• Ian McClellan

Week 28: I will look for purpose in brands.

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

Change can reveal hidden depths, or surprising shallows. It is often only when you are beyond your boundaries, looking back, that you realise where they are.

Week by week, little changes that I have anticipated would be hard habits to break, sometimes have not been. Changes that I have faced with an element of anxiety, such as eating more plant-based meals for example, in the end has been much easier than I thought. If this committed carnivore with a deeply established junk food habit can change, then anyone can. You do not have to give yourself a label, or even explain or justify your choices either way on any given day to anyone. But the fact is that eating more plant-based meals, has made me feel better.

Some changes have been incentives to do things that I have been avoiding for months, and are intrinsically linked to benefits such as de-cluttering, saving money, or being kinder. By giving these tasks tiny new purposes has made them more achievable, and created new habits that are not tied to consumption, to impulsiveness, or ego. It seems that being planetwise, is linked to making your life simpler, and teaches you to put yourselves in the shoes of others more than before. These two things, I would recommend to anyone.

Conversely, some of the changes have been really hard to make stick as a habit, and it is not the ones I expected to be so. This is thankfully much fewer in number, and can often be helped by re-reading the diaries to remind myself of that I promised, and silently celebrating the small successes that come from remembering to do something differently. Reminding myself that being planetwise is not an activism and is not a rigid moral code. It is about trying to be better, compared to yourself.

And very importantly, not being too hard on myself when I forget. Tomorrow is always the next chance to have a great day.

I am not sure at this point, if I am philosophising or justifying, as I have a feeling that this week's change is going to be a difficult one to sustain. It is one of my shallows, but this is something that I am aware of already, which might help.

This week, I am challenging another deep love I have. If you have also read the change promised in week 12, this will also be a familiar theme, and one that bears repeating.

I am an unashamed lover of brands.

And this week I am tackling another area where I have a strong connection with brands. This week, I am going to start paying attention to what 'good' means for sunglasses. Whether you can go past the aesthetic, and own a pair of sunglasses that you can wear with both selfish and selfless pride. It also has taken it's own life, and has made me think about my relationship with many luxuries.

But let's start with sunglasses for now.

Sunglasses, fall into a similar category as sneakers for me. I love the art and the design of sunglasses. It is an internal conflict, because sometimes I know what I am buying is not everyone's definition of good and not something I really need, but I love the feeling that a really well designed, really stylish brand of sunglasses brings me, and I am prepared to pay well above what I would pay on many other things.

I love the contrast and the shock of colour or angle that a really good pair of sunglasses, can give to an otherwise pastel of mono colour composition or outfit. The cool rock band might tone down their fashion, but never their eyewear. Rock stars wear good sunglasses, usually vintage, and wear them well.

I'm not sure exactly where this view of the world came from, and it was not always so. As a boy growing up in the 1980s, wearing sunglasses was close to being something of ridicule. Perhaps it was the escapism of music magazines, or regular consumption of Top of the Pops and The Chart Show. Whatever the cause, I have for many years considered brand and aesthetic design only when it comes to sunglasses. I have bought them when I have passed through airports and not really needed them, and have bought them on auction sites in a new colour simply because it is a gap in the collection.

To make this change, I am going to have to break this connection I have, because many of the brands that I own are not produced in a planetwise way. Sunglasses, and particularly the frames of the brands that I love, are made of or have high levels of materials such as plastic or regular acetate, which although technically began as a natural product, and although there are natural acetates that are starting to be used, appears to also be a material that has some environmental compromises when compared to other materials that are now available.

Scrutinising designer sunglasses, is also perhaps considered a frivolous change to lots of people, and this is understandable. That in a similar way to fashionable sneakers, fashionable sunglasses are a simple waste of money beyond their functional need to protect our eyes. But in a similar way to sneakers, I also think the rejection of the concept does not mean you are doing good. We can reject the brands we consider to be frivolous, but if we choose to protect our eyes with sunglasses then we still have to consider materials and source. Many cheaper or unbranded sunglasses, from what I can discover, are less costly because of materials, the sourcing of these materials, and work practices. So unless we reject the product altogether, or buy second hand and never throw them away, we must somehow consider our decisions and choices.

What I also find interesting and thought provoking about what I have read this week about sunglasses, is that there are similarities in our relationship with sunglasses and some of our more general luxury brands and luxury items. Perception of value for luxury products is exactly that - a perception. They are likely excellent quality in relation to other choices, but also have a large value because of what they look like or how they make us look. We buy tiny handbags, or enormous framed glasses for many reasons that are not linked to their practical purpose.

So rather than diving immediately into the science of sunglasses production and alternatives, I'm going to take a slight diversion into the topic of luxury products, and purpose. Products and brands that we scrutinise less for the deeper purpose, more so for the purposes of fashion.

The reason it feels interesting right now, is because the current crisis we are facing in the World through coronavirus, has made us look to purpose and togetherness more than ever. Many brands of all types are reflecting this, through changes to their communications and advertising that echoes this public sentiment. We are being urged to be together, to help each other, and to help those who we don't know but should value and respect in many different ways.

We are being reassured that our brand temples are aware of the inequalities that crisis can expose, and are diverting finance or resources to help. We are all helping, we are all together, and our brands are using their platforms to amplify this and give a voice to individuals and groups that help us to overcome our own personal and our collective challenges. Joint social purpose has transcended corporate purpose, and has given us a glimpse of a future where our collective moral compass and direction is changed.

