Several years ago business professor and author Jim Collins wrote a great book called Built to Last. The best-selling book highlighted a list of visionary, well-led companies that were destined to last a very long time. One of those companies was mega company General Electric. Unfortunately, since the book was published, General Electric has had to sell off huge parts of its business empire and has lost almost as many chief executive officers as David Jones.
The concept of ‘built to last’, however, is growing fast in the minds of millennials, and older shoppers, tired of the fast pace of change, sense of falling quality, and an intergenerational and genuine concern for our global environment.
Let me take you back to the 1960s and 1970s when a car, lawnmower, shirt, dress and watch all cost a lot more as a proportion of our income than today. But we saved up and bought the very best one we could afford. In 1957, my dad bought a duty-free watch in Singapore as he left the army as a young national serviceman. It was a Tudor, a sub-brand of Rolex. It was expensive because it was high quality, not because it was flashy. It has a stainless steel case and band and has to be wound every day. It’s been serviced three times in its 60-year life and he still has it. I ride a 1978 Kawasaki Z650. It’s had the engine re-built once in its 40 years and I ride it as a commuter bike whenever I’m in Sydney.
This year, as with most of the last decade, the second biggest polluter on our planet was the fashion industry. We buy too much cheap, fast fashion and drop it on the sidewalk in front of charity shops thinking we’re helping society. They can’t resell low-quality cheap fashion so it goes into landfill. Charity shops can sell high-quality previously owned clothes and footwear though. And they do. A friend of mine owns a very successful coffee shop, art gallery and live music venue and buys 80% of her clothes from a wide range of charity shops. Because she wants to. So do her staff. They look very cool too.
The ‘built to last’ feel has now transcended clothes, tools, furniture, cars and motorbikes and moved into mainstream smartphones. Yes. For all the shouting about new Apple iPhone sales stalling, Apple is quietly telling their loyal shoppers: ‘You don’t have to throw away your phones and buy a new one. Come into our stores and we’ll help you update and recondition them. They’re built to last and we care about the planet.’ It’s being driven by hipsters setting up their own businesses to make furniture from recycled hardwood, or sorting, repairing and reselling quality clothes. And it’s being driven by jams, bread, beer from micro-breweries and high-quality reconditioned old cars and bikes too. Almost every weekend, organic farmers markets are allowing independently minded and spirited people of all ages to sell newly made, renovated and new-to-you items that are built to last.
I hope it continues. The planet — and the retail industry — need a little help right now.