The Marketplace Guide: College-Student Budget Edition
As a college student, my bank account is perpetually low, meaning that I’m not exactly the most extravagant shopper. I’m talking about off-brand cereal, here.
Still, I care about what I buy. Sure, shelves are stocked with cheap options, but they often omit mentions of workers’ living conditions or a product’s environmental impact. Who created this object—did they earn a fair wage? I care about the impact my purchases have on the lives I share this planet with, and I know a lot of other people do too.
Fair-trade products surface as the obvious alternative. This model centers small-scale farmers and workers, ensuring that producers have an equal say in pricing and working conditions. Since people and the natural world are intertwined, fair-trade labels don’t just concern themselves with the conditions of workers; they also prioritize sustainable production.
The drawback for consumers? Fair-trade price tags are often higher than their competitors, so people with narrow budgets may opt for less expensive, less ethical options out of necessity.
However, things are different at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Marketplace. As your faithful college-aged deal-seeker, I talked with Eugenia Lollini, Marketplace outreach assistant, and rounded up some dorm-friendly, budget-aware gems waiting for you, listed from least to most expensive. All these products represent the Festival’s Earth Optimism × Folklife, program, the Smithsonian’s antidote to climate change despair.
Amborella Organics Seed-Bearing Lollipop: $2.50
What if a lollipop could grow an herb or flower? With these Seed-Bearing Lollipops by Amborella Organics, you can! Sweet for the environment (and your taste buds), these lollipops are the world’s first and only candies with plantable, biodegradable sticks. To grow, place your stick in soil horizontally, add a layer of topsoil, water each day, and in three months, you’ll have your very own edible plant. For example, the Sage and Marshmallow lollipop grows a sage plant, while the Strawberry and Basil stick matures into a basil plant!
Moonbeam Flora: $13
You’ve heard of glow-in-the-dark stars. Now get ready for glow-in-the-dark plants! Artist Tyler Thrasher’s Moonbeam Flora are available in green, blue, and teal and are ten times brighter than your typical glow-in-the-dark material. Stash them along windowsills or mantelpieces and wait for the sun to set to see them gleam.
Specializing in rare plants and minerals, Tyler Thrasher is an artist, photographer, and podcaster with a self-proclaimed obsession with bringing together science and art.
Beadwork Bracelets: $13
Can you combine fashion and social justice? Yes—with Maa Beadwork bracelets, you can! The Maa Trust, a nonprofit organization established in 2013 by Kenyan Maasai women, “ creates sustainable alternative livelihoods for women living around conservancies in the Maasai Mara so that they become direct beneficiaries.”
As a result of their income from beading, Maasai women have provided clean drinking water for their communities, installed solar-powered light systems for children’s schools, and sold their work around the world. Priority is given to beaders who are widows, single mothers, wives of alcoholics, and others who need a bit of extra help. If that’s not enough to persuade you to pick up a bracelet or two, just look at the incredible designs!
Gorongosa Coffee: $20
What if your morning coffee put girls in school, protected elephants, and revived a rainforest? From seed to sale, this coffee is people-powered. Gorongosa Coffee is grown by farmers in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, with sustainably sourced Arabica beans blended into the roast. One hundred percent of profits from every bag supports local communities living in the national park. It’s a win-win.
Handmade Natural Horn Earrings by Atelier Calla: $32.99
Talk about statement pieces! These handmade natural horn earrings from Atelier Calla might be on the pricier side (for a college student’s budget), but they’re worth it. Crafted by Haitian artisan Christelle Chignard Paul and inspired by Indigenous Taíno artistry, these pieces are made from responsibly sourced discarded cow and bull horns.
Rise Beyond the Reef Laptop Case: $44.95
Year after year, my dad reminds me to buy a laptop case, and I finally will with options like this oversized clutch and laptop case from nonprofit organization Rise Beyond the Reef, based in Fiji. This case is handwoven with pandanus mat by Fijian women weavers. Rise Beyond the Reef supports the endangered artisanry of twenty-five remote villages across Fiji through strengthening Indigenous women’s craft production, leadership skills, and access to formal markets.
So when you come to check out free craft workshops, cooking demonstrations, and concert at the Folklife Festival June 30 through July 4, be sure to stop by the Marketplace as well, located in front of the National Museum of Asian Art, facing the National Mall.
Hannah Davis is a multimedia documentation intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a rising senior at Carleton College, majoring in political science/ international relations.