Fast homeware: the cost of cheap interiors

Have you noticed that every few months, there’s a new must-have piece of home decor? In fact it’s often more frequent than that. Week to week, quirky, standout pieces of furniture make their way up our news feeds. Whether it’s lamps shaped like food, wavey mirrors or emoji circle rugs, there’s always something. And that something has copycats, all desperate to cash in on the new sensation. Nevermind that it’ll all look completely out of style come next season. Welcome to fast homeware. 

This is fast fashion’s quieter counterpart. Equally as damaging but a lot less widely acknowledged. You’re unlikely to be buying into it at quite the same pace as clothing, but it’s an increasingly rampant market nonetheless. With an emphasis on smaller, more easily acquirable items [as opposed to entire sets of furniture] it’s largely aimed at younger people in rented accommodation. So if you can’t do any major DIY in your flat – not to worry! There’s plenty of cheap, easily accessible items to dress that space up as often as your heart desires. Nevermind what happens to that must-have mushroom lamp when it doesn’t fit in with the next makeover…

Changing rooms

With so many people now facing an uncertain future of endless renting, roommates or moving back home, space is a more valuable commodity than ever. So what can you do when making a home ‘your own’ is tricky? You can accessorize it with the internet’s endless offerings of… well, honestly, a lot of it is junk. Pretty junk made of plastic. 

mirror framed by a wavy, illuminated border
Ultrafragola mirror/lamp [via Pinterest]

Expression vs Indulgence

There’s arguments for and against this particularly targeted phenomenon. On the one hand, everybody has a right to enjoy and personalize their home. Temporary or otherwise. In fact especially when it’s temporary and you want to add a bit of your own style to it. It’s an important part of feeling you belong somewhere to put your own stamp on things in whatever way you can. Can’t get a new sofa or change the wallpaper? Then you can add cushions and rugs, instead. And when these things are responsibly sourced [ie, not on a random whim and from SheIn] it’s a fantastic way to create your own personal sanctuary.

On the other hand, it’s an incredibly exploitative marketing ploy to bombard millennials and Gen Z with unnecessary purchases. Particularly in a climate when their funds are already stretched and their home-owning prospects are more than a little uncertain. Is it just feeding into the endless cycle of buying things we don’t need to fill a void that the industry itself has told us exists? When people are putting up with dull, drab accommodation they’re not allowed to spruce up, it’s no wonder a new vase/curtains/bookcase is tempting every week. Are we all just messing around in our own little Sims houses, changing the style to try and find some meaning?

Famous fast homeware

If you’ve been on social media much, particularly since the pandemic, you’ll have noticed them. The must-have pieces. There were throw cushions in every fabric, shape and style imaginable; almost all made of synthetic fibres. Quirky abstract vases were swiftly stolen from Etsy designers and resold in various plastics. Handmade rugs with bold, pop art designs were another target; copied and repackaged at lower prices. From candles and coffee tables to wall hangings and weird plant pots; if you kept up with it all, you’d be spending thousands. Churning away alongside the neverending trend cycle that is fast fashion, fast homeware was ready and waiting with ‘items you might also like’. 

A lot of these pieces followed along from new aesthetics that were popping up overnight. The angelcore girl needed that dreamy polyester bed canopy. Cottagecore lounges demanded the adorable strawberry lamp. And were you even living if you didn’t have at least 5 candles shaped like the venus de milo!? The designs were striking and the colour palettes were distinctly ‘feminine’. This is hardly surprising given that women are behind the vast majority of consumer spending. It’s not that these companies are empowering them to create beautiful living spaces for themselves. It’s simply that they know who’s more likely to tap BUY NOW.

Vase shaped like female form, full of bright flowers
By Steph Wilson via Unsplash

Pandemic decorating

Lockdown made us all a lot more familiar with our living spaces. Too familiar. In a word: bored. It’s unsurprising that so many of those popular pieces exploded onto algorithms and pop up ads while everyone was stuck at home, desperate for a change of scenery. 

And while we know your physical space is important in maintaining a healthy headspace, there comes a point where things can slip into mindless consumerism. It’s never been easier to buy homeware. You don’t even need to stroll around a shop, it’s as simple as ordering takeout. A couple of taps on an Instagram post you like the look of and you’ve got a brand new beanbag on its way to you. This convenience was all but irresistible over lockdown and it’s showing no signs of easing up now. 

Shopping online may be old news now, but the more accustomed we’ve all become to it, the less we’ve thought about how it really works. A lot of these purchases would have come with much greater consideration when they involved going out to a physical store. Now, it’s all too easy to forget that a huge proportion of homeware goods are produced and shipped from countries all around the world; racking up pollution and air miles that may be entirely unnecessary. Shopping with small businesses, especially when they’re local, can help address this issue immediately.


