What does ‘made to last’ mean in 2019?

Made to last products

As the world moves towards increasing sustainability, what does that mean for the products we might choose to buy and the decision making behind it?

Obviously, everything in this world eventually wears out, there’s no denying that, but here’s what I believe made to last could mean:

• Strong, durable materials
• Components which can be easily replaced if necessary
• Designed to be serviced and repaired

If products that are ‘made to last’ are more sustainable and environmentally friendly, where does that place technology products? Every ‘smart’ phone, tablet, and laptop are some of the least sustainable products in the world. They cost anywhere from $600 to $4000 yet begin to fail after two years, can be damaged easily and while they can be serviced to some degree, cannot be interchanged with new parts. What Apple, Samsung, Google and co want us to do is throw out our old phones and buy new ones. The iPhone (and every other phone) is a modern day example of shoddy quality.

Not made to last as long as they should. Tech companies need to do better.

Pride in how long a product has lasted, its history, the stories it tells, the memories it has given is much more rewarding than “Oh I’ve got the latest XYZ”, because the latest shiny thing only stays as the latest shiny thing until the next latest shiny thing comes out, which is increasingly frequent. Having to always have the latest phone, shoes, bags, cars, bikes, cameras, whatever gives a very short window of satisfaction. Companies keep pumping out more products with derivatives here and limited editions there. Surely we have reached the peak of ‘first’, ‘new’, and ‘latest’.

What does this mean for brands? If every week something new is released, does this not dilute the efficacy of launching a product and its impact? 

“Needless technology is finding its way into everything…”

The dirty energy behind these ever shortened product cycles points to social media. Instagram, Youtube, Twitter and co fuel the drug of desire as products are paraded around by content creators in an effort to gain followers and boost popularity, churning through new product after new product as though it’s normal. But it’s far from normal, or sustainable. 

Without wanting to sound like a luddite, it’s technology which is creating the problem of mass consumption and discarding of products. Because technology moves so quickly, products are rendered obsolete and lose their usefulness often thanks to engineered obsolescence. Needless technology is finding its way into everything from phones, cars, watches, and just about anything else you can think of.

The products that actually do lend themselves to longevity are often more mechanical by design. 

The added benefits of purchasing products that are made to last is they are inherently better designed. As all facets of materials and production is considered through the design phase, so to is the longevity of the design often resulting in shape and form which have typically classic overtones. Industrial designer Dieter Rams is known for producing some of the most iconic designs of the last 70 years and still look fresh today. His ten principles of good design strongly resonate with the made to last philosophy.

Products designed by Dieter Rams for Braun, 60 years ago. Images: Vitsoe

Buy better quality, take time to consider the things you buy and expect to keep and care for it for as long as possible. Even go so far as to buy products from those companies which offer replacement parts, or servicing. 

When buying something new, consider the following:

• Ask where a product was made
• Find out more about a company background and recent history
• Ask about the type of materials used
• Ask if it can be serviced or repaired

It’s difficult to find companies committed to products that are made to last as this often conflicts with growth and revenue targets, but with a little bit of searching and diligence we can hopefully unearth them all.

No ideal is perfect, everything has its price, and nothing in this world is zero emissions. Balance is key if we buy smarter, buy less, buy quality, buy made to last, reduce waste, we can enjoy more.

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