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Posts Tagged ‘craft’

I get asked this a lot.  And it’s a good question. People seem to think it’s hard to find ethical products, but it isn’t if you use a bit of initiative and are prepared to search. And actually, it’s a lot easier now than when Boutiko first launched. In the space of 18 months or so, ethical online stores have exploded in numbers, and now with all the ethical/eco/green directories popping up, both on and offline, it’s more straightforward than ever.

I have several methods, and I always have my ‘new product radar’ on, wherever I am, because sometimes you find things in the most unexpected of places. So if you’re planning to start your own online store, or just want to know how us professionals do it, read on. (Sorry, got carried away with the self-aggrandisement for a moment there. Ahem.)

1) Trade Shows – There are various well established trade shows throughout the year in the UK, such as Pulse and Top Drawer in London, and BCTF and Home and Gift in Harrogate, to name a few. I go to these to see what’s new, what my current suppliers are doing, and it’s good to get a general feel of what’s going on. (Also, it’s like shopping without the guilt factor, but we won’t dwell on such unprofessional thoughts.)

2) Tinterweb – I seem to be fairly unusual amongst my friends in that I can happily spend many hours hunched over my computer following links from site to site, checking out my favourite sites’ current offerings and finding new delights for Boutiko’s pages. It’s a bit naughty but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who checks out what my competitors are doing too. Actually, it’s kind of essential.

3) Fairs – These are great for not only meeting your customers face to face, always a pleasure when most of your business is done through the site, but also for finding new products and making new contacts. You will learn which fairs are worth doing/going to and which aren’t so successful for you. I find anything from September onwards is a good call because of it being the run up to Christmas.

4) Magazines – I’ve always enjoyed a good glossy, and now I can call it work! Hurrah. Shopping pages are great, and fashion spreads with accessories are good for sites like mine. Even better of course are those magazines that either have dedicated ethical product pages or are actually ethically minded as a whole.

5) Ethical Directories – A quick search on Google will throw up lots of these, and then it’s just a matter of making a cup of coffee, maybe cracking open a packet of biscuits, and trawling.

5) Actually, Google, or your personal search engine of choice, is your probably your best friend here (when is it not though, really). Chuck a bunch of phrases like ‘wholesale eco products’ at it, and it will duly reward you with something interesting.

6) High Street Shopping – I nearly forgot this! Hmm, too much time spent in front of a screen perhaps. Apart from being healthy (well, you know, walking), more and more shops, and in particular the independent sort, are stocking ethical skincare lines or fair trade toys for example.

7) Online Forums – It seems new forums (fora? forae?) are popping up every day, from those for the spiritually minded to pet lovers to vegans and vegetarians. Whatever the topic, these are great places to see what people are talking about and make good contacts. Yes they can get a bit silly (there’s some weird phenomenon at work which makes people bicker a lot it seems to me), but if you avoid the crap and learn to skim all will be well.  And there are lots which are useful to us ethical products peeps too; from anything ethically minded of course,  to wedding forums if you’re sourcing gifts, to crafts related forums. Which leads me to…

8 ) Folksy and Etsy – and the rest of the burgeoning crop of craft sites popping up. It’s official, craft is cool now (you knew this of course) (and if not, where have you BEEN?), and I’d say Folksy and Etsy are among your best bets for finding good quality, professional but accessible and affordable crafts of all kinds. Etsy of course is based in the US and operates in dollars, but if you are ordering something light like jewellery and can cover the importing costs, you’re guaranteed something really original. Folksy is based here in the UK, and although smaller, is growing daily. Go and have a look; I defy you not to find something you need to buy RIGHT NOW.

9) Newsletters – I sign up to newsletters all the time. You can unsubscribe whenever you like (usually, and if they don’t offer this I’m pretty sure it’s practically illegal) and they can draw your attention to all sorts of wonders without you having to do any more than open your inbox.

10) Blogs – This works in much the same way as the other internet methods; search and trawl. Most ethical/small businesses seem to have blogs now, as do crafters. Add the interesting ones to your feed and get out those biscuits again. (Don’t worry, you’ll be walking them off when you do your ‘outdoor research’.)

Of course there are bound to be a ton of other ways to source products that I have not covered here. Once you start, one thing will lead to another and you’ll find you have more choice than you know what to do with. It does become second nature after a while. Good luck. :o) And remember to take breaks for stretching and fridge raiding chores. Oh, and let me know if you have different/better ways to find your products. Spread the love.

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Here’s an article I wrote for the Ooffoo Competition (prize £500 and becoming ‘Ooffoo Laureate 2008’). It’s something about which I feel pretty strongly, so I thought, why not?!

Ethical products are fast becoming an everyday sight in shops and on websites. Great! As an owner of a website selling ethically produced gifts, I am all for this sudden explosion of conscience over the past few years.

Mostly, these products come from all around the world, in particular Africa, India and Asia. Purchasing a handwoven basket which was produced by a family business in Vietnam, or a pair of earrings handcrafted in a women’s cooperative in India enables us to help those who live a life so different from ours and so devoid of the daily luxuries we enjoy, that it is hard to imagine unless you go and see for yourself. Buying ethical products means we can ‘do our bit’, however small. There can surely be no argument against trying to redress the balance whenever we get the chance.

It’s probably going to sound like a ‘but’ is coming now! Well yes and no. I would always advocate buying fair trade and eco friendly products when you can – contrary to popular opinion there is not always a huge price difference, but there can be a huge difference in effect. However, I want to stand up for a moment for all the small businesses in the UK, in particular those that produce handmade goods in an ethical way.

In recent years the British craft scene has been growing from something slightly geeky and subterranean, to the coolest thing you can do. Knitting classes and groups like Stitch’n’Bitch have sprung up all over the country, and websites such as Etsy are growing more popular daily, with the recent emergence of the British version, Folksy, and countless others springing up all the time. I think these crafters have always been there, but now it’s much easier to benefit from and enjoy their hard work! It is no longer hard to find beautifully handcrafted wooden pieces, jewellery, ceramics, textiles and countless other practices that abound in our own homeland and with a stamp of Britishness on them.

The best thing about all this is the increasing combination of craft and environmental awareness. Many crafters are using vintage materials, recycling and ‘upcycling’ old into new in imaginative and exciting ways. These small businesses need our support too. Yes, fair trade is a valuable and worthwhile enterprise, and we should continue to buy the products with the little black, green and blue label on whenever possible, but let’s not forget those a bit closer to home who are also running small businesses using their skills and working with small budgets. Now that we are heading into recession, this argument stands up more than ever. It would be a tragedy to see small UK based businesses go under, and we can perhaps help to keep our economy going by spending a bit more a bit closer to home.

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