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The search for ethical artisan homewares

A guest blogger tracks down websites for feelgood homewares

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The search for ethical artisan homewares

November 10 2011
Candida Balfour

Flicking idly through a glossy magazine recently, I saw an article on the group of people who have become known as the “gypset”, so-called because they live a hybrid of the gypsy and the jet-set lifestyles; apparently they are rich and tech-savvy euro heirs who travel the world in Missoni flip-flops and hand-embroidered sarongs in their search for exotic artisan finds to sell online and connect the consumer with the producer.

While one could easily hold this unusual social hybrid up for chippy ridicule, they are in fact doing good: they are using all their style knowlege and PR know-how to promote the idea that online marketplaces importing exotic and rare fashions from around the world should send some of the profit directly back to where they were made.

And this got me to discussing with my friends that while in the fashion world, this sort of ethos seems like old hat, with the likes of Suno and Prada’s Made In... line promoting direct work with exotic artesans at a mid-to-high-end level, with interiors it seems that we are a step behind when it comes to design-oriented, on-trend yet distinctly ethnic pieces.

A preliminary Google of “ethical artisan homewares” initially yielded little to salivate over. However, I did come across two websites in particular to which I would send anyone who has a consumer conscience and who is looking for something a little more upmarket than Portobello’s latest embroidered offering.

The first is Nkuku, which I featured on my blog, Nestify, just after it had launched and which is thriving and growing by the day. It provides mango wood bowls (first picture, £12.95 each), beautiful and sophisticated block-printed floor cushions (second picture, £44.95 each), quirky drawer knobs (third picture, £6.95 each) and much, much more; Nkuku was recently voted “Most Ethical Business” by NotOnTheHighStreet.com. Working closely with its producers, the people behind the site are keen to promote environmental awareness, and the site is often a great resource for green information and reports. Style, though intrinsic to all its products, comes second to fair trade and earth-friendly business.

The second site, Jali Designs, is little known; following my recent How To Spend It blog on the ikat print, they contacted me with some information about their designs. They work specifically with war-torn communities in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, promoting their traditional crafts. They also run a scheme whereby they provide you with all the samples, information and goodwill you need to host a party promoting their work.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Jali Designs is that they know all of their artisans by name, and all are showcased on their website.