This is a guest post from Kelly Butler, the founder of Gratify Home.
I have a confession to make—actually, several confessions.
I’m a newcomer to the ethical consumer space. I never received formal training in interior design. And I stumbled into this space by sheer happenstance. I live a dual life working in corporate at a large tech company and as the passionate founder of Gratify Home. Have you wanted to make the leap from ethical fashion into creating a welcoming, beautiful ethical home? Read on.
If you’re reading these words, I know you have a big heart. You’re already well aware of the positive impact you have on the world through ethical fashion. The industry is now well-established and although there’s so much awareness and work still to be done, the foundation for the ethical fashion market is built. The impact of #whomademyclothes and the dedicated community of people like you is making a difference.
But, when it comes to the ethical home style market, it’s not so well established. Sure, there are some green lifestyle and zero waste blogs out there, but when I searched for bloggers who were creating beautiful spaces using ethical design principles, I came up empty. You see, I’m an interior design nerd. Styling a coffee table, obsessing over just the right rug, or testing out pillow patterns can bore (or overwhelm!) most people to tears – but that’s my jam. I receive random text messages with fuzzy pictures of a friend’s living room, asking me for goodness sake, can I come help style their bookshelves? Or a message while my mom is out shopping – what do I think about this throw blanket? And I’m all too eager to step in.
Setting the context
My point of view is that we can have it all. We don’t have to sacrifice style for ethics in our homes, but it requires some mindset changes to achieve. To me, it’s not all about only fair trade. Or only vintage. Or only sustainable. It’s about combining these principles to create a holistic view of an ethically designed home and setting goals to make progress towards styling more mindfully and consciously. The approach is one of progress over perfection, with the acknowledgment that this market is not as well-defined, and being perfect or applying pressure or judgment alienates others from stepping in to participate and learn. We’re all in various stages of ethical purchasing for our homes, and that’s OK.
In some ways, you can take your existing ethical fashion principles and overlay them easily to your home. But in other ways, ethical home styling is different from ethical fashion. Many things you buy for your home (especially furniture) on average have higher price tags than the clothing in your closet. The value behind what you buy is magnified, as is the opportunity to affect social change with your purchase. Buying vintage—again, especially furniture—for your home requires more careful planning and consideration.
It’s not as simple as trying on an item of vintage clothing to ensure the right fit. Aside from buying vintage, it can be more challenging to find a breadth of sources for buying fair trade and other types of ethical certified home goods.
When styling home interiors, there are several broad principles that I’ve identified that I hope can help you:
1. Limit consumption
This doesn’t necessarily mean living as a minimalist (though, more power to you if that’s your style). I would consider limiting consumption in home decor in three major ways.
First, it’s about reusing more of what you have. Painting a piece of furniture to better fit a room, covering a loud print vintage chair with a more modern slipcover, using a breakfast table as a library table in a different room.
Second, it’s about buying vintage instead of new where possible and feasible for your space. There are 10 million tons of furniture going into landfills per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 10 million tons. The rate of furniture waste is accelerating as the rise of flat-packed furniture has created a “fast furniture” culture similar to fast fashion, and a mindset that we can buy furniture cheaply and then dispose of it when it doesn’t last.
Vintage furniture buying is getting easier as more and more companies have taken curated collections online, though the downside comes with high shipping costs and higher environmental impacts of long-distance transport. For this reason, I recommend shopping locally for larger pieces of furniture.
And finally, limiting consumption is about buying more flexible pieces. One of the key questions I work with my clients to help answer is “What are all of the places in my home that I can use this piece?”
With a little creativity and commitment, you can purchase more responsibly knowing that there’s a long term future for the item and that it won’t be discarded. I recently decided against a sectional sofa in favor of two separate couches, as I know we’ll one day move to a smaller home and I want flexibility in using my couches differently with a new floor plan.
A few of my favorite flexible furniture pieces are console tables (to be used behind a couch, in an entryway, or to hold a TV in the bedroom), neutral armchairs with clean lines (to be used in main living room seating, to fill the corner of a bedroom reading nook, or in the entry as a place to put shoes on), and poufs (to be tucked under a console table to save space for extra seating, or to be moved in front of a chair to comfortable put up your feet).
2. Look at the value beyond the price tag
So often, we associate value with a price tag; hence, the term “sticker shock.” But I bet you’ve explored the value beyond the price tag with some of your ethical fashion pieces and thinking about cost per wear in addition to ethical production and materials. Buying for your home is similar.
Questions to ask yourself before investing in a piece for your home are:
- How long can I expect to use this item?
- Where are all of the places in my home I can use it?
- Can it be used for different purposes?
- How much wear and tear is expected?
- What is the quality? Is it well-made and sturdy?
- How trendy is this item?
I recommend, for the most part, sticking with neutral fabrics for major upholstered furniture to maximize flexibility and budget. The look can easily be changed by updating pillow covers or throw blankets. One other consideration is that the cleaner the lines and the more classic the shape, the longer you can expect to keep the piece. I advise against going along with a trend for a major furniture purchase that you’re likely to soon tire of.
