A few years ago, I was in France and had been invited round to a friend's house for dinner. As I entered, I was surprised at the decor and kitchen fittings as they hadn't been updated since the 1960s - a perfectly preserved time capsule. Similarly, the French seemed perfectly happy to be driving round in cars more than 15 years old, using them as bumper cars if there isn't quite enough space to parallel park by shunting the car in front just a few inches further away. All of this, at the time, seemed like an anathema to me living in a country where "keeping up with the Jones" is a national obsession, and we are encouraged to exchange our car for a newer model every three years. After considering the difference between our two cultures for a while, it did not take me long to figure out which of us had got it right.
In this country (accelerated and exacerbated by social media, but in no small part very much present before Facebook and Instagram), there is a lot of emphases placed on how we look, what car we drive and how we spend our leisure time. All backed up with billion-pound industries. Shops like Primark and Boohoo serve us fast fashion, at prices so cheap that laundry appears to be a waste of time when you can buy a couple of t-shirts for less than a tenner.
At the moment our environmental focus is on plastic and the untold damage it causes to our planet and in particular our marine wildlife. We have all seen the heart-breaking picture of a seahorse holding a plastic pink cotton bud. However, the next environmental scandal coming into focus is that of the number of clothes and possessions we buy, use a few times and then dispose of. A report was recently released that states that we throw away 140 million pounds worth of clothes each year in the UK, and a large majority of this goes into landfill. This again is another form of pollution, causing damage to our land and animals. It seems our national shopping addiction needs to be carefully looked at and reconsidered. Some are hoping that science will be able to make an intervention and develop a method for recycling the whole clothing product into new fabric. Such a thing is not possible at the moment with mixed fabrics and manmade fibre clothes.
So perhaps we should be more like the French and value the items we already possess, and still, have life in them. There is another benefit to this attitude. Fast fashion and new cars make us into clones, we all look the same. We see a celebrity in a certain pair of jeans and want a pair too. Could we take a little more time to think about our personal style, the items of design that we really like, colours and shapes that suit us best? Cultivating an appearance that is in sync with our personality rather than our friends, with the added benefit of saving money too.
This is our approach at The Arqivist. We search out items from the past that people no longer want or use and reintroduce them to the market. The items we chose are well made and still have an intrinsic value. What is more, they seem to have improved over time, becoming “classics” and of a higher quality than would be found on the high street. These are items that are easy to create a look with. Equally, these are pieces to treasure because of their rarity value and will hopefully never take up landfill space.