How to Responsibly Shop Abroad

Thank you to everyone who spotted me on Apartment Therapy! It was so nice to be interviewed by their publication about something that I love to do, and lovely to hear from folks who read the article.  

Shopping while on a vacation is something we all love to do. Who doesn’t love bringing home a memorable souvenir from a trip? It’s one thing to buy something that everyone else has, but another shopping experience all together if you’re looking to purchase something ethically for your home.

What makes a purchase ethical? How do you know what is responsible shopping for home decor? If you liked my tips on Apartment Therapy, I’m going more into detail on the Meridian Storyboard blog!

Why It’s Important to Responsibly Shop Abroad

Tourism brings a significant contribution to an economy, including a large audience of travelers who are eager to bring home souvenirs from their trip. When shopping on vacation, it is important to seek out vendors and artisans indigenous to the region who are selling handmade crafts in order to make the largest impact with your purchase. 

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
When shopping abroad, it is important to seek out vendors and artisans from the region who are selling handmade crafts in order to make the largest impact with your purchase. | Meridian

Make Sure You’re Prepared

If you think you’d like to bring home items from your travels, it’s important to be prepared. I always bring at least one empty suitcase, and I often pack a foldable duffle bag inside. On the way there, I’ll carry everything on, but on the way home, I check the large bags which sometimes can be heavy!

In addition to being prepared with luggage, in my hand bag I’ll always have a tape measure. My favorite one measures in both inches and centimeters, so it’s easy to translate and convert when I’m in a place that uses the metric system (which is everywhere else, essentially). It’s important to know the dimensions of your home in case you come across that perfect rug! I keep dimensions of all the rooms and spaces of my home in the Notes app on my phone.

How to responsibly shop abroad | Meridian
I always carry a tape measure. My favorite one measures in both inches and centimeters, so it’s easy to translate and convert. | Meridian
How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
It’s important to know the dimensions of your home in case you come across that perfect rug! I keep dimensions of all the rooms and spaces of my home in the Notes app on my phone. | Meridian

Research Before You Go and When You Get There

When shopping abroad for home decor, the first item on my to do list is to do some research before you go. Get a basic understanding of what crafts are native to the region you’re visiting, and a sense of colors or patterns you like. I often turn to Pinterest for this type of research, but if you’re really serious I’d recommend getting a book from the library or elsewhere that goes into detail about the indigenous crafts of the area.

Once you get there, ask around for what you’re looking for, and even show a local person photos of what you’re hoping to find. Do this with caution, however, as it is easy to be taken advantage of. On the other hand, be willing to take some risks (safely!) and follow good leads. Recently I saw a few people unloading kilims out of the back of a truck in Istanbul, and followed one of them to their nearby shop where I ended up purchasing a few pieces. You just never know! It’s important in these circumstances to have some street smarts, and never go without a friend or buddy (preferably someone who speaks the language).

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
Follow all good leads. You never know when something random will lead to a treasure trove! | Meridian

Ask a Lot of Questions

When looking at a handmade piece in a foreign market or in a shop, it is important to ask questions about how it was made, what it is made of and who made it. Often with handmade items, the seller (if they are different than the artisan who made the piece) will have a good sense about the answers to these questions. You can tell by looking at something if it was made using natural dyes, for example, as the vibrancy of the hues are a dead giveaway. Touching and feeling something is always critical as natural fibers have a different weight to them than industrial fibers such as acrylic. Knowing these little tricks will empower you to make educated decisions about the authenticity of an item.

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
Always ask a lot of questions, and do not be shy about touching and feeling fabrics to make sure they are authentic and in good condition. | Meridian

Don’t Be Afraid to Look at Everything

It’s OK to be picky! You should never feel like you have to buy something, and you want to make sure you love it before you bring it all the way back home. Don’t be worried about seeing everything the seller has. It is their job to show you what they have, and they will do so happily. It’s also OK to walk away. If you’re not really interested, though, I’d suggest you tell them early on in your conversation so you don’t waste anyone’s time.

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
Don’t be worried about seeing everything the seller has. It’s their job to show you their collection and in most cases they will be happy to. (This pile of kilims was my discard pile at a shop in Istanbul!) | Meridian

Take It Outside

Regardless of if you’re interested in buying something at a market or in a store, it is critical to ask to view the item outside in the natural light. Things can look very different (and will reveal their flaws) in natural light, versus indoor lighting that can cast different hues on your item. I am telling you this because I have made this mistake myself. Always bring it outside!  

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
It is critical to ask to view the items you’re considering outside in the natural light. Things can look very different (and will reveal their flaws) in natural light, versus indoor lighting that can cast different hues on your item. | Meridian

Stick to Cooperatives

If you’re interested in the handmade process, I’d recommend seeking out local cooperatives in the area you’re visiting that will give you a demonstration of how they work and offer you the chance to purchase items directly from them. You’ll find these co-ops all over the world, and can ask your hotel for recommendations, or refer to your guidebook for a good place to visit. Cooperatives that consist of local artisan women, or are certified fair trade, are where your visit will have the greatest impact.

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
Seek out local cooperatives in the area you’re visiting that will give you a demonstration of how they work and offer you the chance to purchase items directly from them. Cooperatives that consist of local artisan women, or are certified fair trade, are where your visit will have the greatest impact. | Meridian

The Biggest Mistake You Can Make

The biggest mistake people often make when purchasing home decor abroad is either over paying or buying something that isn’t all that unique. When I travel to source product for Meridian, I spend the first few days of my trip gathering information and getting a sense of what’s available and its pricing before I pull out my wallet. I make pins in my online map of places I want to come back to, and spend my time making sure I know what I want and how much I’m willing to pay for it. This way you’ll get a sense for what is truly unique rather than something that you’ll see everywhere.

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
If you have the time, spend the first few days of your trip getting a sense of what’s available. This way you’ll get an understanding of what is truly unique versus something that you’ll see everywhere. | Meridian

Above All Else

If you find something you love, go for it! It’s often difficult to return to a place while you’re traveling, and you’ll always have the memory of purchasing that item on your vacation. I have a few things I’ve scored on recent travels that I added to my personal collection, and these are the items I cherish most in my home.  

How to shop responsibly abroad | Meridian
If you find something you love, go for it! You’ll never regret bringing home a treasure from your travels that you can cherish with your family for generations. | Meridian

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