We're in the process of renovating our kitchen. In between thinking about the style of cabinets (I'm thinking modern shaker), whether I can afford a corian worktop (I can't - we'll be getting composite stone) and if there is such a thing as ethical flooring that suits a period property (there is - handcrafted encaustic cement tiles with art nouveau motifs are my saviour), I've realised I need a new oven mitt. You know the heatproof fabric doo-dahs that enable you to take a piping hot baking tray out of the oven without doing yourself a damage. Possibly the most important but most dull kitchen textile I can think of. But you know what, I can't find an ethical oven mitt here in New Zealand.
This has got me thinking about a couple of things - 1) whether Needs More Cushions should start making oven mitts (would you buy an ethcially produced oven mitt made from organic cotton by former refugees?), and 2) what constitutes ethical textiles in the kitchen.
Image credit: Salt at Shoal Bay - amazing accommodation near Sydney, Australia. Swoon.
I'd never thought about textiles in kitchens much before but I think we all actually have quite a few - tea towels, dishcloths, aprons...and if you have a dining area in the kitchen too, you can add napkins, table runners and placemats into the mix. Feel free to tell me I've got this horribly wrong, but I'd wager that most of us have given scant thought to where those textiles come from. Am I right? I know for a fact that I've been a sucker in the past for 'buy 2 get 1 free' cheap tea towel deals because the patterns look cool....
No more I say! From here on in I commit to only ethical textiles in the kitchen.
Here's how I'm going to do it.
Image credit: via My Scandinavian Home
1. Seek out natural fabrics
Now this is a work in progress for me. There is SO MUCH conflicting information out there about ethical textiles and their environmental impact. From whether they include tiny plastic particles that can end up in our waterways, to the amount of water they consume during production, finding a truly ethical textile is complicated and unlikely to be without some level of compromise.
But from the research I have done, it seems that opting for organic fabrics is a good way to go - be that cotton or linen (flax or hemp). But there are other options too, such as bamboo and lyocell fabrics (often known as Tencel) made from wood cellulose.
The other thing to factor in is the amount of chemicals involved in the making of the textile. While unbleached is fine if you are going for a very natural, Scandi look in the kitchen, it can leave us colour lovers feeling a little underwhelmed. So I'll be looking out for products that can claim natural dyes over synthetic nasties. It's quite astounding just how bright the colours from natural dyes can be - it's not all understated, muted hues, which was what I initially expected!
I'll be seeking out organic cotton or bamboo tea towels and aprons for sure. There are an increasing amount available these days in a range of styles and colours so I'm confident I'll find something that will work in the new kitchen.
And for the hard wearing cleaning textiles, I've spotted a range of dishcloths and sponges that are made from a blend of lyocell and cotton, that are reusable for several years, and that are biodegradable once they've served their purpose (or have started to look grim even when clean). They are on the wishlist. With so many options now available when it comes to eco-cleaning, there really is no excuse for that cheapo pack of scourers that is sitting (in single use plastic I might add - shame on me) in the cupboard under my sink.
Image credit: Bonny Beattie for Charlotte Minty Interior Design - a fabulous kitchen transformation in Kelburn, Wellington
2. Finding out who's doing the making
I don't mean in a creepy, stalky sense, but how lovely is it to know, even roughly, who has made the product you're buying? At Needs More Cushions you know that either Muna or Nubia - former refugees rebuilding their lives in New Zealand - have crafted the cushions we sell.
For other ethically-minded brands, it will be artisans working in small villages or communities in remote parts of the world. Or survivors of domestic abuse or sex trafficking. Or those with disabilities who are marginalised from the traditional employment market.
And for some solopreneurs it will be them, or their immediate family members, who have poured their heart and soul into a beautiful creation that will find its new home in yours.
For me, having a bit of information about who the talent is behind the product is one of the criteria I'll be applying to my purchases from now on. That way, each item in my home will have a story to tell and that story will be one of hope, empowerment and a better world.
Image credit: Amber Interiors
3. Supporting small businesses with big hearts
Screw the big guys, I'm shopping small. I know that we are starting to see some larger companies up their game when it comes to ethical and environmental issues, but frankly, I think their efforts fall pretty short. Having one or two sustainable ranges when 80 per cent of the rest of the stuff you sell is sweat-shop made just doesn't cut it for me. And if you're not prepared to go the whole hog, then I'm out. I don't want my purchase from your one ethical range to subsidise or offset your other shoddy practices. I just don't.
Rather than waste my time in mass market land, I'm going to hang out with the smaller players who genuinely care about the different they are making and whose products are far more likely to be unique and special.
Image credit: Nicole Franzen for Domino Magazine
Of course the magic really happens when you find products that meet all three of the criteria above. That's when silly folk like me do a happy dance and then tell all their friends about their wonderful finds! I do have to keep reminding myself however, that being a more ethical and eco-friendly consumer is a journey to be taken one-step at a time. As things wear out or need replacing, I'm seeking out more ethical alternatives. Some things are harder than others - like oven mitts....
What will your next ethical purchase be? Let me know in the comment below. And if you're after an ethical cushion made with love by former refugees here in New Zealand then check out our collection here.