A massive rant about consumer goods

Lovely cup of earl grey tea in an heirloom cup and saucer

There are a very few things that I am especially particular about. The rest of things, I am only mildly particular entirely obsessive about. The very few things are extremely important to my day-to-day well-being and overall happiness. They include; earl grey tea, in a nice cup, sometimes with a saucer, proper bread, Violet Leaf hair balm (oh how I wish I were a part owner of that one), good chocolate.

These few things are the things that I always buy. I need them. I have my specific kinds, brands, a handful of suppliers that I like.

What is going wrong at the moment, is that the specific brands and kinds I have used for years – without changing or stopping or going off them – are changing themselves.

First, it was the tea. The earl grey tea I had been buying since 1998 suddenly became not leaf tea but dust. Expensive, tasteless dust. Of course, I had to find a substitute, which was costly hard work. I’ve drunk every earl grey tea that you can buy in this country. None were ever as good. Still aren’t. Nice, but not the same and not as good.

Then, it was the hair balm. For the past 15 years I have been using Violet Leaf hair balm. While it is expensive, it is simply the best hair product for me. It works when I have long hair, short hair, any kind of hair mood. One day, I buy my usual two jars, open one up and I find it has changed. The consistency is slightly different. Softer. Not as tacky. Smells slightly different too. At first I thought, a batch variation. Then I finished the first jar and opened the second. Same thing. The formulation had been changed. Not an altogether good thing. A permanent change.

After the tea, it is the bread. One day dense and solid sourdough from of the best bakers, becomes suddenly the next week, lighter. And a bit lighter, and a bit lighter until I wonder why I am not buying supermarket bread at half the price! It doesn’t stop at the bread and tea – basic to my very survival. It’s the hair clips. Remember those imitation tortoiseshell hairclips?  Once, you bought one and it lasted ten years! By the time it broke you were sick of the very sight of it. Now you’re lucky if they last a week. And the peg buckets that hang on the washing line, and the t-shirts and the sheets and, and, and. It goes on and on and on.

But not only is the quality going down, the size is reducing. Dishwashing liquid used to be one litre; it is now 900 millilitres, washing powder has shrunk through concentration of the product – but is it really twice as effective? Am I actually only buying half as much? Products become 90 grams, hand cream, once 100 grams, now 75 grams – it is such a small difference you almost don’t notice, but it is less. Consumers are paying the same, for less.

I studied economics at school. I had an excellent teacher, and she taught us many things. One of those things was price elasticity and demand. Price goes down, demand goes up. Price goes up, demand goes down. Easy. Not so simple any more. Price stays the same, quality goes down. Alternatively, cheap goods have so flooded our market, we don’t know what value is any more. There is insufficient demand for a quality product – even in the niche markets. Even among those who care about quality; they, we, are still buying cheap essentially disposable goods. And it is affecting our every purchase. I pay the same amount for tea, but the tea is of lesser quality. The bergamot is fake, the leaves seem to be the sweepings off the packing shed floor; but I am still PAYING for it. All I want is a decent cup of tea, a piece of bread and good hair. It really isn’t too much to ask, but I can’t buy the things I want, even if I am prepared to pay.

I have heirloom china. It belonged to my great grandmother, and my grandmother. I have my own mothers’ Noritake tea set. Now if I go to David Jones and try to buy china, it isn’t made in England or somewhere else traditionally associated with porcelain, it isn’t made by hand, it’s made on a factory floor by a machine. It’s imperfect. Patterns are ugly, and sometimes crooked. None of this china will be handed down. No one will want it.

I wish I had known. I wish I had bought a lifetime supply of quality goods.  Of hot water bottles, and peg buckets and tea strainers and shoe horns and clothes brushes and the accoutrement for daily life. Everyday things that would be used, looked after and last. Sadly, it is not to be. Those days are long gone. Now I know how the elderly ladies feel.

“It’s all made in China these days dear.”