There are many things we think about when shopping—brands, prices, styles, materials—but one thing consumers are increasingly focused on is the way that products are made.
This line of thinking, often called conscious consumerism, is a millennial-driven movement to make a positive impact on the world through our everyday purchases. While there are many ways to do this - shopping artisan-made products can be particularly meaningful for everyone involved.
There are evident social and environmental consequences of conventional manufacturing—from worker exploitation, to air pollution, unsafe labor conditions and more. Shopping products that are made by hand, by artisans, can be a powerful alternative to the factory-based mass-production that we aspiring-ethical-shoppers do not want to support.
There are an ever-growing number of brands—both non- and for-profit—that are working with artisans in the developing world to source and create handmade products for the international market. These companies are often founded with social values and ethically-driven business models at their core.
While every brand is different, and not all hold themselves to the same social and environmental standards, there are a few general reasons why shopping artisan-made products can be good for everyone.
1. It provides real, living wages
Most artisan-made brands are dedicated to providing their workers with living wages that take into account the amount of time and skill that go into each product, as well as the local living standards and needs of the communities in which their products are made. Many traditional retailers, on the other hand, rely on cheap sources of labor to achieve high profit margins. This means that, for some companies, workers are making as little as 2% of the wholesale price for any given (already low-priced) product.
2. It’s better for the environment
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. According to ethical fashion retailer, Zady, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s total carbon output and 20% of its fresh water pollution. Many artisan-made brands, on the other hand, are dedicated to incorporating eco-friendly practices throughout their production process, sourcing natural, recycled and upcycled materials and utilizing time-honored artisanal techniques with a low carbon footprint.
3. Uplifting workers uplifts communities
Providing fair, sustainable wages empowers artisans to care for themselves and their families, creating healthier, happier communities around the globe. Many artisan-made brands take this commitment to community development a step further by investing in programs for the artisans and their families. Indego Africa provides business and entrepreneurship training for the Rwandan and Ghanaian women who make our products. Ethiopian handmade fashion brand Lemlem gives 5% of all proceeds to support access to maternal healthcare in Africa. The Brave Collection, which sells jewelry handmade by Cambodian artisans, provides health insurance and stipends for their artisans’ children education, in addition to donating 10% of profits to fighting sex trafficking in Cambodia.
4. Well-made goods last longer
Artisan-made products are typically handcrafted with care, precision, and high quality materials that make for longer-lasting finished products. Plus, you’ll be making a difference with every purchase you make. Talk about a win-win! While it may not be possible (yet) to cut out all conventionally manufactured products from our lives, it’s all about starting somewhere, right? By choosing to invest where we can in products that are ethically-made, we can start to make a difference in the world and send a powerful message to corporations about the products and companies that we will—and won’t—support.