You're exposed to shopping small more and more these days as we collectively learn how our dollar is casting a vote (financially and energetically) to what we want more of in our lives and for our communities.
This awareness is essential to evolving into a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, environmentally conscious future. But, let's talk about how you apply this information. Shopping small is only a small snippet of power you hold with your spending. It can feel like a million decisions and reasons to shop small until you narrow in on the method. So let's get you a crash course in buying and let you shop small, with intention and value.
Are you ready to be your own buyer?
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Look, this sounds simple enough. But you would be surprised what you can uncover by poking around on the internet and about pages. I am not saying you have to dedicate yourself to hours of profiling small businesses, but you can start to identify what's important to you and go from there. Create a value system and learn to stick to it. You'll fall into the hunt of it all, I promise.
As an owner and curator, I save images of things on various websites and social media platforms. You would be shocked and a little cross-eyed by the amount of "speckled ceramic mugs" I have saved. We all have a system, and this is a quick version of mine. If you want to deep dive buying with me, it goes a little something like this:
Pull up file of "speckled ceramic mugs", deep breath, dive in.
Is the design interesting?
What unique solutions does it have?
Is it handmade?
How is the quality?
What is the cost of purchase?
How long will it take to arrive?
These questions are a fundamental consumer pattern, and most people stop here.
Then, we start scratching the surface with questions like:
Who made this?
Where is this made?
What is this made from?
Can anyone else recommend them?
Questions like this make you a resourceful and aware consumer and a reasonable buyer.
Let's round it out and be a serious buyer:
How are they sourcing their materials?
Are items small-batch, made to order, open stock?
Are there sustainable actions taken with creation, packaging, or fundraising?
Is there diversity/inclusivity/equity in my purchase or in their business?
What are the values of the business?
How do they support their community?
What does their social media look like?
Are their values and image consistent?
Your values and mine don't have to be the same. Maybe a checklist of "sustainable, local, handmade, small-batch, etc." works for you. In my experience, if you're willing to be surprised, those categories come secondary to the initial connection to the objects or the people making them. You can start to shop based on your intuition and community.
You'll start to find what values are essential for you. Purchasing based on what you appreciate and admire is a simpler process than what I do at AM, but you're not just collecting things, you're curating a home and lifestyle. Values matter, the energy matters. How you're shopping is more important than only processing a payment.
SHOP YOUR COMMUNITY
The internet feels like a vast, decision fatigue riddled place, but if social media has taught us anything, it's that the degrees of separation are more like 3, not 6. Granted, it would be wonderful to go to your local farmers market to pick up some shea body butter, but that's not life right now, so do the next best thing; tap into your virtual community.
If you have, let's say, a textile artist you know, and love, a 4-minute snoop on their Instagram account can yield a ceramicist, a leather accessories maker, and an herbalist. This example isn't hypothetical. Instagram endlessly inspires me, and it's how I get 75% of my business vendors. Start right-clicking the artists and makers you already love. Instagram will open up your buying world and also narrow the scope of options. Consider your brand loyalty, the first filter you put a purchase through. If a maker/artist/business already passed your value scale once, I can guarantee they are friends or partners with other businesses who will do the same.
BUY FROM THE SOURCE
We are slowly slipping out of the age where we can bow out of conscious buying or value-driven spending. If you care about things like the celebration of BIPOC makers, driving minority/womxn owned support, culturally rich experiences + stories, or I don't know—the environment. You have to start with buying from the source. Not just understand how something is made, but understanding its history.
Because, the hard truth is— If it looks like cultural appropriation or creative-property theft, it most likely is.
If you want silversmith turquoise jewelry, buy from an Indigenous artist. If you want hand-loomed, Turkish towels, buy from a Turkish artist. If you want cactus silk pillows, find Moroccan artists. You can even look for income-generating partnerships. Many fair trade, co-op businesses are here to spread the word, share art, and use their platforms to bolster communities.
The things that you want have a history and the hands that make them deserve to receive funds for the generosity of their trade. This is why establishing your values is so important. The buying guides at Ardent Market specifically state to purchase from the source, and it's for this reason. I would much rather show my support and solidarity for the many cultures and trades we have access to than lose that magic and community over a couple of dollars.
I am not here to call out makers, artists, or creatives, and I don't suggest that you do either. Inspiration and evolution of trend and design is a complicated topic. It's also a much bigger blog post. However, if something looks and feels like you've seen it before, find it at its source, your money says more than you think, and it's your choice who gets paid in the process.
BUYING IS NOT JUST A FINANCIAL INVESTMENT
Understanding that a human makes your items usually means they do everything. They also source their materials, run the site you purchased from, took the pictures, wrote the copy, posted on social media, and shipped your purchase- the whole time making the things you ordered. That's an energy exchange.
You're giving your time and energy-earned cash to someone who invested their time, energy, and creativity to make it the thing you're purchasing. There isn't a transaction that doesn't include time, energy, emotion, or experience. You're buying into hopes, dreams, and talents. And hopefully, supporting what you want to see more of in the world like decent pay, sustainable manufacturing, and longevity of use. In the meantime, the artist is investing in creative property, relationship building, and innovation. When you have more of a reason to purchase beyond the initial "it's pretty," your dollar becomes a valuable mode of communication.
PATIENCE IS A PRACTICE
No matter what you're purchasing, when you shop small, you have to remember the person sourcing, designing, crafting, selling, and shipping. Each time you increase your value, you can also increase the time it takes for an item to be made and delivered. That's the art of slow pieces; you're guaranteeing a commitment to quality and design. Some artists and makers have open stock, some source for small batch production, and some open release dates so they can replenish.
As a consumer, you're funding the work of thousands of creatives every time you shop small. If we are honest, you don't just want to pay for their art, you want to pay for their rest. The time and dedication of a craft are linked. If you're going to continue to dedicate your spending power to support the human with the skill-set, you need to be mindful of the equation's human part. We need them to be healthy, have wages to spend on their families and quality of life, and have the willpower to share their gifts. Your monetary payment is for their work; your understanding and patience is your payment for their well being. Honor that, and practice it. Delays may happen, resources and supplies might be scarce, and shipping can be complicated. If you cannot make the payment in understanding, reconsider your purchase values. Good things happen in communities that practice patience and kinship.
SMALL + MIGHTY ARE DIFFERENT
Your values trump intention every time. I have to be very careful saying this about retail— small businesses won't always get it right, just because they are the better choice. The reason to purchase from small business retail is that, hopefully, all of this work and vetting of vendors is done for you. You know what they stand for and what they look for, so you can just shop with peace of mind. It's the perfect retail dream, but I don't know if that makes it the rule.
Scary, I know.
A buyer is responsible for how the business/consumer dollars are spent and what artists are getting paid in the process. This is why I don't work with wholesalers, and why I open up my business practices to you repeatedly. I don't know what it's like at other retailers; I don't know if wholesalers are still on the rise, I can only speak for myself and Ardent Market. My intention and values are the same- to drive ethical, inclusive, inspirational, and holistic retail. I am happy to be a part of your small retail resource list, but this information is yours to use and apply, and it will hopefully help guide you on your value system and buying practices.
I still want you to care about shopping small, but most of all, shopping smart. Small business can be the biggest tool we have for driving more community, fellowship, sustainability, inclusivity, and innovation. But it starts and stops with you as the consumer and what you choose to purchase.
So yes, shop small. Shop local, shop smart, and conscious, but remember what's important to you. You're the owner and curator of your own little business— your life, so make each choice a powerful one.