As a kid, shopping with my father always ended in defeat. Such a consumer failure was no fault of mine — my dad’s frustration stemmed from his inability to find unbranded clothing. He’d pick up a shirt, shake his head and ask, “Do they have to put this Polo logo on the front?” Little did he know it would only get worse; once just a small detail, company logos are now over-sized decorative elements. I can only hope my father hasn’t seen Ralph Lauren’s new Big Pony Collection, in which the famous Polo logo has grown exponentially. Yet a look into almost any of our closets reveals something quite astonishing — we are overly branded. Sweatshirts emblazoned with “Gap,” Victoria Secret pajama pants with “pink” scrawled across the derrière and baseball caps bearing the famous Nike swoosh crowd our shelves. Sometimes, our eyes need a little visual rest; that’s when it’s time to unconsume.
Out of the dearth of unbranded goods comes Rob Walker, author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are and creator of Unconsumption, a Tumblr where creative reuse is encouraged and celebrated. Walker coined the term “unconsumption” back in 2006 when he wrote a column in which he wondered if getting rid of stuff will ever feel as good as getting it. In exploring how to build excitement around repurposing our old belongings, Walker realized that, for now, branding is the way we add value to our objects. In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. “Branding has been one of my main subjects as a journalist, and for a few years I’ve pondered if there’s a way to borrow some of the tools of brand-making to advance an idea, but without actually creating products,” Walker said in an interview with Craft. With that in mind, Walker went to Clifton Burt, who designed the Unconsumption logo; the over-turned shopping cart, almost anthropomorphized through it’s wheel-eyes, is the logo of The Uncollection, or as Walkers puts it, “the first-ever line of goods consisting entirely of stuff people already owned.”
Created under Creative Commons license, the Unconsumption logo is available for download and Walker invites everyone to contribute to The Uncollection via their Facebook page. It is a brand without products, one that represents a desire to make the world a better place, each repurposed object at a time. Through branding our upcycled goods, we can reintroduce an object to the world as something newer and better.
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.