Sustainability can feel like such a buzzword. Something we flippantly throw around over the dinner table, or something that’s embedded in every brand’s SEO so we see it on our screens a million times a day. The problem with ubiquity is that it starts to dilute the meaning. Like a piece of furniture you’ve seen a thousand times in different versions of the same home. We don’t make ordinary objects, just like we don’t use smoke and mirrors when it comes to sustainability. It’s ingrained in what we do.
It's a tricky thing to define though, especially when sustainability is most frequently in an environmental context. We recently chatted to House & Garden about whether craft be ‘global’ and sustainable at the same time. We ship from Burma, so surely that carbon footprint means we can't be sustainable? It's a brilliant question, and one we think about often. Of course it would be better for our makers to sell their products a mile down the road from where they make them, but sadly that isn't possible: nobody buys them in the local market. They're significantly more expensive than the plastic, factory-made equivalents from China, so are necessarily passed by. In order for crafters to make a living from their skills, their products have to be taken to an active market. If they aren't, the skills will die out, not sustain.
For us and our makers, economic and social sustainability has to come first, and the environmental impacts come in next. From a social perspective, our makers need money for basic human needs: clean water, food, healthcare and education. Economically, they need to build businesses which will enable them to build these structures exponentially to improve things for the generations that follow. Once the basics are in place, they can start to tackle their environmental impact. Ideally, we would be tackling all three together, but so often it isn't possible yet. Take energy for example: they don't have the option of green energy. They barely have the option of any form of energy at all. Lots of our makers are totally off grid, and those that are on grid only get two hours of electricity a day. They have no choice but to use a generator.
As a brand, it's very difficult to satisfy all aspects of sustainability together. But what we can do is focus on the areas where we can really make an impact, and do our best in the areas where it is harder. For Kalinko, sustainability can't yet begin and end with carbon footprints and plastic pollution. It begins with supporting sustainable basic human needs, and doesn't end; we are constantly learning, improving, looking for ways to achieve a balance of all three corners of sustainability.
Here is our current position. We will keep you updated as this develops.
Kalinko's 5 Pillars of Sustainability
Kalinko’s makers are small groups working on a cottage-industry scale. This enables them to run their families and homes alongside their work. Our main motivation is to ensure that they are best placed, socially and economically, to prosper as the country develops. We work closely with them to raise the quality of their products to meet the demands of the high-end international market. We provide them with tools and materials where required and pay upfront for 50% of every order. We pay above market rate and never, ever squeeze our suppliers on price. Our mission is to place more orders with more people. In doing so, we aim to help our makers build sustainable businesses and to preserve their craft for future generations.
We work as far as we can with natural materials grown locally in Burma. Rattan grows voraciously in the northern rainforests, regrows rapidly once harvested and is totally biodegradable. We use local hardwoods and reclaimed wood where possible and our glass is all recycled from old bottles. Our marble products are made in a town called Marble, just metres from the mountain it comes from, and are usually made from smaller unused pieces from the wider marble trade. The brass work is intrinsically sustainable, being made of recycled metal scrap, and our cotton is local or imported by road from neighbouring India in instances where the quality needs to be higher than what we have available in the country.
Our makers work with techniques honed over generations which have been proven to stand the test of time. For example, working rattan by hand enables a maker to pull the vine as tight as possible without breaking it, a nuance which cannot be gauged by a machine. We use slow, steady techniques which result in strong, long-lasting products.
We ship by ocean freight rather than air, our packaging is totally biodegradable and recyclable, and we minimise excess as far as possible in all parts of the business.
Kalinko products are designed to be timeless. They sit comfortably both in a contemporary space or a period building. They will last and can be passed down through generations. We encourage people to buy once and buy well.