put ourselves in the chain, you know, we’ve been so comfortable in this idea that this is all for us. And we can manipulate it and harness it, and we can engineer it, and we can mine it to our needs and it feels as though the world has gone down. You’re just part of this whole chain. And it has to be balanced. And you can’t go back to normal or a new normal. We need to stop talking about that.
Angela: Yes, I remember, New Year’s Eve here was quite flat, obviously. And people were like, “Oh, 2021.” And I thought nothing’s actually going to change when that minute clocks over unless we change.
Victoria: Absolutely. This talking about going back to normal. I don’t think the restoration of what once was is the way to do this. This isn’t about going okay, “let’s go back to 2019”. You know, it’s not that. The pre-pandemic model wasn’t relevant or stable or sustainable then, it’s certainly not going to be now. And there are amazing opportunities for green recovery and to base things much more to do around the environment, green financial systems, all sorts of things. It’s not sustainable economically, environmentally, to just take a massive step back. And it feels like the world and people have moved on. And to some degree, we’re certainly feeling as though and what we’re hearing for people around the world is there are elements of the way things have been over the past 12 months that they want to keep in their lives. And yes, there’s a degree of cherry picking in that, but I think that there is this much greater awareness about how we connect through in that chain of the environment, and an appreciation of it being so valuable, and that we need to make change.
Angela: Yeah, I like that – a green recovery, that’s exactly what we need. So, I want to ask through your research, you’ve identified 2022, where action will finally take place. But does that mean that we’re still working, researching on how we can improve and why next year for us to actually do something?
Victoria: I think that like anything that happens in your life, that’s big, it takes time to process that and then to actually make permanent step changes in your life. But people are changing their attitudes, they’re changing their behaviours broadly speaking. I think we’re seeing that people are much more on board with the idea of a green recovery post pandemic.
So, as I’ve mentioned, green economies, green renewable energy sources, more sustainable food systems – which is something I’m passionate about – green technologies, cleaning the oceans, and so on. It’s a great opportunity to develop new processes with investments that’s built around green principles. So, trying to reset our relationship with nature, and doing that with the planets, tolerance levels in mind. So, pushing us all and easing us all into transition towards, I suppose, Climate Neutral economies eventually in healthy ecosystems. But obviously that needs to be a global effort and alliance. You have to put aside some cultural and political differences and work together. Sharing knowledge creates synergy.
So certainly, one of the important things that we see happening this year, which will then push into actual action for 2022 is the UN’s climate conference. So COP 26 is scheduled to happen in November this year in Glasgow, and that will draw attention to environmental issues very much. It’ll help to refocus efforts that will define where we’re at right now, which is important to take a measure of the situation. And it will also clearly define what’s yet to be achieved, and crucially, the actions that have got to be taken to meet climate change targets – we think about things like the Paris Climate Agreement and so on, we need to close the gap between PACs and action. And I think that that will really kickstart in 2022.
So, whether that’s City Mayors and presidents – good to have America back on board of course – architects and town planners, retailers, right down to consumer level as individuals. I feel as though the positive change is coming. And it is things like carbon neutral cities.
So it’s something that Copenhagen is hoping to achieve, I think by 2025, but Copenhagen is UNESCO’s World Capital of Architecture in 2023. And their theme for that is “Sustainable Futures – Leave No One Behind.” So that’s going to be really interesting to see. More urban farms being built using natural construction materials rather than concrete in our cities. That’s something that’s happening in France, it’s part of Macron’s bid to have France become carbon neutral, eventually. The buildings that are financed by the state, they’ll need to be built from 50%, at least 50% natural materials, and they’re building 100 urban farms across the country. I’m sure with lots of plastics and things, but we’re seeing legislative change in the UK and Europe, India, China, so many places, banning single use plastics, and taxes that are coming through.
And 2022 is a year in which Holland will I hope and I hope the situation will allow it – there’ll be hosting the once in a decade, iInternational Horticultural Expo Floriade 2022. And they have a theme of growing green cities. So we’re seeing all of these things happening 2022 through into 2023. So yes, I believe it will be a year of action. It will be a year when we face the realities and the challenges of moving into a new way of living.
Population stress – we need to balance that against lowering carbon emissions, we need to balance that against protecting natural habitat, basically cleaning up our act. And I think that’s the time where we’ll really see that set-in motion.
