Tune in to nature. The outdoors is the best classroom. We can see what happens when humanity thinks about the “me” instead of the “we” just by visiting a local shoreline and observing waste. And we can witness other species and the beauty of their unspoken collaboration. Watch how birds fly in unity or fish swim in schools. Then ask yourself, why are so many humans disconnected from protecting their own state of health and well-being and that of the greater good of our global community?
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marci Zaroff.
Marci Zaroff coined the term “ECOfashion” in 1995 and is an internationally recognized ECOlifestyle expert, educator, innovator, author and serial ecopreneur. Founder/CEO of ECOfashion Corp-a “Greenhouse of Brands”-including B2B turnkey sustainable fashion manufacturer MetaWear, regenerative in-conversion-to-organic cotton farm project RESET, QVC organic lifestyle brand Farm to Home, and a new D2C ECOfashion brand YES AND.
Also Founder of Under the Canopy, Executive Producer of a “THREAD Documentary I Driving Fashion Forward,” and Co-Founder of Good Catch, BeyondBrands and The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Marci has been instrumental in driving authenticity, environmental leadership & social justice worldwide for three decades. Marci’s first book, “ECOrenaissance: Co-Creating A Stylish, Sexy and Sustainable World,” launched August 2018 (Simon & Schuster).
Board Member or Advisor of the Organic Center/Organic Trade Association, Textile Exchange, Fashion Revolution and Cradle to Cradle’s “Fashion Positive,” Marci was a key figure in the development of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and first Fair Trade Textile Certification with Fair Trade USA. In addition to receiving countless recognitions-including Retail Touchpoint’s “Retail Innovator Award,” New York Moves Power Women Award,” Fashion Group International’s “Rising Star Award” and the Natural Product Industry’s Socially Responsible Business Award,” Marci is featured in the book ECO AMAZONS: 20 Women Who Are Transforming the World, and is a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute. @marcizaroff
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in South Florida — I’m an ocean girl and love the beach. It’s my happy place. As a born entrepreneur, I was the kid with the lemonade stand and had business cards by the time I turned 11. Creative vision, a positive attitude, and an open mind are inherent to who I am. I have always loved art and fashion, and in addition to enjoying calligraphy, oil painting and pottery, I was awarded “best dressed” in high school as well. I grew up feeling deeply connected to nature, and because I played sports, I also learned to appreciate the concept of team spirit. Looking back I had all the ingredients of who I am today.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us
Absolutely. At 16, I met my friend and hairdresser Surya in a mall. She and I had an intuitive connection. I loved her energy — she handed me her business card and we soon became best friends. We were on the same soul level and spoke the same language. She gifted me a copy of the book Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain that deeply resonated. It taught me to turn the light on, tune in, and tap into truth, and inspired me to recognize that there’s more than what we see with our eyes. We are often taught to live in a superficial or material world, yet after receiving this life-changing book, I began researching food sources and the environment, became vegetarian, and started practicing yoga. Surya also introduced me to the brand AVEDA. I would read the bottle ingredients in awe. We became groupies around their philosophies of plant wisdom, indigenous cultures, and ancient healing traditions. Likewise, I met my other best friend, Betsi, who introduced me to the work and lifestyle of renowned artist Peter Max. In addition to him being an influential artist, he is a true hippy at heart — vegan, Buddhist, and a peace-loving environmentalist. I was inspired by the creative genius, marketing savvy, and authenticity of both Peter and AVEDA’s founder Horst Rechelbacher. These relationships really shaped me in my early days and brought clarity around my life’s purpose.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
Get outside, but go inside. There are so many opportunities to learn and embrace our symbiotic relationship with our environment. We are not beyond nature; we are a part of it. We breathe out carbon, as nature absorbs it. Nature breathes out oxygen, as we take it in to survive. Open your mind and heart, and dive in. I’ve been living an ecolifestyle for over three decades, and yet I am still learning something new every day. Understand the “why.” In fact, a great place to start would be to read my book ECOrenaissance: A Lifestyle Guide for Co-creating a Stylish, Sexy, and Sustainable World. It’s a fun, engaging, and user-friendly springboard into joining the movement for positive change. Understand that life is about “yes, and…” We can have what we desire, while also making a difference in the world. No compromise. We are all seeds in the garden of life, with the ability to cultivate our innate wisdom. Follow your heart, find your passion, and seek solutions. What sparks each individual to expand their consciousness may be unique, but together, the collective can co-create healthy ecosystems, and a cleaner, greener planet — while protecting humanity and future generations. There is almost nothing more empowering, personally or professionally, than doing well by doing good.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Having coined and trademarked the term “ECOfashion” in 1995, I founded my current company, ECOfashion Corp, as a global pioneer and leader in private label manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing sustainable apparel and home textiles. With a focus on organic and regenerative agriculture — one of our planet’s greatest solutions to climate change, we offer affordability, accessibility and authenticity to break the stigma that you have to sacrifice to be a conscious consumer. Our brands give you a way to buy what you love and seek — modern style, quality, fit, color, comfort, and price, while also making a difference to human and environmental health, climate and social justice, and our children’s futures. From seed to shelf, our direct-to-consumer YES AND organic apparel brand, and QVC Farm to Home organic home brand bring stylish and high quality GOTS-certified collections to the mainstream, and our MetaWear B2B manufacturing platform makes sustainability “easy” for brands and retailers seeking a turnkey solution from source to story. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification across all of our brands means that our fiber is certified organic — free of GMO seeds, and synthetic, toxic pesticides and herbicides. From farm to finished fashion, there are no harmful ingredients in the growing or processing of our products, and we use only low-impact dyes — no heavy metals, chlorine bleach, formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals. Fair trade, no child labor, and safe working conditions are also in our DNA.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
Choose certified organic and regenerative food, fiber and beauty products; eliminate the use of plastic and other fossil fuel burning synthetics; walk, bike, take public transport, and/or carpool to minimize your individual carbon emissions; rent, reuse, repair and recycle; follow Greta Thunberg and VOTE eco-logically.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
— Walk the talk. Teach by example, not by preaching. Just as I’ve fused style and sustainability throughout my career, my children have also leveraged their passions to affect positive change. In fact, my daughter Jade founded Entertainment for Change, driving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through the power of arts and entertainment. Check out EFC’s SDG Groove, Amplify Podcast and Future Leaders Program!
