I used to think ‘ethical’ homewares were just grass-woven baskets and embroidered table runners - not my style, that’s for sure! But since creating Gingerfinch, I’ve found there is an increasing number of fabulous brands that have sustainability and ethical production front and center of their work. Yet it can be really difficult to determine if a product is sustainable, or just another factory-made, mass-produced item that will break or look rubbish in a few years.
I apply a rigorous sustainability framework to all Gingerfinch products before I stock them, and I’d love to share it with you. So read on for my three easy steps to shop sustainably for your home, without compromising your style.
Do your Homework Without Getting Out of Your Pjs
The first step is doing a little research and be considered in what you buy. Shop online rather than at physical stores, as you’ll have time to learn about the products you’re interested in. (And it’s actually more sustainable to shop online - did you know that 22 percent of a product’s climate impact comes from consumer transport? Incredible!). Read the About page of brand’s website and dig deep into product pages. If it’s ethically and thoughtfully made, the brand will usually shout it from the rooftops. If not, chances are it’s not a sustainable product.
When doing your research, how do you know if your favourite homewares products are sustainably made? I have three simple question that will give you all the information you need to make sustainable shopping choices: who, where and what.
1 - Who Made This?
The most important question for me is who made the product. I love supporting boutique brands who share the same values as I do, so this is the first thing I look for. I read a brand’s story, check out their blog and track down interviews they have done. I look for information on how the brand came about, what motivates them to create, and if they talk about their sustainability practices.
When I’m sourcing for Gingerfinch, I often visit makers and creators in their studio so I can chat to them about their work and philosophy. I was lucky enough to visit the workshop of Gravelli concrete products when I was in Prague, Czech Republic. I was familiar with their stunning bowls but when I learned more about their story and the unique formula they use to get their concrete products so fine, I knew I just had to stock them.
I also love a number of Australian brands because of their incredible stories: Ena Products, who, like Gingerfinch, was influenced by the founder’s grandmother; Denver & Liely, who pride themselves on perfecting just three incredible products; and Kester Black, who have revolutionized the beauty industry with the most ethical nail polish in the world. Taking the time to learn a brand’s story to find out why they make, as well as what they make, can help you shop consciously and sustainably.
2 - Where is this Made?
To figure out if a product is sustainable or not, one of the most telling questions is, where is it made. Products that are mass-produced in a factory are rarely sustainable. Likewise, goods that are made in unethical workshops around the world should be immediately ruled out. Many fabulous homewares are made off-shore, and that doesn't mean they're unsustainable or unethical. Just read what the manufacturer or brand has to say about where and how their products are made. If nothing is mentioned, I tend to err on the side of caution and assume it's not made sustainably.
And of course, supporting Australian-made products means lower carbon miles and supports our local communities. Australian brands Koskela and Rohr Remedy both work closely with indigenous communities to develop incredible homewares and organic skin products respectively.
I have fallen in love with brands because of where they make their products. For instance, Article 22 is an incredible US brand that makes jewellery from melted down bomb scraps from the bombardment of Laos during the Vietnam War. Laotian craftspeople create the jewellery, supporting the local community, and Article 22 donates 10% of profits to de-mining efforts in Laos. I also love Soko, another US brand that commissions edgy, fashion-forward jewellery made from upcycled brass (like door handles) from artisans in Kenya. Soko have developed an incredible app that allows the artisan to receive job orders and payment for their work from anywhere in Kenya.
3 - What is it Made From?
The materials used to manufacture a product have a huge impact on whether it’s sustainable or not. Keep an eye out for products made from wood from sustainably-sourced forests, bamboo, cork, recycled glass or metal (recycled anything, really), organic linen or cotton.
However, the question of manufacture materials is very challenging. For every ‘sustainable’ material, there is usually an ‘unsustainable’ component: organic cotton and bamboo consume huge amounts of water, and even sustainably sourced wood uses considerable carbon miles. So I try to overcome these tensions by purchasing dual/multi-use goods or products made from recycled materials as much as possible. While there may be some unsustainable elements, buying dual-use means you are buying less - which is more sustainable long-term.
I have recently discovered a little-known South Korean brand, Zero Designs, who create zero-waste clothes and accessories. Their aprons are made with just 5% waste material, and they can be turned into a tote bag! I also adore new Australian brand Huskee, who make reusable coffee cups from the raw coffee husks generated from coffee production.These questions act as a guide and you might not be able to answer all three with confidence. But if you think about which ones matter the most to you (for me it’s who makes it and what is it made from) and you have satisfactory answers to those questions, you’re already shopping more sustainably than you previously did.
Do I Really Need This?
The best thing you can do to shop sustainably without compromising style is to think carefully about what you need. Sure, I get it, we all want a little retail therapy now and again. But unfortunately the homewares industry also produces cheap, ‘seasonal’, throw away products that follow the trends of the moment. And when we tire of it in less than a year, it usually ends up in landfill. Shopping impulsively often leads to buying stuff we don’t need or love.
That doesn’t mean everything we buy should be super expensive and high-end (thank you Ikea wine glasses). But I believe we should try to shop how our grandparents shopped: save for the best quality we can afford, take care of it and treasure it for life. There’s nothing more sustainable than that.