Friday, December 31, 2010

Why You Should Buy Organic Cotton

I’ve always liked the idea of organic food. But until recently, I rarely bought it. While I don’t want to ingest one more chemical than I absolutely necessary, the extra cost was always a tough sell. And I thought my body was the only issue to consider.

As a food consumer, I had a hard time convincing myself that the health benefits to my little body were worth the commitment to more expensive lettuce, tomatoes, apples, beef, chicken, or whatever-it-was I was buying that day.

I always thought I’d make the switch when I got older, when disposable income could easily accommodate it. And so there I’d stand at the supermarket, rationalizing my purchase of the cheaper stuff. After all, it's just me at stake, right?

When I started Beyond Junk, my thoughts on organic food seemed unrelated to recycling. I wanted Beyond Junk to be a supplier of recycled crafting material. But after challenges in securing a reliable supplier of recycled metal chain, I did a little research to find out what makes organic cotton different. If I couldn’t offer a recycled supply item, I wanted to know what the options were in responsible supplies.

"Cotton cultivation uses approximately 11% of the world’s pesticides, though it is grown on just 2.4% of the world’s arable land. Some of these chemicals are classified as toxic or carcinogenic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In developing countries, where regulations are less stringent, the negative impacts are more severe."

- Sustainable Cotton Project
Hmmm, well then, organic cotton isn't such a tough sell. Looking at it from that angle, I'm much more willing to make the switch.

Bottom line: buying organic is about more than just you. I still can’t afford to stock my fridge and pantry with only organic food, but as a crafter I'll be using organic, sustainable supplies whenever recycling isn’t an option. I hope you will too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Brief History of Shopping Malls

I've watched the handmade movement grow over the last half dozen years, online and at markets and festivals. I've been a customer and a seller. While I realize that this avenue of business has been around for millennia, something feels different now.

I've started to wonder if traditional malls full of mass-produced goods will continue to grow as strongly as they have been. Has handmade come far enough to really challenge the way we shop?

Then I started to wonder exactly where the concept of shopping malls came from. How did they become the standard? Malls have been around as long as I can remember, but I was sure they had to be relatively new in terms of the way shops interact with the public. I figured, maybe post WWII, or maybe even turn of the century origins.

So when I read that the first mall dates back to Damascus in the 7th century, I realized the idea is much, much older than I'd considered. Beyond early bazaar-style markets in the Middle East, more contemporary mall-type complexes developed in Russia and England in the late 1700s.

The suburban mall concept as we know it first appeared in Seattle in 1950. Northgate Center was an open-air complex of 80 shops. The development of malls in the latter half of the century was highly influenced by both the growth of suburbs and widespread use of automobiles.

Contemporary malls (like West Edmonton and Metrotown here in Western Canada) have been further influenced by teenage and young adult culture, serving as social hubs, slowly reshaping the way several generations shopped and consumed. Large retail and fast-food franchises grew to dominate this model through demographics trained to access goods at these locations. Popular culture frequently utilizes mall settings in film and television.

So the new development isn't malls, per se, it's mass production and the big box retail concept that so many of us have become disillusioned with. Products that sit like identical dominos stacked on fluorescent-lit shelving.

Bazaars full of unique boutiques, an eclectic place where goods come to the public - that's cool. A cookie-cutter arrangement of the same franchise over and over. Hmmm. Is that what we're rejecting when we steer clear of malls?

I can't wait to see what the post-recession landscape looks like. Will handmade businesses come out stronger than ever, having had a chance to thrive?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crafty Profiles: Twice Round

New to Beyond the Junkpile, I'm adding another section to profile some of the many amazing crafters and artisans working with recycled material. So I'm doubly excited to share the first profile of Tammy Bowles from Twice'Round in Ohio.

Shop: Twice'Round
Goods: recycled paper beads

Beyond Junk:
How did you get started as a crafter? With paper beads specifically?

I came from a pretty crafty family. I have pictures of me learning to knit when I was 2 or 3, and as far back as I can remember I was helping Mom knit and crochet. I also spent a lot of time drawing as a child, and learned to do cake decorating, baking and chocolate molding as a youngster as well, since my mom ran a small bakery out of our home.

Growing up, I spent as much time with my Dad's mom as I could, and she taught me a lot of other skills. Her favorite crafts involved turning every day items (like egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, old gloves, plastic forks, and junk mail) into things that people could actually appreciate. She taught me one year to make paper beads, and I've been hooked on it ever since.

Beyond Junk:
What inspired you to open an online store?

Because of a progressive disability I've had to re-arrange my life several times. This last time I was left unable to hold a regular full-time job in any capacity, so I ended up starting an online toy company ( I opened an Etsy store for that business first, and then opened the Twice-'Round store as a place to sell supplies and other things that didn't fit with the toy business.

Beyond Junk:
Do you see your work as being environmentally friendly? If so, how?

I would say my work is environmentally friendly. All of my beads are made from recycled materials: junk mail, catalog pages, magazines, old calendars, old gift bags, soda bottles, etc. I use shellac as the finish, which is a natural product.

I do stock wood parts that I get from from a wholesale supplier, but any screw-ups or parts that do not meet my quality standards are sanded and reused, or passed on to someone who will reuse them.

Beyond Junk:
Tell us a bit about your plans for Twice 'Round.
As of now, my Twice-'Round shop is mostly a stress-relief for me. I'm a very odd sort of person... even though my nerves are damaged and the fine motor control in my hands is not what it used to be, even though it's actually painful to use my hands, the monotony of rolling beads is a very cathartic experience for me. I can't do it most days, but I do it when I can, and more often when I'm stressed out about other things.

I love combing through magazines and catalogs to find pages that will make pretty or interesting beads. I get excited when I receive a particularly bright or colorful piece of junk mail. When I sit down to make a set of beads I take the time contemplate which size bead will most complement the colors and thickness of a particular piece of paper.

I let the control-freak in me take over as I make precise measurements to cut each paper into strips, and I'm careful to line up each bead just-so, with every turn, as I'm rolling it. For some inexplicable reason, I feel like a little kid every time I hear that *plink* as I remove a finished bead from my toothpick and let it fall into the bowl with all the others.

Selling the beads just gives me an excuse to keep making them, as I discovered long ago that many people are much better at designing jewelery around the beads than I am.

Here are just a few items from Tammy's shop: