By Kamille D. Whittaker
Kenya Brantley’s general store-inspired Greenhouse Mercantile has a little bit of everything — candles, specialty food items, an amazing apothecary section, all natural cleaning products, jewelry and clothing — and much of it carefully curated and sourced from creative local artisans. It’s also a communal space — intentionally, so. The typical customer enjoys the uncommon things in life and strives to a life of slow living. They are environmentally conscious and enjoy the quality of a great product with hat tips to the fair trade movement. In addition to the local stock, Greenhouse Mercantile sells products that are made in developing countries in return for a fair wage. If you go on a random Tuesday morning at 8 o’clock, expect to stay a while with a cup of Savage Boy Roasters coffee, discuss current events with town regulars and feel good about it.
Atlanta Tribune: What was life like before Greenhouse Mercantile, and when did you feel you had the greenlight to open your business?
Kenya Brantley: I am actually a teacher by profession, but after a year in the classroom, I knew that teaching was not for me. It truly takes a special type of individual to become an educator. I feel like after an engaging conversation with my husband discussing the who, what, when, where, how of opening a business, I decided that if I didn’t go for it, it would definitely be something I would regret later. So in 2012, I opened Greenhouse, and have been truly grateful ever since.
AT: Talk about your engagement and experience with fair trade.
Brantley: I have always been a fan of fair trade and paying workers overseas what they are worth. It is the act of saying no to sweat shops and fast fashion. One of my favorite fair trade brands is Fashionable, where the products are created by women who often have overcome extraordinary circumstances, ranging from prostitution to addiction to living in highly impoverished areas.
AT: What aspects of the fair trade and fare wages discussion often gets obscured or overlooked? How about the discussion surrounding supporting local artisans?
Brantley: One of the biggest challenges of the fair trade movement definitely seems to be the lack of education. Because fair trade is a fairly new concept, consumers are still learning about it and how to become more involved. When I started researching fair trade and the true meaning of fair wages, I was blown away at how many products there were. From jewelry, to clothing, to coffee and other food items, fair trade is and hopefully always will be an ever-growing, ever-evolving community of workers who deserve the pay that they work so hard for. The same goes for local artisans. I would encourage everyone to really research, examine, and focus on every product that they purchase. Where was it made? Who was it made by? Will it last or will it end up in a landfill sooner rather than later. I truly feel that if people begin to ask themselves those questions, there would be a greater move towards supporting local artisans.
AT: Did you always envision Greenhouse Mercantile as a space for events, coffee tastings, live music etc.? And how has that impacted business?
Brantley: I have always wanted Greenhouse Mercantile to be a space of community, ideas and collaborations. I love giving local music artists a chance to shine. And from the beginning, I have always loved the retail/coffee concept of business … it just makes sense. Because of this sense of community, it has allowed me to not only be successful in my business, but impact the lives of others. When business is done right, you’re never really in it for yourself. It should always be to help someone else.
AT: Was the vision for your company more an aspirational orientation to what society could be if everyone espoused a mercantile approach to getting what they need and making sure people get fairly compensated for their work and wares, or is it a nostalgic throwback to when this sensibility was more the order of the day?
Brantley: I have always been in love with the old “general store” concept. A place where you can find just about anything. I think that people in earlier times understood that a store was more than just a place where people bought flour and fabric. It was a place you could feel comfortable around the people you knew and the people who knew you. It truly was a community of like-minded folks. I aspire that Greenhouse Mercantile will be that kind of place for its customers.