What You Need to Know about Furnishing Your Home Sustainably

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Tribe Dubai 4
Photo: Courtesy of Tribe

Every day, we are reminded of just how dire our impact on the environment has been, from the problem of plastic in our oceans to the overflowing landfills around the world. If you’ve (wisely) decided that 2019 is the year that you make a change to your spending habits and start voting with your dollar, there is much more to consider that simply where your food comes from. Indeed, our impact extends everywhere from the beauty products we buy (see microbeads scandal) to how we choose to furnish our homes.

With that in mind, Goodness tapped the founder of TribeJo England, to discuss sustainable furniture and the ethos behind her own ethical brand.

What does sustainability mean in the world of interiors and furniture?
Sustainability in interiors comes down to the materials that you use. For instance, our materials are all biodegradable; they are natural fibers. They are also not made by cutting down forests. All the materials that we use grow easily, like bamboo and rattan, without having any negative impact on their environment.

Is sustainable furniture manufactured anywhere specific in the world?
No, it’s everywhere, from Africa to India and Thailand. That being said, some of these materials are more readily available in warm climates.

How many suppliers do you work with?
We have over 2,000 products, sourced from over 25 countries.

If someone is looking to furnish their home sustainably, how easily accessible is this type of furniture in the UAE?
There are more and more options coming to market, but whether they are fair trade or not is another question. A lot of the products you’ll find now are made in factories in countries where there is no fair trade or where children are not protected from underage work.

So that is another dimension to the furniture that you have here; it is sustainable and fair-trade.
That’s right. It’s handmade and ethically sourced, so we know exactly where everything is coming from, we even know the community or the family that is making the pieces. We know that they have good working conditions and that they can sustain their families. For instance, our beautiful chairs from Malawi come with the artist’s name written at the bottom. You have to consider that, in places like that, only two percent of the population has access to electricity. So this is made in a really remote area; the artists actually live in mud huts and sit under trees for shade to work.

Another thing to pay attention to is whether or not the pieces are biodegradable. Natural fibers will break down and biodegrade and, if there’s any steel in the structure, you can reclaim it and melt it down. Landfill is a huge issue in the world, and we need to make sure that whatever we do is not contributing to that problem.

Tribe Dubai 1
Photo: Courtesy of Tribe

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when sourcing sustainable furniture?
Always ask where things are from.

Everyone is so conscious about the food that they buy now, and we need to be paying the same sort of attention to everything else we do.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when sourcing sustainable furniture?
Always ask where things are from.

Is it easy to get that kind of information?
If you request it, then yes. We source our rugs from a company called Armadillo & Co. that was set up by two Australian designers. Their rugs are certified fair trade, 100 percent sustainable, and completely handmade. There is not a machine involved in the entire process. They have around 1,500 weavers, and with each village they work with they have set up a school where the children get two hot meals per day. Every rug comes with a certificate that guarantees no child labor was used in the entire collection. Some of the rugs are made from 100% recycled PET bottles and feel as soft as wool. So, yes, if you ask, a brand should be able to explain and provide proof of their efforts towards sustainability and more conscious production.

Is anything coming from China right now sustainable?
No, nothing. They produce mostly plastic rattan – and who knows the conditions that furniture is made in.

What fabrics do you work with mainly?
Rattan, bamboo, hemp, jute, cotton, abacia, raffia, banana plant, palm leaf, wicker, grasses, and wool.

We are also about to launch a beautiful collection of wooden furniture. The entire collection is made from salvaged reclaimed wood, that we found locally. It will also be designed by us and made in Dubai.

Photo: Courtesy of Tribe

What about dyes? Can they be sustainable or biodegradable?
Yes, absolutely. With Armadillo & Co., for instance, the rugs are made using all-natural dyes and the water used for that is recycled. At every point in the production process, they are making a conscious decision not to damage the environment and not to put dyes back into the water system. You can also choose organic cottons where you know the coloring is non-toxic.

People are often put off buying more ethical furniture because there is a belief that it will be more expensive. Is that true?
No, not necessarily. It’s more about the location that we are in; you must account for shipping products to Dubai. That being said, there are a lot of ethical products that are reasonably priced. For instance, all of our lighting is quite inexpensive and can really help you create a beautiful ambience. Our ceiling lanterns range from AED 390 up to about AED 800 for the large pieces. The detailing is so beautiful and they are all hand-made.

Since launching Tribe four years ago, have you noticed that there’s been an evolution in people’s understanding of sustainability and an increased demand for that?
Well, a lot of our work is and has been educating people, so we are part of the shift. We planted a seed and introduced many of these keywords to people here. Everyone is so conscious about the food that they buy now, and we need to be paying the same sort of attention to everything else we do.