6 Women Redefining What It Means To Be Eco-Friendly
Life’s a little greener because of them
We're taught to strive for a greener life, but the paradox of it all is how inaccessible (or unaffordable) it can be for most. What we put in our bodies is just as important as what we put on and surround our bodies with. The "green" life doesn't begin and end with ditching your car for a bike or making a conscious effort to eat more locally grown items. It extends into every aspect of one's lifestyle—including passions and employment. It's taken a few years, but the move toward more sustainable production methods and natural-leaning goods has picked up momentum.
Some of the finest creators are right her in New York, and they're not your average run-of-the-mill green folk. They're a beauty mogul who shook Soho (and the rest of the industry) with the opening of a lipstick store and, most recently, released a lipstick collection with food-based and essential oil ingredients; a musician-turned-book publisher leading an eco-conscious life; fashion designers who've turned their cheeks away from fast fashion; a baker cooking locally; a writer and journalist looking to make sustainable stories en vogue. We caught up with these six women to see just what it means to be more eco-conscious and green in 2016. How does it affect their lives personally and professionally? The inconvenient truth of the matter is, change takes time, but with leaders who shine like these, change is possible.
Photographed by Roman Yee; Makeup by Jenny Kanavaros; Hair by Frank Rizzieri; Presented by Bite Beauty.
Who: Suzanne RaeOccupation: Founder and designer of Suzanne Rae, a Brooklyn-based women's ready-to-wear brand specializing in sustainable materials, locally made goods, and slow fashion.
When and why did you decide to pursue an eco-conscious practice?I was reading Walden by [Henry David] Thoreau while working on a concept for a collection, which is essentially on simple living with nature, and it really struck a chord with me. This was in 2009, before I officially launched my line. In accordance with this concept, I started researching environmentally friendly practices in fashion. It's just something I decided to keep working with.
What was your lifestyle and practice like before the switch?I've always been interested in earth-friendly and sustainable practices. Aside from the newspaper, the only other activity I participated in my high school was the environmental club. I guess I've always felt like if you know about how something should be, or if you know something is right, why wouldn't you do it?
How did you educate yourself in being eco-conscious?I'm basically self-taught. A lot of research, working with interns who are studying sustainable fashion in school and also learning from my peers. I have many designer friends who also work sustainably and ethically, and we all support each other and exchange notes.
What sort of obstacles do you face in your day-to-day life and within your industry?It's tough in fashion because it's about prioritizing things and understanding what is natural versus what is sustainable versus what's ethical—and how to achieve all three. It's an ongoing challenge not just for me, but for everyone else. And it's also a challenge sometimes with aesthetics. My line isn't terribly "eco"-looking, and I don't want it to be. But there are new innovative fabrics and practices that I try to stay on top of. For example, we are working with an Italian innovation called Newlife which is basically a fiber made from recycled polyester or recycled plastic bottles. It's really cool, and a lot of mills are starting to use it, and it fits my aesthetic perfectly.
How has your life benefitted from your decision? Have there been any downsides?Definitely no downsides. If anything it has made me a more conscientious person who believes that every little bit counts—and that's good for me, my 3-year-old daughter, and everyone else on this planet.
What do your peers think of being eco-conscious?I think they think it's cool. It makes sense and is necessary. It doesn't cramp their style, but rather, enhances it.
What is one simple thing we can all, no matter what lifestyle we lead, do to be more eco-conscious?Don't buy fast fashion. All the money spent on all the fast fashion things we buy can be put together to buy timeless, quality pieces. Anything that is well designed, no matter how loud or crazy, is timeless because you'll want to have it forever. It's a tough habit to break out of, but it is really true.Suzanne wears Bite Beauty, Amuse Bouche Lipstick in 'Taro,' available at Sephora.
