LAPADA conference at RSA House
The ‘Embracing Sustainability in the Art & Antiques Trade’ panel at the LAPADA conference at RSA House, chaired by Antiques Trade Gazette’s editor at large Noelle McElhatton.

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Themes included social media, attracting younger audiences and sustainability.

LAPADA chairman Lord de Mauley opened the annual event, which has switched venue from the House of Lords to RSA House on John Adam Street.

Introducing the ‘Embracing Sustainability in the Art & Antiques Trade’ panel, Antiques Trade Gazette editor-at-large Noelle McElhatton said the world faced "an environmental crisis, prioritised by governments and consumers alike.

"And yet still, the antiques trade has not fully staked its claim to being the greenest of businesses. We have to ask: what is stopping us?”

Nigel Worboys, owner of Worboys Antiques, launched the Antiques Are Green campaign a decade ago. That initiative was "five-to-ten years too early," he said.

"Many people back then didn’t know what a carbon footprint was! Now the consumer really does know what it all means. We as a trade can harness that now. We can promote that we are one of the greenest products that customers can consume.”

“Second hand will skyrocket”

Architecture and salvage expert Adam Hills of Retrouvius agreed that "one thing that has changed is how educated the buyer is".

The price of brown furniture has dipped, he said. "This is a way we can get young people back into buying brown. Tell them it is cheaper than at the Conran Shop and better for the environment.”

Hills added: “We have heard from [earlier speaker] Ewan Venters of Fortnum & Mason that growth in second hand will skyrocket. Young people may not be able to consume luxury goods but they may be able to buy second hand more.”

Worboys said the trade could do more to be green in terms of the vehicles and the packaging they choose. “It is important that every business does that. But it doesn’t involve spending a lot of money. Change your mind set and make the ‘green’ choice.”

Interior designer and natural paint specialist Edward Bulmer agreed that packaging is a problem for the trade. He said: “We seem to have an obsession with packaging. I ship with grey blankets and two people. That’s much better.”

But the trade must not forget what is important to the buyer, he added.

Bulmer said: “It boils down to images. Sell individual images and objects to buyers. Make them want that item.”

Interior designer Kelli Ellis

Kelli Ellis, celebrity interior designer and European director of dealer e-commerce software provider Ronati, shared her views and advice on sustainability at the LAPADA conference. She is pictured here in front of a 19th century Bokhara rug from Aaron Nejad at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in January.

Kelli Ellis, interior designer and European director of dealer e-commerce software provider Ronati, said: “The word 'sustainable' is not sexy. What does it even mean?”

“Consumers are searching for ‘the look’, uniqueness, price and something beautiful. We need to tell buyers what they need to buy. We need to make it ‘no big deal’ to be thinking green.”

Audience member and furniture dealer Lennox Cato said the most important thing for the trade is branding. “What we should be doing is concentrating on what we do well. Build your brand.”

New Audiences

Among the other highlights of the event was the keynote address on The Wallace Collection by director Dr Xavier Bray.

He talked about the strategies they are working on to attract new audiences, including exhibitions covering modern art and fashion as well as an upcoming show of dog portraits.

Ben Mason, director of The Tom Sawyer Effect, said that 15 years after Facebook launched, social media is less about "noise" and volume of followers and more focused on influence, connection and sharing expertise.

He also suggested that having a social media presence could help with future-proofing the trade as a new generation starts buying art and antiques.