The rapidly accelerating nature of trends isn’t just causing people to overhaul their wardrobes every few months, it’s homes too. Whereas having a bold interior might have been a commitment of several years, in the past, now it can be in and out in less than 6 months. As society throws back to the inherently tacky nineties and noughties, it’s no surprise that masses of plastic has come along with it. Gimmicky items were a staple throughout these decades. It’s poignant that they’re being revisited in a time when we now have more ‘stuff’ at our fingertips than ever thanks to online shopping and international shipping. How long until inflatable furniture makes another comeback?

The importance of a timeless interior that the inhabitant genuinely enjoys really can’t be overstated in the fight against fast homeware. While it’s understandable that a steady rotation of clothes is necessary, the notion that furnishings should follow suit as well makes little sense. Our wardrobes have always given us a variety of different options day to day, but until recently, our interiors had remained a stable, gradually evolving space. There’s nothing particularly ‘homely’ about a constant procession of new purchases which don’t fit in with the previous bunch. 

Who makes it?

If we say ‘furniture’ your mind probably leaps straight to IKEA, right? And that’s a good call. In fact IKEA furniture is responsible for an estimated 1% of the lumber used on earth. But they’re not moving in the same circles. While the Swedish flatpack legend may have its own problems, it’s not operating on the same scale. Nor is it producing the same oh-so-trendy, disposable items that are clogging up instagram feeds. 

H&M, SheIn, Urban Outfitters, Primark, Zara… if you can buy cheap clothes, produced in staggering quantities from them, you can likely buy homeware from them too. Fashion giants have been quick to adopt this new outlet, often shifting towards a ‘lifestyle’ range. In an attempt to colonize our homes as well as our wardrobes, they scour the socials to see which items are popular before reproducing their own versions. It’s a pattern we’ve become accustomed to with clothes. Independent designers luck out with an overnight success and then suddenly there’s a dozen copycats for a fraction of the price. And always just different enough to avoid a lawsuit. Many of those coffee mugs with ironic slogans and neon-coloured Roman statuettes started out life on a smaller, sustainable scale before they were swallowed up and spat back out.

With so many of these brands notorious for their unethical treatment of staff and the environment, can their homeware possibly be any better? We’ve seen inside the garment factories where staff are overworked and underpaid. But we’ve yet to see where their household items are produced. It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to assume it’s equally as grim. Why would a company who pays its workers as little as 3p per item of clothing they produce treat the people in its homeware factories any better? 

office room full of brightly coloured homeware
Via Pinterest

Homeware’s damage

It’s probably not something many of us have thought about, but the wood in those cheap flatpacks has to come from somewhere. Illegal logging of trees in protected forests is a very real problem. The enormous Taiga forest is vitally important to the health of the planet; it spans 8 countries across the Northern hemisphere and is populated by a staggering 3 TRILLION trees. Unfortunately, despite strict legislation, pine from this forest has turned up in plenty of furniture. Even IKEA have come under fire for using this timber in the past. They’re a brand who at least likes to claim they’re aiming to be sustainable. What about the ones who aren’t? 

Elsewhere in the Amazon, it’s estimated that 80% of Brazilian hardwood is logged illegally. And yet still, it’s turning up in shops around the world. Every single brand selling these goods can’t be entirely ignorant of its origins. Supply chains need to be closely inspected and held to account. It’s hardly surprising that such scrutiny is unappealing to already unethical brands.

Even non-wood items are directly impacting deforestation. Miles of jungle are hacked down to make room for palm crops to create palm oil. This ingredient goes into just about everything, from food and cosmetics to fabrics and fuels. The same happens when space is cleared for rubber trees to be planted. It’s not just the demand for wood that causes deforestation. It’s the clearance of trees to make way for monocultures and industrial scale growing of other materials. This leads to colossal habit loss for wildlife, reducing biodiversity, and weakening the planet’s ability to deal with pollution. 

When so many of the products that are made at the end of these processes are essentially pointless, it becomes an even harder truth to face. 

Sustainable alternatives

All those sustainable solutions for beating fast fashion? They work for fast homeware too! From vintage and antique shops to resale platforms; charity shops to simply swapping with your mates. There are a hundred different ways to pick up fun decor for your space without buying into the overproduction madness. 

And much like secondhand fashion, the rapid trend cycle means you don’t need to look far if you’re after a specific piece. If it was trending 2 months ago, it’ll be out there; secondhand and ready to be loved again. There really isn’t any need to give your hard earned money to the enormous companies destroying the environment, for the sake of some new cushions. Honest.

Treat your purchases as investments, choosing carefully and being mindful of where they’ll belong once you get them home. Prioritizing items that bring you joy – not just whatever’s trending – is key to ensuring you create a space you love. Not one that needs to be changed every 3 months. 

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