When and why did you decide to pursue an eco-conscious practice?I started intentionally wearing secondhand clothing around age 14 when I began to make the connection between what we now call "fast fashion" and international slave labor. I was vegan for six years. (I'm not anymore, though I know I should be.) And I grew my own food for a while, too! What was your lifestyle and practice like before the switch?I was a child, so I did as I was told. In the early '90s, "ecology" was synonymous with "ELF torching SUVs" and Julia Butterfly Hill—we were still told to be afraid of ecological activists, who were trying to stop the good capitalists from moving forward and making more stuff for us to buy. How did you educate yourself in being eco-conscious?I am a dedicated reader of the news and make a point to study articles that pinpoint human rights abuses due to capitalism. As a teenager, that meant Adbusters and library books on the evils of the industry. As an adult, it means knowing that the smartphone I call my mom on was possibly made by a suicidal child in a windowless factory, and reading books that teach me how to make as much stuff as I can, from kombucha to bread to soap to clothing, myself. What sort of obstacles do you face in your day-to-day life and within your industry?The music and publishing industries are two of the least ecologically savvy—pressing vinyl happens at a terrific detriment to the ozone, and while the "end of paper" means cutting down fewer trees to publish books, the manufacturing of smartphones and e-readers does just as much, if not more damage. Neither of the industries I work in could survive without resource drain and slave labor. How has your life benefitted from your decision? Have there been any downsides?When one person becomes awake to the truth, especially if they're willing to pay it forward and teach, their whole community benefits. The downsides are things like becoming extremely depressed when you think about the conditions forced on laborers in third world countries—meaning the downsides are incredibly unimportant compared to the actual problems those people experience. What do your peers think of being eco-conscious?People from my generation are largely eco-conscious when it's convenient for us. Vegans buy non-leather shoes at Forever21; people who ride bikes instead of driving do drugs on the weekends, and I buy bodega flowers even though I know they're grown in horrible labor conditions with dangerous pesticides. Ecological activism has been turned into a capitalist practice. The idea that a person votes with their dollar is true, but it's not the be-all and end-all. What is one simple thing we can all, no matter what lifestyle we lead, do to be more eco-conscious?Turn the f*cking water off when you brush your teeth.
Meredith wears Bite Beauty, Amuse Bouche Lipstick in 'Whiskey,' available at Sephora.
Who: Titania Inglis Occupation: Founder and designer of Brooklyn-based fashion house Titania Inglis, which focuses heavily on low-impact textiles
When and why did you decide to pursue an eco-conscious practice?I’ve been an environmentalist since childhood, long before I trained as a designer; if anything, the question for me was how I could justify adding more stuff to a world that’s already overflowing with it. After design school, I started a blog to learn more about what was out there in the world of thoughtfully produced clothing, and in the process, met all kinds of fascinating people and decided that I was ready to add a fresh voice to the conversation.
What was your lifestyle and practice like before the switch?I started my professional life as a journalist, writing about arts and community issues. Switching to design meant investing in a tremendous amount of overhead, but with it gaining the satisfaction of working with my hands and creating a tactile, visual universe to communicate my vision.
How did you educate yourself in being eco-conscious?I grew up among the woods and waterfalls of upstate [New York] and was entranced by nature from a very young age. Meanwhile, my schoolmates included refugees and professors’ children from around the globe. In sum, my upbringing instilled in me an appreciation for all of humanity as equals, and our responsibility to care for this beautiful orb in space we find ourselves on.
What sort of obstacles do you face in your day-to-day life and within your industry?Much as everyone understands the issues, the general public has come to expect clothing to be cheap. Slow fashion is expensive by its nature: paying workers well and growing and dyeing fibers responsibly means that there are no cost-cutting shortcuts. At the same time, as an independent designer, I’m competing in a field that includes much larger and better-funded operations. It’s a challenging but ultimately good thing because I’m forced to be at the top of my game.
How has your life benefitted from your decision? Have there been any downsides?Working in fashion isn’t easy, no matter how you go about it. The hours are long, the pay is minimal, the deadlines are onerous, the logistics are complex, and the to-do lists go on forever. I’m contented to know that underneath it all, I’m creating a bit of beauty in the world—both for our lovely clients and followers and for everyone we interact with along the supply chain.
What do your peers think of being eco-conscious?It always interests me that I’m challenged on why I choose to practice responsibly; I view it as making decisions within a greater context, with regard for the far-reaching consequences. My friends and I just think of it as living life.
What is one simple thing we can all, no matter what lifestyle we lead, do to be more eco-conscious?Just go out into the wilderness, and stop and look and breathe. From the tiniest details to the sweeping landscapes, the beauty and wonder of it all will remind any of us how tiny and insignificant we each are, and how precious our lovely, mysterious world is.
