Product Service Systems Are Back With Fernish Subscription Furniture

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Fernish dining room set

This might be a model for how to live lightly in a circular economy.

Longtime readers will remember the Product Service System or PSS, which Collin described as: of TreeHugger's favorite concepts shrouded by one of the clunkiest names. For anyone who'd like a quick refresher, a PSS replaces a product with a service; instead of paying for the product itself (and whatever maintenance and upkeep it requires), you pay to use the product for a bit, and then give it back.

Whether it was a tool rental or a cat café, we loved PSSs because you only paid for what you needed as long as you needed it. Some called this "the sharing economy" , but as Susie Cagle notes, that is a very different thing now.Fernish is a PPS for trendy and spendy furniture.

Fernish suite

© Fernish

That's why a startup, Fernish, is so interesting. One of the founders, Michael Barlow, used to move a lot and "threw away a lot of self-built furniture in the process." According to Amanda Lauren in Forbes,

Moving day was always chaotic. There would be arguments over who owned the sofa. In one instance, his roommate literally cut a daybed in half, although he claims it was more of a symbolic gesture. [Partner] Dickey had similar experiences, moving ten times in 13 years. During this period, neither one of them invested in furniture they planned to keep for the long term.
Fernish setting up furniture

© Fernish

Fernish rents furniture by the month, so it doesn't end up on the street every time you move. Unlike many of the rental companies out there, this is high end stuff. On their site they say:

Our mission is to end the cycle of buying poor-quality furniture and trashing it after a short time. We only invest in high-quality furniture that lasts. We donate anything that doesn’t pass our strict ‘good as new’ standards to communities in need.

This is what we have been talking about for years with PSSs. It is about building a circular economy where stuff doesn't go from the store to the dump with a stop at home in the middle. It's about all those Rs: Reuse, Refurbish, Repair – and I suppose we should add another, Rent.

But watch out, IKEA is coming.

Ikea store in singapore

Calvin Teo/Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

Fernish is in Los Angeles and Seattle, but may have to watch their back because the king of that self-built furniture is coming after this market; according to the Financial Times, IKEA is starting a leasing trial in Switzerland.

“We will work together with partners so you can actually lease your furniture. When that leasing period is over, you hand it back and you might lease something else,” Torbjorn Loof, chief executive of Inter Ikea, which owns the Ikea brand, told the Financial Times. “And instead of throwing those away, we refurbish them a little and we could sell them, prolonging the lifecycle of the products,” he added.

They will even lease you your kitchen instead of selling it, as part of IKEA's "push to develop a circular business model in which it not only sold products but could re-use them in making new items."

A commenter to the FT article actually described an interesting vision of a future where everything is rented:

Eventually, when we have to pay the full end-to-end costs of everything (up to and including the cost of returning metals to the Earth, in raw form...), and every item and component is individually logged, along with its life and use history, we'll consume everything by rental or lease. I'll pay a monthly fee to an Amazon-like provider and they'll take away everything and bring everything, weekly, to my door, based on my plans and personal style. We'll live lightly and pay the full cost. Future generations won't inherit our crap.

Personally, I have only bought vintage stuff that is not necessarily "good as new" but that the next generation in my family will be happy to inherit, but that's another post. In the meantime, I suspect you are going to be hearing a lot more about Product Service Systems.