Kayla Marci

August 2, 2021

Sustainable Homeware - A Case Study

How retailers are growing sustainable homeware products and areas of opportunity.

The concept of fast homewares has entered the lexicon of retailers and consumers as low-priced, high-trend brands continue to expand into this category, adding to the ever-growing number of disposable goods produced.

This report spotlights how homeware retailers are exploring sustainability initiatives and the key areas to invest.

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sustainable homeware

The data

More consumers are waking up to the adverse effects of the retail industry on the environment, creating visible demand for sustainable products across every category. According to a recent consumer survey by the Sustainable Furnishings Council, 97% of respondents were interested in buying environmentally-friendly home furnishings if the cost and style were comparable to other products on the market. While 87% of respondents would be willing to pay more.

To cater to this demand, retailers have more than doubled the number of home goods described with sustainable attributes YoY. Products that are 100% recycled or recyclable are the most popular choice for retailers investing in conscious homeware, with these descriptors seeing a 77% rise YoY.

Natural materials were also key drivers in overall uptake. The use of more responsible alternatives to conventional cotton, like organic or BCI-certified fibers, increased 167% YoY.

sustainable homeware

Bamboo is becoming more commonplace in retailers' assortments, particularly in home accessories and kitchenware, up 252% YoY. The luxury boho and Japandi decorating themes sweeping Instagram have led to skyrocketing demand for rattan furniture. A durable and naturally renewable palm that encourages forest retention, retailers' investment in this material has also grown 167% YoY.

There's been a noticeable shift in the homeware categories receiving sustainable overhauls. With smaller and more competitively-priced goods entering the market that appeals to Generation Rent's budget and aesthetic, home accessories have emerged as the leading category stocking eco-friendly homeware, usurping bedroom products. Standout products include natural wood in decorative items and wall hangings, linen cushion covers, jute rugs and Tencel throws.

With consumers spending most of their time indoors in 2020, creating an idyllic space outdoors has become paramount. Sustainable outdoor furnishings have grown from equalling 6% of the total home range in 2020 to 11% in 2021 as retailers double down on natural materials in patio furniture.

sustainable homeware

The rental & resale boom

Fast fashion brands' foray into homeware may be shaking up decor trends and making prices more accessible. However, it's not without consequence. Traditionally, customers considered furniture and homeware as one-time purchases - only replaced when they broke.

Now, with digital platforms reshaping homes as spaces for curation combined with consumers working remotely and looking to upgrade pieces more than ever, buyers are dumping and purchasing homeware almost as fast as clothes.

Similar to apparel, circular processes have been adopted by homeware brands to minimize waste.

sustainable homeware

Retailers getting involved

• In collaboration with giving platform Geev, Made.com launched a new zero-waste, zero-cost giveaway initiative, allowing consumers to find a new home for pre-loved furnishings and homeware.

• John Lewis & Partners expanded its furniture rental service in partnership with Fat Llama. The range will double to include over 200 items, including; desks, chairs, dining tables and sofas and be made available to customers outside of London. Customers can rent for three, six or 12 months with the option to buy at any time at a reduced rate.

• Sofology launched Loop, a sustainable upholstery rental service, also powered by Fat Llama. Initially available for its new Virtue collection, returned items will have each element - from springs to feet - removed and recycled to avoid sending to a landfill.

• In a bid to become fully circular by 2030, IKEA transformed its Bargain Corners into Circular Hubs in stores across the UK. The innovative spaces are dedicated to extending the life of its products and a wider range of recovered and second-hand products.

sustainable homeware

Image via Made.com Email UK - May 12, 2021

Areas of opportunity

Plant-based materials

From mushroom to cactus, footwear and apparel retailers have been reimagining products in innovative, plant-based materials. Homeware has lagged; however, the significant YoY uptake in natural fabrics signals opportunity and change is on the horizon.

Hemp is becoming more mainstream, used in recent collections at Zara Home. Eucalyptus wood, which is swiftly becoming one of the most sustainable construction materials available due to its rapid growth, saw increased investment at IKEA and Target. In April, the latter retailer also introduced a range of plates from Threshold made with a blend of bamboo powder and cornstarch.

FSC-certified

Paper and wood bearing this certification are fast becoming a mainstay in home goods to offset environmental damage and promote responsible foresting. Offered at both traditional and lifestyle retailers, materials holding this symbol are most common in the bedroom category, used for wardrobes and chests of drawers. The shift into remote working has created an opportunity for retailers to invest in home office furnishings in sustainable alternatives, where FSC-certified products are less common.

Cruelty-free alternatives

As more retailers are phasing out fur and skins, homeware brands must align themselves with consumer values. With Softcore becoming an important trend in the homeware and fashion, the number of faux fur options stocked has jumped 351% YoY. Additionally, products made from 100% leather have declined 44% YoY. Manufacturer Sustainable Composites plans to extend its offering of Enspire Leather, a fabric made only using leather waste, into the furnishing market to use for upholstery.

Natural dyes

How natural and plant-based fabrics are dyed and treated plays a crucial role in the overall sustainability of an item. Nontoxic paints and finishes are highlighted as a feature across children's furniture.

West Elm promotes organic fibers and nontoxic finishes screened for hard chemicals. Artisan brand Maiwa uses hand-carved wooden blocks to print natural dyes on organic cotton. H&M's limited edition For the Love of Craft range included handwoven cushions made from jute and plant-dyed cotton.

sustainable homeware 

Images via Instagram - Zara Home

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sustainable homeware