Renting, Reusing, and Repurposing

Growing up in Italy it was fairly common renting an apartment, reusing items like clothing and shoes for years, and repurposing raw materials for example by making scarves out of the material of skirts when we were done.

I remember when I embroidered denim to cover up holes from use and washing — when pants finally gave up, I kept the embroidery as a memento, like the image in this post, which was a rendition I made up as a teenager (Disney with an attitude).

Sharing among siblings and family members was a good way to be responsible with resources. With a grandmother as a seamstress and plenty of creative inspiration at home, partly due to scarce funds, it was actually fun to re-imagine uses and add a bit of oneself to items.

I still have two tops made one each by my grandmother and my great-grandmother from taking apart older knits. Their mastery and timeless craft live on now that they are both gone. The relationship determines the value embedded in the objects and makes them special.

JWT# researchers define this return to this form of reuse and repurposing the circular economy and suggest implications for brands: 

For many businesses, the relationship with customers ends as soon as the purchase is made. In a circular system, however, products are often essentially leased, which means that periodic customers of a brand instead become ongoing users.

Companies will need to create these extended relationships so as to keep their goods within the closed loop. The possibilities are numerous including monitoring the quality of parts digitally, as Caterpillar does; creating financial incentives for the safe return of used goods, as several apparel retailers are doing; and giving consumers the means to easily repair or reuse goods.

While these programs can make customers feel valued trough their participation in the process, we have long known of and are discovering companies that have been producing concepts submitted by customers and artists in the community.

For example:

  • For the past six years, Trollbeads has had a regular Peoples Bead event# — as they explain, we invited you to create your own design for the theme 'The Missing Bead'; Perfect Balance, the winner, was crowd-selected based on telling the most compelling story among 100 finalists
  • Threadless# is a well-known community that gathers to spread creativity using t-shirts as a medium
  • Zady#, defined as a lifestyle destination for conscious consumers, connects quality producers with buyers by documenting the products' ideation and production processes

The main idea in renting, reusing, and repurposing is alive in the design and production of MIO, a Philadelphia company focused on sustainability I featured here many years ago.

My own purchasing patterns in the last fifteen years are realigned with my cultural roots. I tend to make careful selections on new items, and favor mostly the made in Italy when in Modena.

Overall, I much prefer the idea of utilizing what I already have to buying new items, and choosing experiences or sponsoring timeless craft when making purchases that are not utilitarian — like materials to fix the house.

From the trend reports, it looks like this type of choice has tipped in more regions of the world due to the convergence of economic, cultural, and generational forces. A choice that is bringing about new habits.

I am curious on whether this is just a generational thing as media articles seem to indicate. Have your own buying habits changed?


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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