Who: Amirah KassemOccupation: Creator of Flour Shop, the bakery where fashion, art, and a whole lot of cartoon fun come together
When and why did you decide to pursue a career in food?I was working in fashion when I realized that my favorite time was when I was in the kitchen. So, I decided to cover things in sprinkles for a living! Where do you source your ingredients from?I get my ingredients from Loompahland, but my eggs are local.Is being eco-conscious a trend you see within the baking/food industry?To be honest, I've never worked in a kitchen outside of Flour Shop but I do think recycling in kitchens has grown overall. What sort of obstacles do you face in your day-to-day life? How do you overcome them? Flour Shop is still a one-woman show, so I have to wear a lot of hats, but I overcome that by switching my outfits to match my hat.What's the most challenging part of your practice? What is the most rewarding?The most challenging would definitely be not eating the sweets while I bake. The most rewarding part is seeing people smile when they first see my creation for them. What is one simple thing we can all, no matter what lifestyle we lead, do to be more conscious of where we source our meals and treats? No brainer: Bring your own reusable tote when you go to the market.
Who: Susanne LangmuirOccupation: Founder of Bite Beauty, the revolutionary line of natural, food-grade lipsticks
When and why did you decide to pursue a career in beauty?Very early on when I was 13 years old. My mother worked for Avon and I was always giddy when the new catalogs would arrive. I would sell Avon to the neighborhood mothers I was babysitting for, and very quickly outsold my mom. That is where I developed a lasting connection to beauty products. At the same time, my mother and I farmed a one-acre garden plot and grew most of our veggies. As a teen, I didn’t really appreciate it because it cut into my social schedule, but the connection to growing things and natural materials stuck. For ten years I traveled around the world sourcing essential oils for various beauty brands and developed private label formulations. I was fortunate that this led to me having the experience and the drive to launch my own brand.
How did you land on the formulation of Amuse Bouche, and why was it important to use food-grade ingredients and essential oils? What you put on your lips, you ultimately ingest. Lipstick is sensorial. You can smell, taste, feel, and look at color in the same way you do when looking at a plate of something decadent and delicious. It was a big inspiration for me. Using food-based ingredients for a beauty product that you apply to your lips made perfect sense. I look at our new Amuse Bouche collection like aromatherapy for lips. It’s full of nourishing and beneficial ingredients and essential oils, and lips look delicious wearing it.
Is being eco-conscious a trend you see within the beauty industry? I think beauty is evolving. It’s not a just trend, it’s a shift in our connection to what we put on our skin and lips and how the products we use every day are made. I think this evolution naturally brings an awareness that women are collectively more conscious about. We are becoming more discerning about beauty products that truly make us more beautiful.
What sort of obstacles do you face in your day-to-day life? How do you overcome them? It wouldn’t be fun without a little challenge! For me, it can be with ingredients and their availability, packaging, formulations, you name it. Not compromising on a vision is the most critical and passionate part about being in this business. Of course, understanding things happen, you need to work through it, make good choices, and not take things too personally. What balances that out are the daily achievements. Building a team that’s now 140 strong, a successful new lipstick launch, and the many things that happen in a day to feel good about. I’m a big believer that things always work out in the end, and that provides me a reset button when things get crazy.
What is the most challenging part about your practice? What is the most rewarding? Sourcing our ingredients can be a challenge. They are grown, harvested, handpicked, and sometimes in limited supply globally. There is an international shortage of vanilla bean, for example, and we use this in many of our best formulas. To not shortchange on quality, collectively we need to be resourceful. The silver lining is the incredible people that I get to work with every day. It is amazing, to me, to see people make the same choices I would to not compromise on for ingredients or our formulations. I feel like that will last the test of time, and that is pretty amazing.
What is one thing we should all be conscious of when it comes to our beauty routines and choosing products? The average girl applies something like 12 to 14 different products every single day! I do believe what you put on your skin, your face, and your body should be considered in the same way as what you eat every day. It’s good to read labels and understand what will make you look and feel beautiful beyond its application. Like with food, products with generally fewer ingredients, that you recognize, are a good start.
