Sustainability is more than just a green product– to be truly sustainable, a company must ensure that their workers receive fair compensation for their considerable talent and are paid a living wage, in a safe and healthy work environment. This is something we’re passionate about at Vermont Woods Studios.
Scattered across rural Vermont are workshops large and small where the tradition of crafting fine, solid wood furniture continues to be handed down from one generation to the next. These craftsmen are passionate about what they do, and continue to create heirloom quality designs knowing that they will be lasting treasures in someones home. They are passionate for creating a safe and healthy product for both the customer and the environment.
Many furniture companies have grown exponentially over the years, but we continue to strive to provide only the best hardwood furniture these gifted independent furniture makers from across Vermont have to offer. We want to continue to share their craft with the world, and bring our customers the best sustainable furniture options possible. Without solid relationships with our Vermont furniture makers, our mission wouldn’t be possible.
Our furniture makers workshops range in size from a single artisan to a couple dozen craftsmen to the larger companies (Copeland Furniture and Lyndon Furniture) that employ about 75-100 craftspeople each. Some sustainable furniture makers craft ultra luxury artisan custom furniture and each of their pieces is unique, made in a small studio, usually by a single artisan, with the occasional help of an apprentice or a family member. Other craftspeople produce more classic handcrafted wood furniture designs which they make routinely at affordable prices.
We are proud, and very fortunate to be able to work with such a talented and passionate group of people.
One of the best things about running a sustainable furniture business is that our customers are people who care about how we treat the environment and the people we work with. They’ve come to us because they are willing to pay a premium for high quality, American made furniture that’s crafted from sustainably harvested wood– by furniture makers who are paid a fair, livable wage.
Yesterday we received this note from Wayne J:
I appreciated the description of your commitment to sustainability. I would also like to know how you care for the artisans and trades people who build and ship the furniture. What percentage of the price flows to these people? Are they paid a living wage? What is the ratio of their pay to that of the CEO? Are they making enough to create for themselves safe environments for doing their work. For me to do repeat business at this price point, it will be important to have answers to these questions as well.
These are great questions. I would ask the same thing if I was a customer and I thought you might be interested in the answers, so I decided to post them here. I’ll break it down into Compensation and Occupational Safety & Health.
Vermont Woods Studios is set up as a marketing and sales company. We actually don’t build much furniture anymore (we started out with Ken building furniture but as we grew, he couldn’t keep up, so we got him doing the bookkeeping instead). So we don’t directly employ furniture makers. We work with independent Vermont furniture makers, either buying furniture wholesale and selling retail or via commission or referral fees.
From the beginning, we set Vermont Woods Studios up as a mission-driven company, that is: To conserve forests and artistic woodworking while providing our customers with the best selection, value, quality and service available for Vermont made wood furniture.
Because Ken is a woodworker, we are well aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into a piece of handcrafted furniture. We have a middle ground to walk between helping Vermont furniture companies and craftspeople achieve high quality jobs and providing our customers with the best value for their furniture. All the while we must compensate our marketing, sales and web development staff as best we can.
As for the CEO’s salary… well that would be mine. I haven’t actually taken a salary yet, per se. We are in our 8th year at Vermont Woods Studios and as other small business owners will attest, much of the early years involves investing and rolling profits back into the business, rather than taking a salary. For now, I am sustained with the knowledge that if we meet our challenge of creating efficiencies in the Vermont furniture making and shipping system, we’ll end up with a win-win-win-win situation: for woodworkers, customers, Vermont Woods Studios employees (including me) and the environment.
Occupational Safety and Health
Vermont has the highest environmental standards of any state in the nation. As for the safety and health of the woodworkers that craft furniture for Vermont Woods Studios, I believe all the companies we work with (both large and small) go above and beyond federal and state OSHA and EPA regulations. Prior to starting this company I worked in environmental and occupational health and safety for 20+ years, with my most recent work in this occupation was at Tulane’s Center for Applied Environmental Public Health. That experience, plus the fact that Ken has an active woodworking shop gives me confidence in my assessment of the safety and health protections our woodworking partners employ. I do realize that we have to take a more active role in documenting safety, health and sustainability compliance amongst our partners in the future, though.
If you’re interested in additional details regarding sustainability, livable wages and worker safety at Vermont Woods Studios, please browse through our fine furniture website to learn about:
* Not all of our craftspeople have their own businesses. Many work for larger companies, like Copeland Furniture. Read more about sustainability and the treatment of craftspeople at Copeland Furniture here.
considered proprietary information
according tothe Vermont Department of Labor, the average annual salary for a Vermont woodworker is $ 32,440
Some parts of the Green Mountain State may have run out of snow this week, but don’t let that deter you from jumping in the car and taking a couple Vermont road trips. Our ski areas all make snow and temps have been perfect for doing that lately, so skiers are in the all set club. But if you’re not a skier or your knees need a break we’ll post a few Vermont road trip suggestions you may not have thought about yet.
First up is the The Vermont Forest Heritage Trail. It’s a driving tour of Vermont’s woodworking shops, studios and showrooms– large and small. You can pick up a guide booklet at any Vermont Welcome Center or download it here. In it you’ll find a Vermont map with dozens of furniture makers and their studios. You’ll also find information on Vermont’s sustainable forestry industry and an invitation to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, a managed forest in the central region of the state.
Here’s your chance to connect with nature and see how Vermont craftspeople incorporate it into the sustainable furniture they design and build. This initial Heritage Tour goes through the middle of Vermont and features Clear Lake Furniture in Ludlow, Shackleton Thomas in Bridgewater and Copeland Furniture in Bradford. Maple Landmark Toys are also included. The Vermont Wood Manufacturing Association is working on updating the brochure with additional tours throughout the state so stay tuned for more options. Happy trails to you!
Vermont custom furniture takes center stage this month at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe. Members of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers are showcasing examples of their work, which (in my humble opinion) is among the finest custom furniture you’ll find anywhere.
The Stowe expo, Source focuses on the origin of all elements that collaborate to make the final exquisite and creative piece. “The exhibit maps the source of materials, the relationships between forester, mill and craftsperson, as well as the path that the artists took (who influenced them, and where they learned their craft) to become furniture makers”.
Many of our favorite Vermont custom furniture makers are represented in Stowe, including: George Ainley, Erin Hanley, James Becker, Steve Holman, Hugo Belton, David Hurwitz, Richard Bissell, Bill Laberge, Dave Boynton, Mario Messina, Tim Clark, Dan Morsheim, Doug Clarner, Pete Novick, Johns Congdon, Walt Stanley and Bob Gasparetti.
Where Does Your Furniture Come From?
At Vermont Woods Studios our focus has always been on “where does your furniture come from” particularly from an environmental perspective (where is the wood from and was it sustainably harvested).
What I love about this expo is that it takes a broader look into the origin of these works of art, focusing on the artists, their inspirations and the chain of partners involved in getting their wood from the forest to their studios.
If you’re heading up to Stowe to ski and you love woodworking, be sure to make time to stop at the Helen Day Center for a relaxing and inspiring visit. Hours are Wednesday – Sunday 12pm-5pm and by appointment. Admission is by donation. It’s well worth the trip!