Angela: Sounds like a very exciting time. I’m sure you know, I’m very passionate about cities because of the grander scale impact they can create when you bring nature in. Okay, so let’s move into the next question, which is the myth of newness, and how that is slowly disappearing, such as the fashion industry, reducing their seasons, less product launches, what have you observed in this space?
Victoria: Yes, the notion of strict seasons, I think it’s changing. The concepts of time, as we’ve talked about sticking to schedules, all of that’s been really profoundly changed, certainly within the fashion industry. And we’re dedicated to the interiors industry but obviously, we have a keen eye on what’s happening in fashion. They’ve slowed down the collection schedules, there’s been a smoothing out, I would say, of collection launches due to the pandemic. Just letting the process of creation and development lead the timings and inform the launch dates much more.
So it’s more of an attitude of it takes as long as it takes, which I think is really healthy for creative process. The industry is adjusting its cycles, basically, it’s changing the crazy situation that it used to have were by – I’m sure you would have spotted this – different seasonal schedules. Spring clothes coming into stores before winters anywhere near ended and then the autumn clothes coming into stores, when it’s still very much summer. That was always crazy, it never made sense. It didn’t help the retailers. It’s not relevant to consumers. So the brands, also showing collections and the big fashion houses showing their collections, and then the buyers having to wait months before that was ever received. All of it was out of sync.
So, it’s much better to slow the creative process, stop the pressure of rushing to meet a fictitious seasonal fashion show schedule. And also, don’t feel obliged to bring anything out unless it’s actually worth bringing out. So wait until it’s really good, and it’s relevant, and then launch it when it can actually be purchased, I would say.
So the whole concept of fashion week’s London, Paris, Milan, New York is being rethought. And the pandemics proven that it’s not the only way to do that. It’s forced timings. It’s hugely expensive, financially, environmentally. These elaborate shows – people flying around the world. It’s really refreshing I think what we saw in the past year of very stripped backed photoshoots and stripped backed shows, digital presentations of collections that we could all access together, not just a select few people.
It was even really interesting and exciting, refreshing to see avatars being used and see puppets being used in the place of models (not wanting to do any models out of their of their jobs), but all of that creative thinking. It was like the restrictions of being restricted- it was actually hugely unrestricting as well. It opened things up massively, creatively. So it was a real catalyst for creativity I think in many ways.
And to some degree, both for fashion for interiors, I think it levelled things out as well. So the smaller designers and the smaller brands, were able to showcase their pieces, their collections of clothings, or their collections of product in a way that got them the potential of equal coverage to the big players. So that was healthy.
So there are positives that we need to acknowledge from the lockdown experience. It allowed fashion designers and all sorts of other designers that were working from home to return to a purer state of creativity that was less commercially focused, maybe those commercial pressures were moved away. And to create something that was more personal.
Anyway, we’re moving to and shifting towards a trans-seasonal situation and I would say for us as trend forecasters, we’re not really far off the situation where it won’t be appropriate anymore for us and it won’t be relevant for our clients to have spring, summer and autumn winter forecasts. And from an environmental point of view, that’s really important because what we want to do is reach a point of timeless design, when no one feels pressured to constantly regularly update and replace, unless that is a true and pure choice. And it’s also maybe for a practical reason, because, you know, it’s really massively wasteful.
And that’s a tricky one, because our clients, manufacturers and retailers primarily, as well as interior designers and so on. The manufacturers and retailers are in the business of making and selling stuff, right? And they push the idea that constant newness is something that is needed, and that constant newness will make you happy. So the design world has got the potential to make a really major contribution to drive forwards, an environmental change that’s really positive by stopping that perpetuation of the mess, that constant newness is a must.
So they could for instance, really simple things. In many ways. These are things that if you talk to grandparents, if you think back people used to repair things. It’s like failure’s being designed into products, to force us to replace them. They could design and make products that are easier to repair or to replace component parts. They could offer refurbishment programs so that products don’t have that failure that’s designed into them anymore, that forces this disposable status on so many products and encourages consumers to replace things.
And as consumers, obviously, we can decide not to buy into that myth of newness as well. We can decide that we’re going to let the evidence of ageing and weathering and use be signs that our products are loved, worn and that those qualities can be something that are admired and enjoyed and bring back memories, they can, you know, have a nostalgic value to them. We can also buy pre-owned, and we are seeing that in a really big way that these objects, whether it’s clothing or products for our homes, that are secondhand and pre-owned, they have a real story, you know, that gives a lot more life and a lot more interest to products and thankfully, we are seeing that.