Who: Alden WickerOccupation: Founder and editor-in-chief of EcoCult, a digital publication celebrating the sustainable life within, but not limited to, New York City
When and why did you decide to pursue an eco-conscious practice?When I graduated from college, I moved to New York City. I wanted to live sustainably, but it was often presented as an either-or proposition. Either you grow your own food, and disengage completely from being a consumer, or you're not really sustainable. I wanted there to be a middle ground between being a hedonistic, ambitious New Yorker, and a homesteader, and I found it. And then I wanted to share all my favorite brands and findings with readers. So I started EcoCult, to prove that sustainable living can be cool and beautiful and current. What was your lifestyle and practice like before the switch?I wouldn't call it a switch. I've been indoctrinated from an early age. Living sustainably always just made sense to me—even though I certainly didn't grow up in a hippie household. My childhood was pretty conventional: McDonald's, family sedan, Southern fried cooking. But I spent a lot of time rambling around in the 180 acres of woods surrounding our home in North Carolina. And my mother was very keen on protecting those woods from poachers and four wheelers. Plus, I started picking up her Newsweek and Time magazines to read. I attended a summer camp in North Carolina, the Green River Preserve, where I met my first vegan and learned about ecology. On to a liberal private school in Maryland, where we learned about political action and went on camping trips. I was sustainable in little ways. When I heard we might run out of oil, I started saying no to plastic bags. That was in the sixth grade. And finally, an AP class in high school brought home just how f—excuse me—messed up our planet is because of our actions. From there, I changed little by little to get where I am today. First through reading books, like Fast Food Nation, and going organic. Then watching An Inconvenient Truth. Then moving to New York City and selling my car. Then picking up information on blogs about how to avoid toxins.
How did you educate yourself in being eco-conscious?Reading. So much reading. I read non-fiction books, and blogs, and The New Yorker. There's no one textbook. You've got to take your information from everywhere. Well, every credible resource, anyway. I'm not a big fan of bloggers or advocates who spread misinformation—even if it's in the service of convincing more people to go sustainable. They do, and it drives me crazy! I'm a big believer in fact-checked journalism. That's why I started EcoCult. I wanted to create a website that is both beautiful and credible. Lately, I've been getting my information straight from the source: experts and industry people who are on the ground and using innovation to move us along. Then I share that with my readers.
What sort of obstacles do you face in your day-to-day life and within your industry?It's a cliché because it's true: It's not easy being green. We live in a system that makes it hard to live an authentic, sustainable lifestyle. Plastic is so bad but ubiquitous and all but impossible to avoid unless you're homesteading out on the farm. There are more options for sustainable fashion than ever, but they're not being sold in your local mall or downtown. The global supply chain is opaque and complex, and we can't all spend the equivalent of a second full-time job researching and crafting and planning so as to be perfect conscious consumers. It's not fair to put all of that responsibility on us and let companies large and small continue to destroy the environment. I try to provide as many resources as possible to my readers to make their lives easier, but I hope to see more legislation someday that makes it so that we know no beauty products contain parabens or phthalates, and no fashion we purchase poisons the water in Asia, and none of the food we buy was grown using pesticides.
How has your life benefitted from your decision? Have there been any downsides?I'm in a much healthier place than I was before I really dove in, both physically and mentally. My acid reflux disappeared and I lost all my excess weight. I'm breathing in clean air in my home. Doing this work keeps me mentally engaged and fulfilled. Because I'm informed, I'm able to step off the typical consumption treadmill and make choices that make me truly happy, and I shine that kindness back on people around me. Sure, sometimes I can get bogged down in the onslaught of bad environmental news. But I live confidently in the fact that I'm trying my personal best not to contribute to the problem.
What do your peers think of being eco-conscious?Most of my friends support me, though they aren't rabid conscious consumers like I am. I don't guilt-trip my friends, and they've started coming around slowly. They'll email me and be like, "I want to redo my whole beauty routine! Where do I start?" or, "I read your article on toxic shock syndrome, and signed up for a service that sends me organic, unbleached tampons!" One friend has asked me to help her overhaul her closet. I just put the information in front of them, and they can take it and make changes, or just come to me when they're ready.
What is one simple thing we can all, no matter what lifestyle we lead, do to be more eco-conscious? Buy less stupid stuff. You don't need to become a freegan—someone who dumpster dives for all their belongings. You don't even need to only buy "green" things. I'm talking about not buying the stupid stuff that's cheaply made, where the advertising makes you feel bad about yourself, that falls apart quickly, that makes you feel sluggish after eating it, that you buy just because you're in a bad mood, or because you want to fit in, or a celebrity was paid to carry it around. Buy useful, beautiful, long-lasting things that fill an actual need in your life, like a copper kettle for making tea every morning, a Peruvian alpaca blanket that you can snuggle inside to read, selvedge jeans that you break-in to fit your body, a beauty oil that you massage your face with before you go to bed, heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market. These things are so lush and nourishing. If you bought less stupid things, you could buy these instead. Oh, and stop watching TV.
Alden wears Bite Beauty, Amuse Bouche Lipstick in 'Whiskey,' available at Sephora.