Fast Forward: Considered consumerism
Los Angeles has seen an emergence of design entrepreneurs focused on creating sustainable, lasting products – as opposed to a culture of mass replaceable consumerism. On Thursday, November 10, KPCC In Person and ArtCenter College of Design presented the second program in the “Fast Forward: Designing the Future” series, “Fast Forward: Considered consumerism.” “Take Two” host Alex Cohen moderated a discussion with Karen Hofmann, chair of the Product Design Department at ArtCenter College of Design; Grant Delgatty, chief creative officer and cofounder of URB-E Foldable Electric Scooter; and Spencer Nikosey, the industrial designer behind KILLSPENCER and its line of leather goods.
What is considered consumerism?
Considered consumerism is a movement toward creating lasting, quality products that are sustainably and responsibly produced. ArtCenter’s Karen Hofmann talked about moving away from a culture that came from “accessibility to getting the new,” which resulted from production technology encouraging replacement over repair.
Grant Delgatty described considered consumerism from a designer’s viewpoint: “Considered consumerism is really about problem solving – what the world needs and solutions that make a lot of sense. It's fun to solve a problem that changes the world for the better.” Spencer Nikosey shared his ethos: “It’s about having less stuff in life and being surrounding by quality. It’s about knowing where the materials came from – having things that really last.”
Building quality products locally
Delgatty’s URB-E and Nikosey’s KILLSPENCER companies manufacture their products locally. URB-E foldable electric scooters are produced in Pasadena. “It resonates when people hear we make our products in Pasadena,” said Delgatty. He said he had debated building his products overseas but found investors who would support him so long as he kept his production in the United States.
Nikosey said he similarly explored manufacturing options and was unable to find a place to make his KILLSPENCER products to his time demands and standard of quality. He found a mentor in China and started his own factory in downtown Los Angeles before moving to Silver Lake. Nikosey recalled personally handling every aspect of his business: “I had to learn how to sew, design, make products, photograph, box, ship and deal with customer service.”
Engaging and keeping customers
Retaining and connecting with customers is a challenge for businesses selling considered consumer goods. Moderator Alex Cohen pointed out that a large part of the population may care about sustainability but not be able to afford these products. Others may not see the value of purchasing such highly priced items. KILLSPENCER leather bags range from $400–$900; URB-E scooters start at $1,500. “Our products are different than anything ever seen before. The challenge lies in educating the consumer,” Delgatty said. He expressed confidence that high-quality products will result in consumers having great experiences and referring their friends to the brand. Nikosey said he focuses on “customers [who] appreciate design…the internet has allowed us to find people making small products that we couldn’t otherwise find.”
“It's about providing a choice of something that is better than the product next to it,” Hofmann added. Hofmann thinks considered consumer products will continue to grow and remain profitable, despite not being designed for disposability and regular replacement: “Profit can come from selling less, but in a more engaging way. There are services you can offer beyond just selling the product.” She went on to describe a future where well-designed goods are available at lower prices in big-box stores, complete with readily accessible information about their origins, production, materials and mission. “It’s really about authenticity. If you hear the stories behind the product, it really resonates.”
Photo Credit: Quincy Surasmith / KPCC