Somehow the holidays have ambushed us once again. (ok, they ambushed me, other people anticipate them with great abandon...) And with it, I've seen a lot of discussion about buying local/handmade vs. "big box"/supporting THEM.
And I seem to find myself in a unique position of being on both sides at once because of my livelihood(s).
You see, I hand-create and sell my own artwork, costuming, attire, accessories, jewelry, etc - so I'm all for supporting artisans and small shops, buying direct from the artist, etc. But for the last several years, I have also been a fashion jewelry designer. From 2007-2009, I designed product for Disney, Universal, Hard Rock, and countless zoos, aquariums, national landmarks, resorts, etc - via a woman-founded small business based in NJ. And much of the product was made in Bali, China, the Philippines, Korea, India, etc. And I went to most of these places to work directly with our manufacturers - many of them also woman-owned/run companies, whose business support, feed, and educate entire villages, and also must meet very strict health, age, wage, and safety protocols in order to make product for Disney and other institutions. There was (and is) also a huge focus on green product/eco-friendly production and business, and raising money to save the environment and promote eco-awareness.
From 2009 through now, I have worked for a company that is ranked among the top 3 in fashion jewelry companies in the world. Pretty much if there's a chain store in your town, high or low-end, we most likely supply the jewelry for it. Specifically I have designed for Target, Kohl's, WalMart, and now mainly work on Macy's accounts. Yeap, all of those evil "big box" stores. And again, I have been overseas, and have been in those factories (and not on the "westerner tour" front) - all of which must follow strict standards (safety, age, wage) to make product for those big names. Frankly, most of the buildings I have been in, in China, are far more clean, safe, and well-lit than many of the places I have worked in here in the states. Many of the workers I met are young women and men in their late teens and twenties, also getting college-education at the same time through their companies.
But it's not just about what's going on over there - here in RI, the last bastion of the fashion jewelry industry in the US, the company I work for is making a local impact as well. In the last several years, it has taken over other local companies who were failing, and brought them back from the brink - so instead of losing more jobs, jobs were saved, and the company continues to expand, and now employs hundreds of people here in RI, and many more throughout the US as well. And when you buy that ring I sculpted at Target, or the necklace I designed for Macy's, it's not just overseas jobs that are being supported, it's supporting us right here. Good product sales at the stores means they buy more from us, which means we can higher more designers, more merchants, more accounting and IT staff, more warehouse workers - and send more work locally to the many companies who do our casting, plating, vibing, and local production. The more work we send them, the more people they can hire too. And so it goes on. So even though it may say "made in China" on the tag - it was designed here, created here, bought here, and comes back here, it pays for jobs HERE.
So folks, it's not just black/white, good/evil, us/them. Yes, support your local artists, designers, and artisans! PLEASE! But do your own research too before you ban everything from "over there". Many of those "big-box" stores are working hard to be green, to make sure what is manufactured in their name meets many safety and quality standard guidelines for production and working conditions abroad. And their buyers, merchandisers, designers, accountants, and sales people are all working here. We've reached a new age where the lines between what is local and what is global really don't exist anymore, we're interlinked. And if you think those big-box companies don't have a face, check again. They're just made up of a lot more faces - including those of your friends, neighbors, and family.