People are buying secondhand products, they’re swapping and sharing and renting. We’re seeing it hugely in the fashion sector. Huge growth in secondhand clothing market and that sets to really, really continue to rise. We’re seeing it happening in interiors too. But overall, we’re pushing for and hoping for and seeing already as a move from fast to slow, or at least slowed. So “slowsumption” and from that constant newness to lasting quality, durability, timelessness, trans-seasonality, making our homes a sanctuary from stress, calming, reducing anxiety and reestablishing a sense of control after a period where we’ve all felt very much out of control. That what was happening in the world, we weren’t at all in control of it and also to a certain degree of also feeling really, really controlled by government, by the state and by the world at large. So taking back that sense of individual control, and letting go of that constant state of striving for more and more and more and newer and new.
Angela: And consumers are definitely driving it. I just feel particularly with fashion last year, it just felt a lot more accessible. I didn’t have to scroll the socials or wait for the fashion journals or fly to Paris – not that I’m actually invited to see the show – many were live streamed. And the consumers are the ones sharing that information. So, it’s a bit of a traditional word of mouth, which is great.
Victoria: Yeah, it felt much more direct didn’t it? Like you were actually directly in contact. And so yeah, it does roll into question a lot of the things that are in the middle that don’t necessarily need to be there.
Angela: And it’s very interesting what you said about failure being built into products that’s really made me think. So in Australia, it’s still a little bit I guess, a bit of a surface conversation. But zero waste, veganism, secondhand economy, you know, it’s growing, which is fantastic. But as you mentioned, if we’re looking for products now, if we do need to purchase that are a lot more thoughtful, they’re a lot more timeless. So in terms of materials, what will the future of materials be?
Victoria: We clearly want to live in a world with less toxicity and pollution and waste is a really important thing. We need to aim to design out waste. But where there is waste, we need to find a way to use it. And part of the circularity movement to try to use materials that already exist – that are already in circulation. So, products made from products as well, rather than producing and using new materials all the time and all the energy in the waste that goes into that.
So the reuse of waste materials is absolutely crucial. Recognising the potential of things like the food and agricultural industries waste. Reformatting that to create new biodegradable materials, that’s a really exciting area. So things like grape pomace – so that’s the solid residue that’s left over after wine grapes have been pressed for the juicer. Basically, it’s the skins and the stems and the pulp. That can be used alongside other materials like sawdust, and bio binders to create tiles and planters and all kinds of products. Food waste from supermarkets and restaurants. We’ve seen that transformed into tableware, for example. So it brings it you know, right around and places it in front of you on the table again.
We’ve seen lampshades made from plant-based materials that can be compression moulded made from byproducts from the agricultural industry that includes things like hemp, and tobacco and again, grape pomace with bio binders. And actually, I’ve seen hemp fibres that have been pressed into solid forms using an adhesive that’s composed of calcium hydroxide and casein. So they’re found in milk. And then that resultant solid material can be used to make chairs and room dividers. It’s really amazing.
And none of these material examples need to be artificially coloured. So the natural materials and the waste materials actually determine the finished colour and the effects. So, we need to accept that type of uniqueness and individuality and things not always being cookie cutter exactly the same. You know, that’s part of this.
I’m also really excited about fish leather. I’ve worked in the food industry, of course, and obviously they’re seeing, you know, a commercial opportunity, but nevertheless, the traditional leather tanneries working with the fishing industry and the food industry. You’ve got all this waste fish skin and the results are really gorgeous. Mycelium, of course I’m talking about alternatives to leather and things. Mycelium’s a really fascinating material, the vegetative part of the fungus that consists of this kind of massive thread like strands. And that’s looking like an alternative to leather. I’m sure that you’ll have seen Stella McCartney created an outfit from it recently.
We’re also seeing that used in a slightly different form to upholster small pieces of furniture. And it can literally be grown in the form of panels as well. So it can be used for insulation panels and obviously then that’s going to be completely 100% compostable as well. So that’s excellent.
Algae is another really exciting area. So huge potential there. Designers exploring how it can be integrated into building facades when we think about healthy cities. So it can purify water, it can be used in tiles that can filter out toxic chemical dyes and heavy metals out of water. So interesting things for the fashion industry to look at.
Some research we found recently from researchers at Imperial College in London, they’ve printed like a cyanotype bacterium on to electrically conductive nanotubes on paper. So that creates a wallpaper that can act as a solar panel. So basically, the bacteria is able to perform photosynthesis, and then electricity can be generated. So you’ve got a bio solar panel. So just that’s exciting that’s going on.
