One possible way of reducing your ethical footprint is to shop local. Sometimes it can be difficult to decipher which of the local stores are providing the best or the most ethical products. Smaller businesses often purchase products that come from the United States, are fair trade products, or sometimes even come from your hometown. Local stores often have many products which were purchased under ethical conditions, but that does not mean they all do. One of the most important things you can do as a consumer is also very simple—ask!
We did just that; on a recent trip to the downtown Kent area a few students working on this project made that just our mission. We headed to some popular shops in the local Kent areas to ask questions about products and where they came from.
The Works is what you might describe as an eclectic shop of sorts. It is filled with everything from blankets to jewelry to bags and mugs to household decorations. With such an assortment of items the question of where things come from may seem overwhelming. When presented with such a variety of objects you can’t necessarily find out where everything comes from, but you can find out about individual items. If you have something particular in mind, a friendly sales associate can probably give you a few details on where that product came from. Off the top of her head, our sales associate was able to tell us where many of the items scattered around the front of the store came from.
- Garden ornaments (recycled) come from Kentucky
- Woven blankets from the East Coast
- Hanging decorations from Chicago
- Art from a local Akron gallery (Artist Don Drumm who graduated from Kent State)
On top of these items the sales associate informed us that many items they purchase are fair trade items, often coming from a catalog. The store also purchases items from ‘normal’ catalogs, but they aim to purchase unique pieces that are one-of-a-kind. People visit their store looking for unique, handmade items, and that’s exactly what they find. If you’re in the local Kent area, stop by and take a look, but don’t forget to ask where your purchase comes from!
Last Exit Books
Last Exit Books is a safe place to shop to begin with. Their products are books—but they aren’t new books. These books have been used and resold back to the shop. Buying reused products is one of the best things you can do. The money doesn’t go back to the big corporations which may have produced them; reused book stores are also a part of the small shops you may find in your home town, stores you would probably want to support. On top of the good things buying used does for your ethical footprint, this shop goes beyond just this in order to be ethical.
- Reusing plastic bags (rather than throwing them away)
- Won’t throw away books—if a book won’t sell, he will GIVE it away before trashing it
- Never selling books at full price
If you are looking for a place to purchase books in the downtown Kent area, this is the place for you!
You can tell that Empire is an interesting place from the moment you walk in. The walls on the left are lined with products, on the right there is a table with jewelry and a display of handmade chocolates. The middle of the room is bare of products—instead it has seating. In the back there is a screen, behind it a comfortable looking area. Empire is best known around campus for its weekly Ladies’ Night, where you can get free henna. We stopped in to see if they had anything else to offer.
- The line called Mystique is created by a local woman, Susan Smith
- House of Bittersweets (in Stow) creates all of the chocolates in-house; it is Empire’s store
- Magic crystals are made from industrial waste
The crystals are one of the most interesting things we learned about. They are made from industrial waste. They smelt quartz and silica which would usually end up in a pit, buried in the earth. This helps cut out the amount of waste produced. The sales associate also told us about the jewelry that is sold at Empire, emphasizing that they are very careful about where their products come from. The water buffalo jewelry is hand carved from water buffalo in Vietnam. The buffalo die naturally, and every part of it is used in some form or another—the buffalo are the most important part of life. Although these products are not made locally, it is easy to trace where they come from and knowing their path is certainly a step in the direction of becoming a more ethical consumer.
Kent Natural Foods Co-Op
The Kent Natural Foods Co-Op is one of the places you would most expect to find ethically created and purchased products The goal of the Co-Op is to purchase as many local products as is possible. Of course, one can imagine that this tends to be seasonal.
- Local produce in Summer from Kent or Brimfield
- Eggs are purchased locally. The furthest the eggs come from is Clinton, OH.
- Hummus and tahini from a local middle eastern store in Akron, and is homemade.
- Herbs from Frontier (another co-op)
- Local soaps and skincare from Meadowlake Farms in Hiram
- Locally produced goat soap and goats’ milk cheese from Kent
- Teas from Dalton, OH who grow their own mint and produce their own tea
- People bring in items (some men had brought in mushrooms the day we were there)
- Maple syrup, honey, bee pollen and products, all made locally
- Cheese from Middlefield, OH, Fredricktown, OH, and from Amish country
- Milk from Wooster
One of the interesting things about the locally purchased milk was that it came in glass bottles. Consumers then recycled the bottles, bringing them in and getting fresh milk in them.
It is easy to see that there are many options for locally created products in local areas, especially in Kent. Simply walking into a store and asking questions or looking at tags can be an answer. Many clothing articles in Fig Leaf were made in the USA, and there are also other used stores in the downtown area, one which sells records, one, Rehab, which sells used clothing. Nearby is also a Goodwill and local restaurants and coffeehouses which aren’t chains. The idea of being an ethical consumer is one that can easily be put into action: it simply requires a little forethought and maybe a couple of questions.
By: Hailee Monk, Alison Darr, Monique Brunatti, Hannah Potes