An Alternative Quest?

Meet the family who never buy new

Ian and Lisa Quest bought their four storey house in Dalston three years ago. They are currently in the process of renovating the property, but unlike most home developers, they will buy nothing new. In fact, the couple haven’t bought anything new in four years.

“My Mum bought loads of stuff second hand when we were growing up – mostly for economic reasons. We just lived on my Dad’s salary and they had four kids; four hungry kids,” says Ian.

In contrast to his parents, it is clear that Ian and his family do not pursue this lifestyle out of necessity. Lisa works as a banking consultant in the City, and Ian, having sold his shares in a financial consultancy he founded and grew to a workforce of 180 people, now finds it hard to narrow down exactly what his job is. “I was lucky enough to be able to make some choices about what it was I wanted to do, and started a few different things.” Amongst other projects, he works as a business advisor, and ‘helped’ his brother to set up a company restoring classic cars.

Picture by Holly Bullock

If not money, then what does motivate the couple’s drive to consume less? “There are so many clothes made in the world, that you don’t need to buy new things. It feels wrong to buy ‘rack’ stuff, because there are so many second hand options,” says Ian.

The pair also feel strongly about keeping and repairing what they have. Ian explains the story behind his favourite jeans: “When I was travelling through South America in 2008, I ran out of clothes that looked reasonable, and had to buy some more. These jeans were probably the equivalent of seven or eight pounds in Columbia at the time.”

“But now they’ve probably got about £100 of repairs in them!” Lisa jokes. Although intended as a light hearted remark, this comment highlights just where Lisa and Ian’s attitudes differ from the mainstream.

“There’s a hole, why not just get it fixed?” Ian puzzles, pinpointing arguably the biggest shift in mind set needed for contemporary fashion to become sustainable. Ian’s approach may seem obvious, but overflowing landfill sites across the globe say otherwise. “It’s a real throw-away culture. If people don’t embrace the idea of getting things fixed, and maintaining things, I don’t know exactly what we are going to do. We’re going to run out of materials. We should make things that are built to last, but also are built to be repaired.”

Ian and Lisa have a one year old son, Archie, and were surprised by how much money they saved, avoiding buying baby essentials new. “The pram was one-eighth of the price of a new one and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s all perfectly good quality — all their clothes are perfect because babies grow so fast. People go through them like crazy,” says Lisa.

Originally from Canada, she says that attitudes in the UK are particularly backwards when it comes to buying second hand – “it’s way more normal over there,” she says. “No one would buy a pram new there.”

Picture by Holly Bullock

Do the couple’s friends and family in the UK share their ideology? In short: no. Even in their liberal enclave of East London, Ian and Lisa seem unconventional. “Within my friendship group it’s still very weird,” says Lisa.

“My work colleagues would just get new stuff.” Ian despairs at their mentality towards consumption; “Why would you fix it when you could buy it new?”

In their line of work, Ian and Lisa’s lifestyle does seem unusual, however, their take on ‘second hand’ is equally outside of the norm. Lisa buys her ‘pre-loved’ clothes almost exclusively from online designer consignment store Vestiaire Collective, where a pair of second-hand Balenciaga trainers are undoubtedly a luxury at £495.

When she describes her outfit, it quickly becomes clear that her ethical principles haven’t stopped her from enjoying the kind of luxury consumption expected from someone in her position. “I’m wearing Jimmy Choo green shoes – I bought them on Vestiaire, but they are my favourite. I wear heels for the whole day, and they’re the only brand that don’t hurt my feet.” She also points out her black and white Roland Mouret dress.

“I wore this to work. I work with mostly men and I probably dress a bit less conservatively than they would like! I’m typically the only woman in a room of about 40 men, so it just makes me stand out a little more. I don’t mind it; I find it a bit fun because it puts people off centre, so you’re able to have more of an honest conversation.”

In his first corporate job at Rolls Royce, Ian also struggled to fit into the prescriptive image of a business person. “I had a reputation for not following the dress code” he says – referencing the eccentric attitude that he has embraced his current home development.

“I wanted to do it in a slightly quirky style; we’ve got two old doors from Dartmoor prison as the bathroom doors, and the bath uses old fireman’s taps. I like cool old stuff because it’s more interesting, but you have to search and know what you’re looking for.”

Many people would find this research a chore, but not Ian. “I enjoy it,” he says quickly. “You love it,” Lisa replies.

Their enthusiasm for buying ethically and investing in repairs is clear. Would the couple like to see others embrace a similarly alternative lifestyle?  “Yes,” responds Ian, “but what’s alternative about it?”

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