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Love Kmart? Here's the huge problem you might not see

KMART is famous for sending fans of the store into a frenzy - and it's easy to see why.

The $35 shoe rack, foldable beach trolley and cheap Dyson will get any savvy shopper in a spin.

I'm a sucker for Scandi style at scant cost, but there is a massive problem with the king of bargain homewares.

I recently visited a Sydney store to check out the very stylish wire basket table that was advertised for $19. Bargain.

But all I found was damaged goods. The table top was made of fibreboard and every item on display was faulty.

Then the $3 vases caught my eye, but I couldn't find a single one without a chip or scratch, and I swear the side table was wonky.

The $19 Kmart basket has been very popular.Source:Supplied
The $19 Kmart basket has been very popular.Source:Supplied

Perhaps Kmart fans don't mind, because by the time they take these items home they're out of fashion and need replacing anyway.

No wonder rejected cheap homewares are scaling new heights across our country's landfills.

Kmart isn't the only offender. Target, Big W, Aldi and even Freedom are also contributing to growing piles of stuff dumped outside Australian homes, even if they are shifting way less loot than Kmart these days.

Last year, I bought a cheap coffee table from Freedom, but it buckled under the weight of my "coffee table books" and a leg broke off.

We got a replacement, but in the meantime the original table was presumably thrown onto a truck and taken to one of the many landfill sites across the state.

Kmart furniture, like this $39 hallway table, might be cheap, but it’s terrible quality and breaks easily.Source:Supplied
Kmart furniture, like this $39 hallway table, might be cheap, but it’s terrible quality and breaks easily.Source:Supplied

For those who aren't already familiar with the horrors of offshore supply chains - stuff is cheap because of lean manufacturing, barely paid workers, economies of scale and the subsequent giant inventories that start the cycle all over again because this stuff has got to be shifted.

We've externalised the true cost of production. What we don't pay for our cheap chipped vases is paid for by those with toxic pollution and depleting natural resources.

I got that trendy coffee table for a song because a bunch of people in a poorer country all pitched in.

I read that in Greater Sydney alone, a weight the equivalent of 3.4 million coffee tables is taken to landfill each year - and that doesn't include illegal dumping or those delivered directly to tips.

Kmart argues that its streamlining strategies have lowered its ecological impact, but Kmart's designs ride on the back of rapidly changing trends, helped along by Instagram mums and their pantry porn, and that means buying and dumping at the fastest rate yet, just to keep up with the Joneses.

This stuff is not only badly made but it's irreparable.

The infamous 2 in 1 cordless stick vacuum from Kmart.Source:Supplied
The infamous 2 in 1 cordless stick vacuum from Kmart.Source:Supplied

Furniture made overseas in engineered wood and veneer is never going to be repaired. It is now much cheaper to replace than repair.

When that "better-than-a-Dyson" Kmart vacuum cleaner inevitably conks out, it won't be repaired under warranty, it'll be replaced.

A brand new vacuum? Winning! But the planet is the ultimate loser.

Planned obsolescence has played a major part in the success of capitalism: the fast turnover of goods powers growth and creates jobs.

Industry has made stuff cheap and available to nearly anyone in developed countries. And boy do we go through a lot of stuff - we work longer hours just to buy more of it.

There's a start-up in the UK called Buy Me Once that represents makers who promise longevity, and they're keen to expand down under.

But is it realistic to think the average consumer could afford or would be willing to pay more for locally made furniture in quality materials?

The infamous 2 in 1 cordless stick vacuum from Kmart.Source:Supplied
The infamous 2 in 1 cordless stick vacuum from Kmart.Source:Supplied

As well as succumbing to a cheap table or two, I've also invested in an expensive one handmade by my friend Myles Gostelow, but not all of us can count carpenters among our friends, and most of us conform to the mass-produced decor model because the alternative seems elitist.

I'm not alone though. Australian start-ups trying to educate consumers to buy more sustainably for the home include Handkrafted and Makers Lane, online marketplaces for small-batch and bespoke designs by local makers.

At Makers Lane the eight-seater dining table you'd buy from Freedom for about $1800 (and replace seven years later) can be locally handmade in Australian hardwoods for $2900.

And on top of assured quality is the promise of ongoing maintenance by the makers themselves. No more limited warranties.

We use our table every day, more often than we use our $20,000 car. We expect that'll do us for another six years or so. The dining table? It'll be passed down through generations.

What chief executive Guy Russo did so well when he took over Kmart was "streamline" the business and we could all take a leaf out of that book.

Decluttering is a start, but better than that is to invest time or money into repairing what we can. When even some high-end brands have fallen prey to cost-cutting, one of the few surviving definitions of luxury is rarity - and the rarest commodity of this age is time.

The time it took Myles to make my table, the time it might take you to reupholster a favourite old armchair rather than buy a dirt-cheap replacement.

We find it hard to refuse convenience and most of us can't afford not to take advantage of low-cost living, but we can surely think twice about buying another cheap coffee table.

Topics:  editors picks kmart

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