The question, is what will happen when things begin to return to something of normality? Whether you believe there will be a new normal or that things will return to how they were before, there are glimpses of normality returning across the world, and something of our previous routines being reestablished. At this point, everyone will need to make a conscious or unconscious choice. We can continue to believe that our collective and common purpose should continue, or we can also return to how it was before. Our brands have shown that changing direction and embracing social good in a mass way can be done, and so why can't that effort be re-directed into further purposes for social or environmental good, rather than straight back to telling us things are new, or cheap?

It is not exactly clear right now which way things will go, and how we will react. There is news of queues stretching back many miles at drive through fast food chains and other stores. This could either be driven by understandable relief that normality is returning or could be a return to old habits.

But there also appears to be a growing sense of change, and that living in a more open and transparent society is a really good thing. That we should respect each other more, be kinder to each other, and consider what we are doing in relation to each other and the world in a different way. That we need to consider ourselves as equal, and when we do not then we have a joint responsibility to remind each other of this fact. That our focus as people and brands should be outward with a face to the world, as well as looking after ourselves.

We can also choose to live without many of the luxuries that we enjoy, I understand that too. A world where we live smaller, live more practically and live without some of the things we don't need is a really good aim. If we don't miss something that we used to own or use after current restrictions caused by the coronavirus end, then I fully believe that we should just try and never own to use it again.

If we choose to continue to enjoy the privilege of luxuries, then looking at the purchase from the perspective of purpose, and from the perspective of choosing brands that are creating beautiful products in a way that is sustainable, is a good way to create a little change that will last. The reason for this, and using sunglasses as an example, is because there are many new entrepreneurs and brands out there who have embraced sustainable fashion in a systemic way, and have created alternatives to large conglomerate fashion houses, if this is your choice.

Going back specifically to sunglasses, and going back to principles, as a product these new brands and choices share values that are similar to other consumable products of this type. The principles of understanding what the product is made of, and how or where it was produced, and trying to do it in a way that is kinder to the planet.

In terms of what it is made of, the major component of a pair of sunglasses is the frame, and in terms of that there are lots of brands doing some great things to ensure that frames are made in a sustainable way. There are some that are introducing recycled materials, such as fishing nets and plastic waste materials, but for me the most appealing argument continues to be how to source a product that is mainly constructed from natural materials or fully recycled materials and done so also in a kind or thoughtful way.

And for sunglasses, the materials that come up regularly are unsurprisingly bamboo and wood. There are also some more radical options, and I found a really good reference article here about Fresh for Pandas frames. This also explains some of the differences between materials in a way that I can understand more fully. It is also an acknowledgement that if you do choose this route, then openness, transparency, and the vulnerability to admit continual learning is an important part of your ethos.

Going further, there are brands such as Bird in the UK, who were the first UK eyewear company to be certified as a B-Corporation. The story behind the company is a really great expression of why there is hope that we are in a moment in the world where our sustainable choices are about to explode, as long as we embrace it and support organisations such as this. You can read about Bird here. Brands who are trying to invest in the planet cannot always shout the loudest, but we are all connected, and if we begin to consider how our luxury purchases can also help the planet, we can create positive and real change.

If we support those who are finding solutions to the planet's problems, and at the same time creating great design, then it is another positive step in the partnership between commerce and the planet. For me, Bird connects brand and purpose in this way, and the designs already look like classics.

The next time you are therefore choosing a pair of sunglasses, and are tempted to fall back to the luxury brands and fashion houses that you know, I think there is also benefit in spend a bit of time looking at brands such as Fresh for Panda, Dick Moby, and Bird. They might not yet be truly household names - but this is a new breed of entrepreneurs, who follow their passions and connect their purpose to the planet, and that is a great thing. Designers who see luxury products as a way of fulfilling their own desires to create new classic and iconic designs, in the ways that Ray Ban did for sunglasses decades earlier. The price tag might also be more pleasantly surprising than you think.

Taking a step back to general luxury brands as well as sunglasses, there is also benefit in following the same principles. We can support creative minds, that are wired in a way that appreciates aesthetics, are being focused on solving some of the planet's biggest issues and where a connection to the planet is being built into the business model. Aesthetics with a purpose is very appealing to me. Surf enthusiasts or skateboarders, who frequent our beaches and parks, are appalled at the state of plastic waste and are putting efforts into changing this for good through giving us a new choice.

Even more, we can find a way to hold all our brands more accountable, because we know now that they can do it. If brands can embrace social responsibility in a time of crisis, and see the benefit in it, then when the crisis eases this can continue. Our planet is a continual crisis with no current end point in sight.

We are at a crossroads as consumers and brands. If things do return to normal, then what do we choose? Do we choose to continue to value a higher and collective purpose, or do we settle back into previous patterns and habits, with a sense of relief that the weird Summer of 2020 is finished at last? Does the space that current social purpose fills be left empty, or do we begin to expect more from our brands in other ways?

For me, this is an opportunity for us to choose the second route, and especially our luxury purchases. To expect more of a purpose from our brands and to create more of a partnership between us and our brands, and our brands and the planet.

For luxury products, this is a big opportunity, because there is an opportunity to make being sustainable, or being planetwise, fashionable. And for luxury products, giving us an additional reason to buy there products is going to be important, because there is going to be economic challenges of this period of chaos that will likely linger.

I am not saying that we should buy things we don't need or cannot afford because it is driven by social conscience, but we are right on the edge of a new mindset, where we demand action, and where we support those who are trying to do something, anything, to help the planet and at the same time fulfil some of our more frivolous needs.

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