Ulla-Maaria Engeström lives in San Francisco and is CEO of
Social Objects, Ltd., founder of Thinglink (
author of the HobbyPrincess blog (
Renting Is the New Buying
A good friend of mine recently married
a guy who is devoted to minimizing his
ecological footprint by consuming as
little as possible. She appreciates this point of view,
but at the same time she wonders if being green
and having a little bit of luxury in their lives from
time to time are mutually exclusive desires.
My colleague Tuuli Sotamaa and I recently asked
100 people to answer a simple question: “What does
luxury mean to you?” Instead of associating luxury
with money or any imaginable form of wasteful
consumption, the majority of the respondents
connected luxury with a lifestyle rich with time,
space, and love.
Many said it is a luxury to eat food made of
healthy and tasty ingredients, spend time in nature,
enjoy beautiful interiors, and have time for personal
development. Doesn’t sound too wasteful, does it?
Some years ago Ikea constructed an ad campaign
around the spitting image of an haute-couture
designer who boycotted Ikea for selling high-design
furniture at prices regular people could afford. An
example would be the Ikea Frosta stool ($13), a
copy of Alvar Aalto’s classic Stool E60 ($255).
Ikea’s copy is cheaper because it’s mass-produced
in China using low-cost materials.
Harvard Business School’s innovation theorist
Clayton Christensen would call Ikea’s business
model “disruptive innovation” because it floods the
market with the same design at a much cheaper
price. Still, business success that relies on cheap
labor and cheap materials has time and again been
shown to plant the seeds of humanitarian and ecological catastrophe.
We’re also not proud of things that have a
suspicious past. Cheap things don’t feel like luxury,
because luxury is not just a sensual, but also a
In the recent Sex and the City movie, there’s
a wonderful example of consuming luxury in a
sustainable way. Carrie notices that her assistant-to-be brings a genuine Louis Vuitton handbag to the
job interview and asks the young woman how she
can afford it. Her answer: “I rented it.”
Indeed, a new breed of online services, such
bagborroworsteal.com, froxylady.com, and
fashionhire.co.uk, offer designer dresses, hats,
bags, sunglasses, and jewelry for hire.
We’re already used to renting apartments, washing
machines, paintings, bikes, laptops, phones, copy
machines, badminton rackets, power tools, and
even pets for short periods of time. But perhaps
we should think about renting and borrowing on
Are being green and
having a little bit
of luxury from time
to time mutually
a broader scale, as a real alternative to owning.
Apartmentreviews.net has calculated that if we
need furniture for two years or less, it’s smarter to
rent it. The same should apply to 90% of the things
we need daily. Renting can save money and avoid
the hassle of delivery, assembly, and repair, not to
mention getting rid of stuff once it’s no longer needed.
The idea of luxury typically infers ownership, but
perhaps renting is really the practice that embraces
the idea of sustainable luxury. To consume in a
more ecological way, we need a large-scale renting
revolution. Renting high quality should be the next
disruptive innovation that shakes up the market of
buying cheap. ×