Make to Treasure. Adding true value to the art of production

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A few months ago, and sort of by accident, I coined the phrase ‘Make to Treasure’. It was in the process of writing our first update on sustainable production at the end of a steep learning curve of a year. A year we’d started out with the intention of improving in our production methods in sustainable terms by replacing bad products with better - only to realise that doesn’t really cut the mustard.

What helps, in fact, is keeping a lid on how much everyone produces; making everything the kind of quality that lasts; and using every scrap and keeping every item in play for as long as possible. As makers and producers of promotional goods, Make to Treasure should be our primary objective.

And with that increased knowledge inevitably comes challenge. We are in the business of producing stuff, albeit quality and bespoke. Nevertheless, the pressure for us as a retail support company for many years has been to overproduce at ever-lower cost, forcing materials and processes into a low-value space. Low value, that is, if the cost to the environment is not considered as part of the equation.

The pressure for us as a retail support company for many years has been to overproduce at ever-lower cost

Thinking of ‘Make to Treasure’ brought back-to-mind client conversations in the 90’s and early 00’s. At that time, it seemed there was more of an appreciation for creating items of curiosity and value. The same kind of approach to brand promotion that resulted in mid-century advertising memorabilia that has vintage appeal: Martini mirrors, enamelled cigarette signage, and scale model jet aircraft.

We’d talk about making items for concessions in department stores deliberately nickable. What greater contribution to a brand’s legacy than a smart logo-marked object, beautifully sized and weighted, ending up on an aficionado’s home shelves amongst other treasured pieces? I’m not encouraging theft of course. More making the point that promotional pieces can end up as iconic keepsakes. And that’s just one of the ways to consider the added value intrinsic when designing to keep, rather than designing to throw away.

The obvious issue shifting culture back and away from print-and-chuck is the cost, and Make to Treasure demands an evaluation of what can be gained from the additional spend. Firstly, despite a clear cost to the environment, disposable products are not currently measured in financial terms. They should be. And when and if they finally are, we hope to be ahead of that curve, and those that aren’t will have a rude awakening.

There is an intrinsic value in designing to keep, not designing to throw away

As well as the iconic factor in something like POS, examples of the added value of Make to Treasure in other contexts are having packaging that requires return for reuse, connecting brands to customers, and completing a circle of service. Or using signage materials that allow reuse over and over again. Credentials of eco-branded products can actually increase waste, not decrease as they promise, and we would always strongly suggest looking beyond raising re-use potential higher on the list of criteria to evaluate. This might mean looking at materials on the 'evil' list considered. The key point is to understand the impact of a project in terms of its' total cost, not just a portion. 

If the peak of our learning curve was recognising the need to dramatically reduce how much stuff everyone produces no matter what it’s made of, Make to Treasure is the radical outcome. It’s a theme and a conversation and an attitude that leads to a set of questions and an interrogating mindset in all of our Project Managers' minds and in all of our briefs. We start with the question ‘how can we capitalise on the investment of energy and resources in producing this thing?’

The cost is always somewhere. Our responsibility is to make sure the value reaped is worth any material or process involved in making it happen. Make to Treasure has to be part of that answer. 

Heather Golding is the Founding Director of TonyG.


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