Curating Eco-Friendly Products for the Masses with EcoPlum’s Gia Machlin
August 5, 2013
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have our friend, Gia Machlin, back on with us. She is the founder of EcoPlum. Welcome to Green is Good, Gia. GIA MACHLIN: Thanks for having me back, John. I’m happy to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, we’re so thrilled to have you and for our listeners who didn’t hear the first time you were on a couple years back, tell us a little bit about your journey leading up to the founding of EcoPlum. GIA MACHLIN: Sure. Well, I’m a serial entrepreneur turned social entrepreneur. I’ve had a bunch of companies in different spaces; health care and a few years ago, I really wanted to get into environmental issues and see what I could do to try to get people more educated and informed about environmental issues, so I started EcoPlum. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wonderful, and what year did you start it? GIA MACHLIN: I started it back in 2008. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and we had you on a couple years ago and things were going well. Tell us what is EcoPlum today? How have you evolved and what’s the mission and what are you doing on the site? And for our listeners out there who have never seen your wonderful site, if you want to follow along, I’m on the site now. It’s EcoPlum.com. What is EcoPlum? GIA MACHLIN: Well, it’s an online boutique and a digital media company. We specialize in stylish and unique eco-friendly products. We also have original articles about green living and environmental issues in taking action and we make it easy, fun and rewarding to go green. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and what are some of the products that are in your online boutique at EcoPlum? GIA MACHLIN: They’re mostly fashion and beauty items, including eco-friendly clothing, handbags, jewelry, safe cosmetics and personal care products, as well as green children’s products and we carry housewares and gift items. We just launched our e-gift card this year. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hmm, and so since you’re the curator and chief, how do you select these products? What makes the cut and what are the top movers and favorites right today? GIA MACHLIN: Okay, well, first of all, all of our products come from companies that have earned reputable green certifications and eco-labels or their products are made primarily of recycled and upcycled materials, so we love to see Green America Gold, B Corp or organic cotton certification. We know how rigorous those are. We’re Green America Gold ourselves. We know what we had to go through, so we want to work with companies that have committed to sustainability and have gone through these rigorous certifications. Beyond the certifications, we look for unique and fashionable stylish items. We curate products that we would want for ourselves. We like to work with small companies that specialize in handcrafted and creative designs and usually, they have a great story to tell about their path to sustainability, and we want to tell that story to our customers as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s some of the top sellers right now? GIA MACHLIN: Right now, eco-friendly clothing, we have this great new line from Elle Cont. They import GOTS Certified Cotton. When I say GOTS, it’s the Global Organic Textile Exchange. They come from Europe, beautiful, beautiful, crisp stuff, beautiful tops, really nice stuff from Laura Apparel. They have great colors, look great with jeans. I love the jewelry from Bottled Up Designs. The designers literally takes pieces of old discarded glass that she finds in the woods of Pennsylvania and she transforms them into the most stunning jewelry. When I wear this jewelry, people can’t believe it’s made of trash. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you know, you’ve been now at this for five years or so. Talk a little bit about what you’ve seen, the evolution, the trends and the velocity that this whole green revolution’s picking up. Are people really wanting to buy more environmentally friendly products? Is there more conscious purchasing going on? GIA MACHLIN: I think so. Consumers are very slowly changing their behavior when it comes to eco-friendly fashion, but it’s happening. We saw a revolution. We are seeing a revolution with the food movement where just a few years ago, you didn’t see too many people talking about organic food or farm-to-table dining or local farming. Now it’s sort of all over the place and organic foods are more readily available. I think we’re at the beginning of the fashion revolution now. We see Levi’s and H&M beginning to make changes to their supply chains and material sourcing. At EcoPlum, we’ve been at the forefront of this movement. We’ve always only offered sustainable products in our boutique, and we do see it happen, but I just want to say living sustainably is not just about the environment. It is about the environment, of course, but it’s also about choosing products that are safe for you and safe for the people who make them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a great point. GIA MACHLIN: Yeah, because I think people think environmental issues are so much bigger than they are and they tend to get apathetic, but when you think about the impact of harmful pesticides or carcinogens in clothing and skin care, then it’s personal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, it’s personal in so many ways and you bring up a great point about how our products that we all have come to know and love and enjoy are made. I don’t want to be a downer because the show typically is very, very positive but in terms of framing issues that we do have, let’s talk a little bit for a moment about the recent tragedy in Bangladesh and what does that mean in terms of great retailers like you that are selling online products that are supposed to be made either through fair trade or at least sustainably and how do we interrelate that and keep that fresh in our mind so we can support great brands like you? And, for our listeners that just joined in, we’ve got Gia Machlin back on the show. She’s the founder of EcoPlum. Go to her website. I’m on it right now. There’s so many products you can buy. Support both Gia and also the people making these great products at EcoPlum.com. Let’s talk about Bangladesh and how we can further support fair trade manufacturing around the world. GIA MACHLIN: Right. Well, for those who may not be familiar, fair trade is about ensuring sustainable practices in developing countries like Bangladesh. It’s to make sure that the workers are compensated fairly and that they obviously have safe working conditions, which was the problem there. I think because of this, people are beginning to think about where their clothing comes from, who makes it, what kind of conditions these people work in so it’s really starting to change what people are thinking about. We sell a range of fair trade products from developing countries. We have jewelry from Bali, clothing from Guatemala, coffee and chocolate from Peru. We’ve always looked at Fair Trade Certification and proud as an American company to say that we’ve always looked at Fair Trade Certification as our criteria for sourcing products and we’re hoping that more and more companies will come on board. