Will Green Design Retailers Survive the Recession?

With retail sales down and expected to continue plummeting, will buyers eschew green products in favor of less-expensive fare? Not if retailers expand their definition of "eco-friendly," said Andy Griffith, one-half of the team behind the wildly popular A + R stores in Los Angeles, CA.

From an MP3 player from sustainable hardwood to vintage fabric stuffed animals: Find out more about the green gifts Griffith is betting on this season.

"Green design and redesign are becoming more and more integrated," Griffith said at the A + R store in Venice that he co-founded with partner Rose Apodaca in 2007 (A + R Silverlake began in 2005). "We're always looking for design that has the added component of being in some way ecologically conscious."

Griffith specifically looks for items that are locally made and fair-trade sourced, and calls out recycled wine bottle vases from the design collective Artecnica, which uses high design as a vehicle to promote sustainability and the cradle-to-cradle concept, as the epitome of conscious design. Created by Tord Boontje, the vases are "redesigned" in Guatemala, where subsistence workers are trained in the fine art of glass making. The collective also manufactures stools in South Africa using traditional wire-working methods and recycled materials, which are also sold at A + R. The store also stocks stuffed animals made from recycled vintage fabrics, a retro-styled MP3 player made from sustainable hardwood and basket trays made in Vietnam and edged with recycled motorcycle tires.

"These are all sustainably fabricated, made from recycled products," Griffith said. "And in some cases, they're not just recycling the product, but also encouraging local labor, setting up workshops for people who otherwise might not have a job."

But despite their goals to stock items that are produced with environmental and social consciousness in mind, Griffith is realistic about his buyers. "I think when times are hard people will be more interested in price than the provenance of an object," he said, pointing out the I Am Not A Paper Cup reusable porcelain cup that is made in China and not eco-friendly in its fabrication, but encourages people to reduce and reuse--and costs only $24.

"I'm expecting to sell more things like this than the $150 items that are produced in a sustainable way," he said. "People are essentially looking for bargains. If it's a bargain that happens to be green as well? Perfect."

Go inside A + R with Andy Griffith.

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