3. Learn who made the item and how their lives are impacted
Fair trade is a cause very close to my heart, as I bet it is to yours, too. I’ve done some fair trade home goods product testing and have found that not all fair trade is created equally. My advice is to buy only what you love, rather than sacrificing and buying something only because it’s fair trade. Buying a fair trade item that you don’t love may feel conscious at first, but you’re less likely to keep it in the long term and that creates other issues. Be aware of product reviews of the quality before buying.
At first, I was challenged to find a breadth of fair trade home goods, beyond trinkets and textiles. But, the more I looked, the more I found. Some of my favorite sources for fair trade are earthy accessories from Connected Goods, modern profile mirrors and global decor objects from The Citizenry, and seriously sumptuous sheets from Boll & Branch.
As I continue researching within this space, I’m on the lookout for home goods certifications that place human rights and anti-slavery at the forefront, with transparency in the supply chain. I recently came across Goodweave, an organization working to address the issue of 152 million children globally who are forced into labor. According to Goodweave, “carpet kids” sit at looms for up to 14 hours per day, using sharp tools to weave carpets with no access to education. Some are trafficked to loom sheds far from home—often under threat of violence—to work off a family debt that can never be repaid on meager wages.
Goodweave creates an assurance on behalf of importers and manufacturers that the foods they make and sell have been produced without child labor, forced labor, or bonded labor – through the policies and programs including unannounced inspections. Now, you can search for and purchase rugs with the Goodweave label here.
4. Discover how home goods impact the environment and our health
This principle is certainly intertwined with buying vintage as well, to limit our consumption for environmental impact. There is a wealth of considerations in this category that I’m learning more about and this topic could be a significant article on its own, so here I’ll focus on considerations when buying new wood furniture.
According to the Illegal Deforestation Monitor, $17B of wood (which is used for things like wooden furniture) is traded through illegal forestation every year. The recent Amazon fires and threatened rainforest habitats sound further alarms, yet the U.S. leads with the highest demand for wood furniture.
As companies in the U.S. try to market themselves as responsible, there are a number of wood certifications popping up that just aren’t substantiated with true transparency. The gold standard for buying new wood furniture continues to be the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
One of my favorite resources for FSC certified furniture is Elizabeth’s comprehensive blog entry on sustainable furniture so you know where to buy. In addition to her recommendations, I’ve found more mainstream retailers shifting their wood sourcing to FSC certified collections, like Williams Sonoma and CB2. Search their sites with “FSC” to see the results for products matching the certification criteria.
5. Prioritize quality craftsmanship and the uplifting of global cultures
In our world of instant gratification and demand to have the perfect room put together overnight, there’s something to be said for taking the slow road. We’ve talked already about the impact of quality on the longevity of your home goods, and quality is directly related to craftsmanship. When buying home goods, I seek to examine how the item was made and how the purchase can uplift global cultures and crafts. The story behind it makes my home feel more meaningful, more complete.
Buying artisan-made isn’t always feasible, but I enjoy supporting artisans, global and local, who have an incredible specialized skill that shows in their craft. You can support your favorite local artisans at craft and art shows. Though there are now so many options to choose from online, I’ve curated my favorite sources and here are a few to try: modern rugs, mats and pillows handmade in Egpyt by Kiliim, colorful fair trade hand-blocked textiles from Saffron Marigold, and contemporary and diverse wall baskets from KAZI.
Above all, you should know that you don’t actually need to make the leap into ethical home styling—it can be a small step. Progress over perfection starts with awareness of what’s out there, both for product sourcing and styling principles that will have you well on your way.
Interested in learning more?
- Register for Kelly’s free training on November 11, The Top 5 Mistakes in Ethical Home Styling: How You Can Overcome Them to Create a Home You Love
- Follow the Gratify Home Blog
- Follow Gratify Home on Instagram and Facebook
Gratify Home is launching a limited time new program on November 11, The Ethical Chic Home Kickstart, to help you overcome the overwhelm to create a welcoming home you love while staying true to your values of uplifting people and planet. Kelly will lead you through identifying your style, creating a simple space plan for your room, bringing in your personality, and finally, how to source your home goods at your own pace. Follow Gratify Home to be notified when the program goes live.
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Kelly Butler lives a double life in corporate America and as a passionate founder of Gratify Home. She gets out of bed in the morning to inspire women to create meaningful beauty in their homes while uplifting people and the planet. She loves the challenges of working with women who feel overwhelmed with the comparison of their homes, who feel that decorating their home just flat out takes too much time, who find it hard to locate ethical options that meet their budgets, and who don’t want to figure it out all on their own.
After spending 30 days in India, walking the poorest slums in Mumbai on a mission to re-imagine the strategy of an education nonprofit, Kelly became obsessed with sustainable business models. When she returned to her home in Atlanta, she knew that she would never be the same again. After some soul searching (and maybe a few ugly crying sessions), she began to get clarity. As a lover of interior design, Kelly researched how she could decorate her home while making positive impacts. But, to her surprise, the searches came up empty…she just couldn’t find a voice out there around ethical interiors to share the information she needed—so she created it herself.
Now, Kelly authors the Gratify Home blog focused around ethical interiors and works with select clients one on one with ethical room eDesign. Kelly is a mom to two fantastic sons, ages 15 and 12, and married to high school sweetheart, Jeff. Her family lives in Roswell, Georgia with their miniature dachshund, Blue.