News & Expert Interviews
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
1) How do you define sustainable furniture? Is it just where the materials come from? Or...?
Certainly there are a lot of definitions out there, but I try to put myself in the shoes of a customer who is searching for "sustainable furniture." Usually that person is looking for more than just an assurance that the raw materials in their furniture come from sustainable sources. More than likely, that consumer is looking for a holistic product that comes to market through a series of steps that embody both environmental and social responsibility. Our company is founded on those values and each of our products is reflective of them - some more than others. For example, our minimum criteria include:
- Raw materials from sustainable sources
- Eco-friendly production practices
- Proper safety and health practices for craftspeople
- Involvement in promoting sustainability
- Commitment to improvement
- Consideration of third party certification
2) How did you get started in this field? What was the inspiration for forming this company?
An unusual sequence of events unfolded over a long period of time to get this business started. About 12 years ago I heard an alarming statistic: The planet is losing its rain forests at a rate of approximately 1 football field per second... 24-7-365. I was shocked and wondered "why isn't somebody doing something about this? We need the rain forest to fight global warming and maintain the miracle of biodiversity that has evolved on this earth over so many millions of years." Then I thought about Gandhi's quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world." Shortly after that I found myself being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and fighting for my life. According to my doctors, I had lost so much blood that day that it was astounding that I had survived. I felt at that point, that perhaps there was a reason why I survived and perhaps I had some significant work to do. I quit my corporate job and focused on raising my family and supporting my community, with an emphasis on environmental conservation. It wasn't until 10 years later though, that several seemingly unrelated factors converged to give me the inspiration to establish Vermont Woods Studios.
3a) How did you gather your network of artisans?
Vermont is a very small, rural state with lots of forest and only about 630,000 people. Not surprisingly, a high percentage of those people work with wood, in some fashion or other. We are linked by professional organizations, community events and a need to collaborate with each other in order to achieve the size necessary to market and present ourselves to the world. It became clear to me that our talent in woodworking far exceeded our capacity to market our products. Most of Vermont's woodworking artisans have a critical need for assistance with marketing and sales.
3b) How do you judge their work?
The great majority of our furniture artisans have won numerous awards and have been featured in galleries and fine woodworking magazines. That makes my job easy in this respect. However, part of our mission is to provide opportunities for artisans who are just beginning in their field. We want to help them achieve the recognition that the others have attained. We want to help Vermont grow this green industry, and do our part to help our state maintain its environmentally-friendly economy. So with the newer artisans, we review their work, bring them into the professional woodworking network in Vermont and help them to develop their skills to the point where we can match them up with customers who are seeking furniture within their niche.
4) What are your best selling pieces?
With custom work, our sales are so diverse. No two items are the same and we really haven't seen any one item that seems to overshadow the rest. We've had a lot of interest in four poster beds and hallway organizers lately. Reclaimed barn wood pieces are also very popular. But we also sell small tables, dining tables, desks, entertainment centers and other types of cabinets, bureaus and armoires that are made for every room in the house.
5) How much customization can happen with these pieces?
As much or as little as the customer desires. At the high end, we have pieces that not only accommodate the customer's exact dimensions, style and wood type, but also reflect their passions in the form of, for example, carvings of their pets or favorite flowers. We just did a podium for a university that had their seal carved into the front panel.
For customers who don't require complete customization, we offer a full line of affordable eco furniture that is handcrafted in a very large Vermont workshop by Lyndon Furniture. It can be customized to a degree while still being very competitively priced.
6) Aside from buying one of your pieces, what can a person on a tight budget do when buying furniture to ensure they are making as small a footprint as possible?
First, be aware that up to 90% of the imported wood furniture in North America is made from wood that is illegally harvested from the world's rapidly diminishing rain forests. It's important to ask the vendor where their furniture comes from and if they are FSC* certified. If the furniture was made in China, it's also a good bet that it was made by some of the poorest people on earth, working in deplorable, inhumane conditions.
Purchasing previously owned furniture is also a great green practice.
*The Forest Stewardship Council is considered the gold standard for sustainable forestry around the globe. The FSC seal on furniture is an assurance that the wood in the furniture came from a responsibly managed forest and the company that produced the furniture employed socially responsible business practices.
A Guide to Outdoor Metal Furniture by Debbie Rodgers
A Guide to Wooden Outdoor Furniture by Debbie Rodgers
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