With ‘fast fashion’ a term that can just as easily be applied to the homeware market as it can to clothing, it’s very difficult to know just how ethical the product you are buying is. Usually it means if it’s super cheap then the chances of it being ethical are slim. But with Decorator’s Notebook the buying process is completely transparent and design, quality and ethics are the focus of the business.
While shopping on Decorator’s Notebook you can clearly see where all of the product is sourced, and you can click on the ‘Story’ tab to meet the makers behind the product. Decorator’s Notebook guarantee that those making the products they sell are being paid a fair wage and not having to work in poor conditions. Further still, the profits made from the products are put back into supporting social projects in the country they are sourced from, so you can shop with a clear conscience.
Decorator’s Notebook is run by brother and sister team, Bethan and Joe, who are on a mission to prove that ethical and beautiful design can go hand-in-hand. The online store opened in 2013 and sells design-led home accessories crafted by fair trade groups and social enterprises in the developing world. Bethan’s background as an interior design journalist and Joe’s previous career in e-commerce mean the items available are stylish and the online store is suitably slick. Each purchase made brings talented artisans in the developing world closer to a financially stable future. They particularly support women, people with disabilities and ethnically marginalised groups, and the sales made help to to elevate their position in society and gives them the resources, skills and confidence to challenge discrimination and take on new roles in their households and communities. I interviewed Bethan to find out a bit more about the reasons for setting up Decorator’s Notebook, the values behind the online store and the product and designs they sell…
What is the philosophy behind Decorator’s Notebook? It sounds a bit dramatic, but I genuinely believe that design can change the world! I’m really passionate about helping people create a home that’s personal to them and connecting them to the makers of the things they buy. There are so many artisans in developing countries making beautiful things, but too many retailers opt for mass-produced goods instead. As a result, traditional craft skills are being lost and families are often torn apart when they’re forced to move to the cities to find work in factories. By paying fair wages and helping our artisans develop their designs, we can help them make a sustainable living from their skills, stay in their homes and keep families together.
What type of products do you sell? Our products are a celebration of traditional crafts and contemporary design. We sell a curated collection of design-led home accessories made by artisans who get a fair deal. You’ll find sisal baskets handwoven by members of a women’s co-op in Kenya, quilts made from vintage saris by women recovering from trafficking in Bangladesh, hand-thrown pottery made by disabled artisans in India and so many more. Connecting the products to the people and stories behind them is really important to us, so when you visit our shop you’ll also find interviews with our makers and photographs of them at work. Some products are even signed by the individual maker.
How do you decide what goes into the collections? I look for beautiful products with an inspiring story to tell. Quite often, making socially responsible choices when you shop can mean compromising your style… I don’t think that needs to be the case. My mission is to prove that design, quality and ethics can go hand in hand, so it’s really important to me that every product scores equally highly on all counts. I want to challenge the perception that ethical goods are all ‘hippyish’ and give people a beautiful online shop where they can buy thoughtfully-designed homeware that shines in a contemporary home.
What is your favourite product that you currently sell and why? The kantha quilts are amazing. We work with a social enterprise in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that helps women escape the sex trade and offers fairly-paid employment making traditional kantha quilts from vintage saris. Every single one is unique with a different vintage sari on each side and embroidered all over with neat lines of hand-stitching. They also come with an embroidered label with the name of the lady who made it and a link so the new owner can read her personal story. Our kantha quilts really embody what Decorator’s Notebook is about – beautiful products that make a genuine difference to the lives of the makers.
What has been the most exciting moment for Decorator’s Notebook so far? Christmas was a fantastic experience for us… it was so special to think that so many people would be unwrapping presents from our little shop on Christmas morning! We also did some gift fairs and markets too, which was lovely as we got to meet customers face-to-face and talk to people about our collection. When you’re an online business you don’t necessarily get to meet your customers very often, so it was really fun and valuable too.
What do you love most about running Decorator’s Notebook? I feel really proud that Joe and I have built Decorator’s Notebook from scratch, all by ourselves. I love starting work knowing that what we achieve each day will have a direct impact on the success of our business and improve the lives of our makers. It’s a great feeling to have – scary sometimes – but great!
Is there anything coming up in 2015 that we should keep an eye open for? We have the most beautiful new collection of indigo shibori throws and cushions launching next month and I can’t wait to show them off! They come from an amazing social enterprise in Northern Bangladesh that grows the indigo (lots of people are surprised that indigo is actually a plant, not just a shade of blue) and make their own dye from scratch. The cloth is hand-loomed khadi cotton which is stitched, bound and tied using ancient Japanese techniques to produce stunning patterns when dyed. The deep blue colour of real indigo is out of this world!
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