SeaCell – that’s an Austrian made fibre that’s produced by embedding dried and crushed seaweed into cellulose fibres, that uses nanotechnology to do that. And then this can be woven as a material. And again, that’s 100% biodegradable, it’s carbon neutral. And alternatives to concrete. You know, we think about cities – that’s incredibly important that we do that – and we’re starting to see materials that use oyster shells and lobster shells again, seafood and the aquaculture industries ground down into a powder that can be combined with organic binders to create concrete like materials – terrazzo like appearances.
Seashells are rich in calcium carbonate. That’s the same thing as limestone effectively, which is used to make cement. And that’s a key ingredient in concrete. So, you know, nature has the answers, we need to look to nature’s technology for a lot of these things. Waste from the fashion industry of which there is a huge amount that can be used, it can be recovered, it can be repurposed. Keeping it out of landfill is absolutely crucial because it’s so much energy and water and so one that’s used in making clothes, it’s crucial that clothing stays in circulation in whatever form even if shredded up and pads out cushions. It’s not waste until it’s wasted, right?
Angela: Absolutely, it’s a true circular economy. Some of those materials are insanely groundbreaking
Victoria: Yeah, sometimes it’s nature as well that has the answer. And sometimes it’s that we need to address the waste that we’ve created. This idea of I’m going to throw that away, there is no away. So once it’s a big pile somewhere, we need to look at that and designers need to look at waste and think, what can I make from that rather than the opposite way round of saying, Okay, I’ve got this design, what can I use to make it that extractivism attitude? We need to turn that on its head.
Angela: Absolutely, and landfill is just that – it is landfill. So let’s talk about one of the most harmful materials, which is no secret, plastic. So many states in Australia have committed to a ban on single use plastic and it’s slowly been driven out from straws and bags. It should happen over the next two to three years. From a material perspective, do you feel that plastic will be completely removed from design products in the near future? And do you also think it would be unethical to produce products that use plastic unless it’s from a medical standpoint, for example,
Victoria: It’s something that a lot of our clients are talking to us about and seeking advice because as you say, there’s a lot of change that’s coming at a legal level. Whether that’s tax or major changes in law and our clients in truth are struggling to face the full reality and accept the reality of the plastic problem. And that might be because they you know, they sell a lot of plastic, although they have people within their memberships, say if it’s kind of a trade association that have plastic products, or they’re actually manufacturing products themselves. But manufacturers and designers and retailers do have to eventually accept that no matter what their arguments are made in defence of plastic, and they are trying to do that regarding its practical attributes. And it was decades ago seen as a wonder material. It’s about perception. And it’s also about doing the right thing and plastic is perceived as pollution by an increasing number of consumers.
And when consumers think plastic these days, they think ecological damage. And arguing the merits of it or explaining the differences between single use plastics and multiple use plastics isn’t going to remove the powerful images that we’ve all seen of turtles choking and birds regurgitating micro plastic, you know, it’s horrendous. So yes. plastic is on a trajectory towards being an untouchable material.
Plastic free is a marketable positive already being used. There’s a study by UK’s National Oceanography Centre that suggests that there’s actually more than 10 times as much plastic in the oceans than we previously estimated. Ocean plastics are getting a huge amount of coverage on street TV shows and documentaries, the media generally and vast swathes of the public of citizens. And that ultimately, that means consumers, they’re on board with this. And also reducing and eliminating the use of plastics in our homes is a small change that we can all make. Collectively, that makes a really big difference. And I think people want to feel empowered by the changes that they’re making in their homes and this is something that they can do.
So predictions now point to a world population of close to about 8 billion people in 2022. And each of those people are acquiring things or disposing things with material possessions all the time. So billions of decisions being made every single day and all of those decisions have an impact. And better decisions, more considered decisions can reduce that overall impact and plastic is part of that conversation.
Ownership of the impact of our lifestyles as consumers for sure. But also, the choices that designers and manufacturers and retailers make is absolutely crucial. The ultimate objective, of course, the goal of environmental campaigners, and some politicians and consumers at large, is driving all of this. And it’s about alternatives to plastics ultimately, some of which we’ve already talked about.