— Tune in to nature. The outdoors is the best classroom. We can see what happens when humanity thinks about the “me” instead of the “we” just by visiting a local shoreline and observing waste. And we can witness other species and the beauty of their unspoken collaboration. Watch how birds fly in unity or fish swim in schools. Then ask yourself, why are so many humans disconnected from protecting their own state of health and well-being and that of the greater good of our global community? We all share the same home, Mother Earth, so an appreciation for our individual and collective responsibility to protect her is no longer a choice, but an imperative. Learn more from the Climate Reality Project, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Conservation International, the Environmental Working Group or one of the other amazing environmental NGO’s.
— Shop organic and explain why it matters. Teach the next gen to recognize the GOTS and USDA seals and explain how our food and fiber are interconnected and why we need to drive a safer better future by voting with our dollars. Help your children understand how our ability to provide for future generations is dependent upon air, soil and water health, biodiversity and farmer and worker livelihoods. Soil is the skin of the Earth, meant to sequester/absorb carbon like a sponge, offering climate change resilience and water retention. But when soil is depleted and destroyed through conventional chemical agriculture, it becomes meaningless dirt and no longer serves in this critical role. As the Rodale Institute states, “healthy soil grows healthy plants, which makes for healthy people.”
— Cook with your kids. Go to the farmers market and/or join a co-op. Make it routine to get to the source of where things come from, so your children can understand and engage in how things are grown, who is growing them and what is in the food they are eating. Let your children experience the added flavor in dishes made together, with informed decisions, connection and collaboration. And have fun while learning why we truly are what we eat!
— Make screentime count. Share documentaries instead of mindless TV or video games. Choose films that educate on all different topics. A few to get started with: The True Cost (ethical fashion), What the Health? (food), Our Planet (ecosystems), An Inconvenient Truth (climate change) and Game Changers (vegan athletes). And a favorite big-screen film to (re)watch at home? Avatar!
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
If a business delivers on what people want, layering in sustainability should be a value add, driving consumers to change their internal query from “Why sustainable?” to “Why NOT sustainable?” Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, in his book Let My People Go Surfing, said every time he spent more money doing the “right” thing, it always came back to the company many times over. With “YES AND” and our other ECOfashion Corp “Greenhouse of Brands,” it’s all about joining our movement, not buying our products, and getting no compromise — everything you want and so much more. With people, planet, prosperity, passion and purpose as our key principles, the products become vehicles for transformation and empowerment. In today’s world, where the Internet has changed the game and transparency is paramount, businesses need to incorporate environmental and social accountability into their products and services in order to stay relevant.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve already shared briefly how Surya and Peter Max helped to direct me toward my life path. I also mentioned how influential my mentor Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of AVEDA, was to me. Horst’s revolutionary vision mirrored my aspirations. The initial meeting of our minds was like none I have ever experienced, and we were deeply soul connected as close friends and kindred spirits for most of my adult life. When I started my first business, a holistic health school (known today as the Institute for Integrative Nutrition), Horst was also looking to expand AVEDA. Together, we connected the dots between healthy food and clean beauty and opened AVEDA’s first concept salon at my school in New York City. Our partnership was a divine example of synchronicity, and for over 25 years, we collaborated on countless efforts, culminating in his writing the foreword for my book ECOrenaissance. Horst passed away several years ago, and while he continues to live in my heart every single day, I miss him dearly.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ve defined the movement I’ve pioneered as the “ECOrenaissance” because we are in the middle of a renaissance, or rebirth, of humanity. Through the lens of design, we can change the world. We are all a part of a collective ecosystem, held up by five pillars that I like to call the “5 Cs:” Creativity, Connection, Collaboration, Community and Consciousness. Again, you can dig deeper into these aspects of the movement by picking up a copy of my book!
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
Oh, there are so many! “Work is love made visible,” by Kahlil Gibran because if you do what you love, it’s not work — it’s love. Albert Einstein’s “We cannot solve today’s problems with the same consciousness that created them,” serves as a reminder that if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. Being proactive versus reactive has certainly guided my life. “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children,” from Native American wisdom, is fundamental to my work as an environmental activist. And of course, Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is as poignant as you get…if we commit to eating the change, wearing the change, and living the change, we can collectively design a healthier and better reality for all of humanity.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!