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha, and I’m on your site right now and I love it because you have a vast array of products. Of course, like you said, you have lots of fashion but there is jewelry and there is stuff for kids and home and housewares and stuff made out of reusable stuff and also the fun part is I’m even now on the Broadway Green Merchandise. Talk a little bit about this Broadway Green Merchandise section. This is great. GIA MACHLIN: Since we started in 2008, we’ve had an alliance with the Broadway Green Alliance. They work with the Broadway shows here in New York to help green them and so we sell some of their merchandise on our site. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and it helps them and it helps and again, we keep stuff out of the landfills and I’m looking at this rock recycled guitar string bracelets. Come on, that’s cool! GIA MACHLIN: You know The Naked Cowboy in Times Square? We sell bracelets made out of guitar strings that The Naked Cowboy himself has struck. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No way. That is funny stuff, and I see on your site here your rewards program. Talk a little bit about your rewards program. What does that really mean and why did you create it? GIA MACHLIN: Sure. Well, we have a loyalty program that’s called Eco Chicks and our shoppers earn Eco Chicks rewards points for every purchase in our boutique. They can be used for future purchases and we did create it because we wanted to give people incentive to buy from our site but we also decided that people could donate to one of our great environmental causes if they wanted to and that’s another incentive, if you will. We select nonprofit charities to receive these Eco Chicks points based on they have to have environmental missions, high ratings on charity navigator, low administrative rates, etc., and we’re really proud to support these organizations like Sierra Club, Pesticide Action Network, Union of Concerned Scientists, Oceana, many great, great organizations. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Gia, with the founding of EcoPlum in 2008, which was a difficult year to start any business, for any new business and especially in the sustainability world when people were putting sustainability aside while everyone was just trying to survive, whether you were a large business or a homeowner, or a family with people to support so those were tough times. Explain as an ecopreneur, entrepreneur focused on the environment and focused on sustainable living, how has that evolution been for you over the past five years? GIA MACHLIN: It was definitely tough in the beginning. I think we were sort of ahead of the curve. We were selling something that people weren’t ready for but the market has really grown significantly. I think we’re reaching a tipping point. Like I said, organic food is kind of out there a lot more than it was and you’re seeing major brands introduce green product lines even if their mainstream products are not even sustainable products but then they come out with these green lines. You didn’t see that five years ago, I think these big companies don’t want to get left out and they’re also buying small sustainable companies so we’ll see where that goes, but I think consumers are also becoming more aware about all the aspects of sustainability that we discussed; the environment itself, personal issues and worker conditions, and they have a lot more tools at their disposal like apps and all kinds of things to help them make smart purchasing decisions. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gia, not only do you sell wonderful products that are made sustainably or through fair trade methodologies on your website, but also, you have editorial material. Can you share a little bit about the content? And, we got about two-minutes-and-a-half left, but share a little bit about what you’re producing on the editorial side of EcoPlum. GIA MACHLIN: Right, and that’s really important. We have a dedicated team of eco-lifestyle writers and we talk a lot about the products that we sell like eco-fashion. We talk about beauty products. We talk about green homes. We also talk about lifestyle, green entertainment and celebrities. We talk about schools, health and wellness and sustainable food, so all of these areas are things that we know our readers are very interested in. We also curate items from other websites throughout the web every day in what we call the EcoPlum Daily and I write a blog on my personal take on green living so we’re very rich in content. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and so what’s the future hold here? When you go to bed at night, where do you want this to go? Where do you want EcoPlum to go in the months and years ahead now? GIA MACHLIN: We want to continue to carry and expand the product lines that we have on EcoPlum. We want to build depth in some of our categories like clothing and jewelry. We have a few clothing lines now. We’d like to get a lot more clothing lines on, more jewelry. We also want to expand and to have our new housewares and food categories and get a lot more products there. We’d like to see more interaction on EcoPlum. We’re very active on social media. We’ve made some changes on our site to encourage interaction. We’ve run some contests and people can submit their own videos so we’re really excited about getting more interactive on the site and also increase the profile of our Eco Chicks program that we talked about earlier and then of course, we’ll continue to provide our meaningful articles, our fun green living articles and we’ll report on all the important environmental issues that are going on now like Keystone Pipeline and fracking and everything like that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: In the last 30 or 40 seconds or so, for our listeners out there, a solution; for those who are daunted by living more sustainably and things of that such, give a couple of last parting pearls of wisdom from you, Gia. GIA MACHLIN: Well, it’s really not that hard. It’s about making conscious choices, thinking about where your products are coming from. There are so many great products out there and you can feel good about buying them, about wearing them, and about that you’re taking care of yourself and your family. John, can I invite your listeners to send us an email? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Absolutely. GIA MACHLIN: I’d love to have them send us an email at email@example.com and they will receive a discount code to use in our shop of 20% off till the end of this month, so it’s firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d love to hear from you and that’s really it. We’re so happy to be on the show again and it’s always a pleasure to be here, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re the best, Gia, and you’re gonna come back again. we’re so thrilled to be on Sirius XM now and have you back on talking about your success. For our listeners out there, please go to www.ecoplum.com. Gia Machlin, you’re an amazing ecopreneur and truly living proof that green is good.