It’s also about taking all of that post-consumer waste plastic and making something from it, you know, all of the glasses frames and the E-waste, you know, the television screens and the monitors and the keyboards and everything that we throw away from our homes or, you know, half of the stuff that we’ve got on our kitchen, worktops that needs to be used again, until we reach a point where we’ve got a really, really different view, as you say, on the plastics, that is good plastic and bad plastic, and we don’t allow that new plastic into our lives.
Angela: And I think, yeah, as you said, the recycling of the plastics is just a little bit of a steppingstone before it’s actually deleted completely. The purchasing decision is in the hands of the consumer and we’re seeing a lot of that here as well. Plus, we’re also being encouraged to vote with our dollar for our local councils and politicians who can make those changes on a grander scale.
Victoria: We have that power, you know, in our purses really, don’t we?
Angela: Definitely. So that leads on to my next question. We’ve actually seen a lot of this happening already, because during the pandemic, a lot of us were locked down to a five km zone, curfews. So we were forced to shop local, particularly those that travelled. But some people are staying local, and they like supporting their corner store or the families and those type of companies and retailers. But from an environmental point of view, do you see consumers stopping purchasing or supporting these retailers who are not making positive climate contributions?
Victoria: I do. Yeah, I think it’s a case of companies needing to adapt to what is an increasingly environmentally conscious consumer. And you’ve got to adapt to their wants, and what they are going to come to expect or suffer the loss of sales, suffer the loss of the loyalty, more and more people are putting sustainability and environmental impact at the very centre of their purchase decision making. And companies, I think that make a determined effort to at least reduce the impact will gain approval and support from consumers.
And that’s what we’re encouraging the manufacturing clients that we work with to do. To look at the factory emissions, look at the waste materials quantify the energy that they use, the environmental cost of transporting raw materials, the components or the finished materials. Look at their packaging choices, look at everything and just acknowledge, where are you at right now. Take responsibility, be transparent. That’s absolutely crucial as a first stage, quantify it all admit to it. And then you can move on to make positive changes.
That actually reminds me of a company. It’s a Norwegian brand called Vestre. They’ve calculated the amount of energy that’s used and the carbon footprint of every piece of their outdoor furniture. And they are listing the CO2 emissions that are generated by each of its products and putting that in their catalogue alongside the product price and the other spec information. So it’s in Vestre’s 2021 catalogue.
The company has created environmental product declarations epds for their entire inventory, and the independently verified numbers. The analysis spans everything from how the individual raw materials are extracted to the moment that the finished piece of furniture leaves the factory, including all the energy that’s been used in the production and the waste streams that the transport emissions that are generated along the way, all of it. And they’ve done that in a bid to foster greater transparency and accountability in the furniture industry, but also to help consumers to make more environmentally responsible purchasing choices, because they need the information, right?
Consumers are coming around to what you’ve just mentioned, Angela. They’re really thinking about only handing over money – that hard earned money. And as we go into, you know, financially very uncertain time over the next few years, they only want to hand that money over increasingly to businesses that align with their own values. And that are at least trying to reduce the negative impact and not just greenwashing their efforts, and are environmentally and ethically on the same page as them saying – and I think consumers are expecting progress, not perfection, they don’t expect it to be a 100% change overnight. But they do understand that there’s a situation now where when you buy something, you cast a vote for that company, and you say, “I agree with all of the things that you’ve done in chain of making this product happen”. That’s what it is, when you actually buy something you are condoning and saying yes, I agree with that. And so unless we are much more principled about our purchasing, then manufacturers and retailers will take our purchasing as a sign that we can just continue to do this. It’s fine.
Angela: Exactly. Well, that’s really refreshing that type of transparency. Because that’s one of the biggest things I find frustrating is having to do the research is having to find out where was that garment made? Who made it? Where did it come from? Where are my vegetables coming from this week? Are they coming from the top of Australia? Are they coming from a local farm? And to have that there just makes the purchasing decision much easier and more ethical.
Victoria: Yeah, I’m not sure whether the onus should be on consumers to dig that out. And it is, though, isn’t it? It takes time to find out and I believe consumers need to take that time at the moment. But it should be right there on the label.
Angela: Yes. And I did one of my earlier podcasts on climate anxiety in people. And that was one of the big things, people put that pressure on themselves. And it is so hard to be completely zero waste if your retailers and your favourite designers aren’t doing the work for you – in that sense. Which leads me to my next question. How can we put our expectations on them? How can we communicate to them that we want them to do better because we want to support them?
