Photo: Jessica Sain-Baird
High Point, North Carolina, doesn't have many claims to fame unless you're immersed in the world of furniture. If so, then you might know that High Point boasts the world's largest chest of drawers—and you definitely know that twice a year the city becomes a bastion of design when more than 85,000 furniture makers from all over the world descend upon the town to showcase their wares. But, increasingly, the furniture shown in High Point is made in another country: China.
The relentless pursuit of cheap labor has contributed to the loss of furniture jobs in North Carolina and the growth of the same jobs overseas. The cost to the state is significant. According to the High Point Chamber of Commerce, the furniture industry has an annual economic impact of roughly $8.5 billion and supports more than 65,000 jobs. Yet, in our evolving, globalized economy, trees grown in the United States are being sent halfway across the world to be manufactured into furniture and then shipped back to America to be sold, according to NPR.
We all need furniture. The decisions we make about what we buy and how and where the goods are made not only have an impact in faraway places, they directly correspond to people's livelihoods right here at home. I am from North Carolina. It pains me to learn nearly 8,000 jobs were lost in furniture and fixture manufacturing alone as a result of trade with China (part of a larger trend of 2.3 million job losses nationwide, according to a 2008 Economic Policy Institute study).
I don't know too many people who buy new bookshelves or armoires every year. So I am here to humbly request that you think of these purchases as investments. My home is chock-full of amazing wood pieces that I picked up in my work and travels to India, Indonesia and Thailand. The pieces are handmade. You can feel the care that went into carving each design and sense the effort that was required to turn a tree into chests or tables when you run your hands over them.
When my boss, Ann, described my home as "lovely and honest," I was pretty sure it was because of all the good wood. These are pieces I will pass down to my nephew and other loved ones. They feel more precious and beautiful over time.