Truth: you usually pick stuff out for your home because it looks pretty/sleek/cool or whatever adjective you’re going for (that, and it’s got an attractive price tag). I don’t blame you. But guess what, honey, the same ethical quagmire that applies to the world of cheap clothes shopping applies to the design realm. So put the vase down and read up on some ways to bring a little soul back into your housewares shopping.
You might be trying to eat more local produce in season, but let’s face it, the stuff we buy to deck out our kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms tends to be about as local as a hunk of pineapple in Yellowknife. Finding a couch made completely of materials grown near you is near impossible (you try finding native latex and cotton sprouting on Canuck soil—even most of the hemp fabric out there comes from eastern Europe or China), but you can make choices that bring your house’s style closer to home, literally. Ask for furnishings and decor items made in Canada or, better yet, in your home province or town. No, they won’t be as cheap as that oh so inexpensive stuff imported from China or India, but they should be more affordable than those European designs that get fawned over in design circles.
Though, of course, just because it’s made in Canada doesn’t mean it’s made with sustainable material. The greenest pieces are both local and made with earth-conscious components. And the greenest of the green designers form their furnishings with recycled or reclaimed objects. That means candle holders made from old wine barrels (grassrootsstore.com), a lounge chair made with the conveyor belts from a felt machine (brothersdressler.com) or a coffee table made of driftwood (wildwooddesigns.ca). For more Canadian-made designs, ask around at storefronts like Vancouver’s m-smart design (m-smartdesign.com), Toronto’s Made (madedesign.ca) and Koma (komadesigns.com) or Galerie CO in Montreal’s Mile End (galerie-co.com).
The complete opposite of 100-mile decorating in many ways, fair-trade shops are rammed with items that come from all corners of the globe, just like most of the household items you buy in conventional stores. The big difference here is that the workers were actually paid fairly to make wonderfully unique tablecloths, vases, teapots, sculpture, chairs, you name it. Certified fair-trade goods tend to be made by independent worker cooperatives with an emphasis on fair working conditions, gender equity and respect for the environment. Bringing fair-trade projects to a group of artisans with weaving or pottery skills, for instance, creates amazing economic opportunities for those who might otherwise be peddling their wares for pennies. And more and more fair traders are folding green materials into their product lines. One of the easiest places to access feel-good furnishings and housewares is at one of the dozens of Ten Thousand Villages storefronts across Canada. They sell all sorts of ethical and eco-conscious items, including recycled glassware, vegetable-dyed tablecloths, coconut shell salad servers, salvaged wood bowls and furniture, and a slew of super-cool decor items made with recycled phone books and magazines (tenthousandvillages.ca).