Victoria: Yeah, I think we should rightly have huge expectations, not only of retailers, but you know, if we think about the beginning of the chain that, you know, designers and actual manufacturers as well. You know, it starts with the designers choices of materials that they can be encouraged to – I think of it as a type of Hippocratic oath – to first do no harm to the environment, when they’re designing first do no harm to the environment, where do you begin to manufacture something, or at least design with that mindset from the outset. The responsibility doesn’t just lie in our hands at the hands of consumers, but at the feet of the designers and the retailers and manufacturers. And they do need to face up to their failings and remedy some of the damage and the waste, particularly. And the encouraging of the overconsumption that they instigate through their marketing as well. They need to make products without making problems.
And I think that literally making a promise before the design process begins, would focus the minds of designers on their responsibilities and the impact of their work. They can turn that design process on its head, as I mentioned earlier, they can think about what could I make from existing materials rather than what materials can I use to make my design a reality. And repurposing it is a really crucial part of that whole movement to use the waste materials and the off cuts, the residual materials and the byproducts and designers and manufacturers need to think hard about what else can be made from or done with their waste and take responsibility before it leaves their facilities.
And they need to design products in such a way that they’re designing out waste as far as they can do from the onset – do it from the get-go. Packaging – that’s a massive issue. You know, that’s one of the biggies really, for me personally, professionally, that’s more than a peeve. Less packaging, you know, that’s the first thing. So much of it is unnecessary. It has to be reduced really, really minimised and then use recycled packaging materials, not merely recyclable materials, you know, that’s just kicking it down the road to be someone else’s problem to resolve later. Alternatives to plastics – and we’ve talked about some of the materials that we’re seeing coming through – we’ve got to keep developing those and seeking those out. But also designing the packaging so that it has a second purpose and a second life – that helps to, to some degree. So the whole issue of reusable as a packaging trait is extremely important as well.
Angela: On the podcast, a lot of my guests have referred to me and said, recycling should be the last resort.
Victoria: Yeah, like don’t cause a problem where we need to recycle the problem in the first place.
Angela: Exactly. One thing I did take from your presentation Victoria, was that our life isn’t perfect. Right. I loved that. So our life isn’t perfect. So why do we expect our products to be perfect? And the funny thing is we don’t – we just want that accountability, like you’ve mentioned.
Victoria: Yeah, that’s absolutely right.
Angela: So let’s finish off with your agency, Scarlet Opus. So in what ways are Scarlet Opus climate activists and beyond 2022 has your research found that nature will remain at the forefront of everything, as it always should have been, in my opinion, and many of our opinions?
Victoria: That’s a really nice question to end on. I think it brings us back around in a really nice circle Angela, to me mentioning at the beginning about how I spent time during that first UK lockdown. Contemplating my purpose and the purpose of our work and the purpose of the company and the team and the commonality that we have in the team. We have to work as a trend forecasting agency to make it clear that sustainability and climate change, they’re not trends. It’s not something that’s “in” it’s not something to be cashed in on either. And we’ve got to embed ecologically mindful values into every single thing that we tell our clients until it’s a given, until it’s just standard practice and we don’t have to talk about it in that way.
We still get asked if sustainability is going to be on trend next year. Are green issues still going to be trending next year – no but really. And that’s around the world we get asked those questions. I still get asked that question by audience members in seminars all around the world, you know, is sustainability still going to be a big trend.
So we want our business to be a force for good without wanting to be crass about it, we do want to contribute to positive change. And that might be directly via our own action as a business and the individuals in the business but also the seminar content, the trend report content, but also it can be via our clients, encouraging our clients in the right direction. And I suppose I decided during that period of contemplation in the lockdown to be braver in sharing my convictions more openly, particularly in relation to environmental issues. And that’s a tricky path.
You know, personally, I’d like to see a less consumeristic society, but of course, predominantly, our clients are in the business of making and selling stuff. But we’re determined to encourage them to do better and be better whilst they’re doing the manufacturing, the retailing. Whilst that’s their business, they can still do that better. And we’ve got a platform, you know, we’ve got a voice, we have an influence, and we can encourage our manufacturing and retail clients and and even our exhibition company clients and our seminar audience members to make changes that benefit people and the planet at the same time. So yes, nature absolutely will remain central. It just has to be because I can waffle on about the colours that are hot this season and what’s in and what’s out. Or I can challenge people to think much more deeply about the future, and their role in it.
Yes, well, you’ve definitely done that today. Thank you so much, Victoria. It’s been such a delight to host you today.
Victoria: Thank you so much for the invitation. Again, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.