Why I started Making Furniture

The reality of furniture today:

It's primarily manufactured overseas in countries that disregard ethical labour and environmental standards.

Minimum wage in Ontario, Canada: $14.35/hr [*1]

Minimum wage in China: $2.16/hr [*2]

Minimum wage in Vietnam: $1.51/hr [*3]

Minimum wage in India: 0.38/hr [*4] 

There is a big disconnect internationally regarding labour, environmental, and ethical standards. How can we, as a country, expect such standards for ourselves, yet disregard these standards when it comes to items we want to purchase? Not to mention the amount of forced (slave) and child labour. The US Department of Labor released a very long list of countries suspected of child and forced labour. Specifically, it lists Turkey, Vietnam and Bangladesh as countries with evidence of slave and child labour in furniture manufacturing [5].

What's the carbon footprint of furniture?

Most furniture travels around the world at least once. Companies ship the wood from North or South America, to China (or India, or wherever it is manufactured), throw the raw material into a production line, and ship it back to North America to be sold. Synthetic laminates, medium-density-fibreboard (MDF), printed (fake) wood veneer, clear, and coloured surfaces are made using toxic adhesives and lacquers. These substances which make furniture substrates and surfaces "durable" contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), like formaldehyde (adhesive), ethanol and acetone (thinners). In factories, there is no planning for or implementation of safety measures for the workers or the environment.

Next, let's consider the life cycle of the big-box product. The quality of furniture manufactured these days is particularly poor. After 2 years, a modern-manufactured piece of furniture usually has chipped or peeling veneer, the MDF is swelling from water damage, and the construction is rickety and unstable. You'd be embarrassed to pass this on to the second hand store let alone gift it to a relative. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 America alone generated 24,000 000 lbs of furniture waste, of which 80% couldn't be recycled, and went to a landfill. [*6]

So, why is it that furniture that's manufactured these days only a year or two away from the garbage dump?! Stores are literally selling cardboard wrapped in printed woodgrain. What on earth is going on?

Alas, I do not have the answer to these questions. In 2015, the furniture industry in Canada was valued at 11.6 billion dollars. And how much of that accounts for the wage of the child labourer overseas who's working overtime? [*7]. What are the consequences for the companies dumping their toxic chemicals into the sewer that drains from the factory? [*8] Who's providing clean filters in the respirator worn by the worker in the spray booth 6 days a week?

Researching the realities behind the furniture industry is shocking and unacceptable. We can try to change the industry or we can choose not to support it.

Buy Local, Second Hand Furniture

Second-hand, local furniture is the best way to reduce your furniture's carbon footprint. That's right- thrifting! You're effectively up-cycling, and purchasing a product which doesn't need to undergo a manufacturing process or further shipping.

Buy Local, Custom Made Furniture

With real estate prices in Ontario skyrocketing, every square-foot counts. And sometimes, you can't quite find what you need second-hand. Your furniture should be functional, timelessly designed, and offer solutions for what you need.

As a one-woman operation, I strive to offer products made of locally sourced materials, sealed with low VOC finishes. I'm not claiming to be "re-inventing the wheel" here, but, I do put considerable effort into making sure that what I create is customized to fill a particular need in a design that is both efficient and timeless.

Each product is thoughtfully engineered to withstand what life demands and constructed in a manner which offers stability and strength that will last a lifetime (well- maybe even longer). Any problems that happen down the line I'll be here with advice and the know-how to help you fix it. Let's call it a "30 year warranty".

By buying things from Sarah Rose Woods, your supporting a Toronto artisan with a dream. A dream to contest the unethical manufacturing of furniture. If you are a total avant-garde rebel, fighting the capitalist hierarchy driven by slave-labour. Or, you're just a cool person who wants to live surrounded by functional objects which look pretty, too, give my products a try.

At the end of the day, I just want to make things for like-minded humans, who understand why I am doing what I do.

Thank you for your time reading, and stay tuned for what's next,
-Sarah

Citations*
[*1]:Minimum Wage of Ontario. www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/minimum-wage
[*2]: China Minimum Wage Updates 2020.  www.sgs.com/en/news/2021/01/safeguards-00221-china-minimum-wage-updates-in-2020
[*3]: Minimum monthly wages in Vietnam in 2018, and 2020 by region. www.statista.com/statistics/1088302/vietnam-minimum-monthly-wages-by-region/#:~:text=In%202020%2C%20the%20National%20Wage,at%205.88%20million%20Vietnamese%20dong.
[*4]: India National Floor Level Minimum Wage. https://tradingeconomics.com/india/minimum-wages#:~:text=Minimum%20Wages%20in%20India%20is,according%20to%20our%20econometric%20models.
[*5]: List of Goods Produced by Child Labour or Forced Labour. www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods-print
[*6]: Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste, and Recycling. www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/durable-goods-product-specific-data
[*7]: A Case Study of Young Workers in the Furniture Industry of Cebu.  www.ilo.org/manila/publications/WCMS_761269/lang--en/index.htm
[*8]: How the Flint River got so Toxic. www.theverge.com/2016/2/26/11117022/flint-michigan-water-crisis-lead-pollution-history