The “Why” of How We Buy
Conscious consumption. As a purveyor of goods, it’s a topic that’s always on my mind. But the subject feels particularly weighty as we move through “market season”—that time of year when retailers converge on places like New York, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Paris to meet vendors new and old and do months’ worth of buying for their stores.
The shows are spectacles of excess and fun. (The trends! The merchandising! The schmoozing! The boozing!) But after two decades in the home industry, for me they have also become an opportunity to reflect on where we are as consumers and where I want to be as a business.
Shopping mirrors and accent furniture in High Point, North Carolina.
Context: I entered the world of small retail after years producing lifestyle content as an editor for magazines, then for a big e-comm retailer where volume and market share were everything. As an editor, I had gone to these shows to see what was trending, and as an e-comm content creator I accompanied buyers as they scoped out trends and looked for ways to get them to customers cheaper, faster, and on an ever-larger scale.
As a small retailer, by contrast, my goal is to curate an experience, tell the stories attached to things, and share a point of view. My shop features a mix of products from New England and around the world, and I try to combine affordable, gotta-have-them items with handcrafted pieces made by people who care about everything from sourcing to packaging to knowing our names as partners.
That can be hard. As uncomfortable as it is to see some customers nudge each other and whisper when they see a price tag in the shop (“So expensive! Who buys this stuff?”), it’s even harder to open a box from a new vendor that’s filled to the brim with Styrofoam, and full of items made in haste and en masse.
The dirty secret is that there’s no such thing as cheap home decor. Somebody, somewhere, always pays. Whether it’s poor quality, poor wages and working conditions, or harm to the environment, cheap is cheap for a reason. And every year I become less and less OK with that.
So in my shop I try to strike a balance, focusing on the small batch and handmade—which tends to be higher priced—while stocking a limited amount of decor from companies that sell low-priced items but hold themselves to a higher standard. And once everything is in the shop, my team and I try to mix things up so it’s hard to know at a glance what’s high and what’s low (a skill that, when mastered, is the epitome of chic).
For our part, when considering an item to buy for the shop, regardless of price, we run through a laundry list of questions:
- Is the piece both pretty AND useful?
- Does it work in the kinds of homes we live in?
- Who makes it?
- Where? What’s the social and economic climate there?
- Who are the people making the most from this sale, and do we like what they stand for?
- How well is it made?
- What are the materials?
- Does it feel good in the hand and when it's being used?
- How long will it last?
- Does its character get richer with age, or will time and use just make it look old?
- Will it be out of style in a year?
- What are the chances this will end up in a landfill in a year or two?
- How much care is taken when it’s shipped? Does the vendor use eco-friendly packaging? What waste does this create?
And after all that, can we confidently say that it’s worth it?
Once we find products and vendors that feel worth it, we tend to stick with them. And so instead of going to every show, we pop in from time to time to keep tabs on where the industry is heading—but we don’t chase trends.
Because timeless style always tops a cheap thrill.
Because choosing quality over quantity is what is going to save this planet.
Because we’re small, and we care.
Thanks for caring, too.