Green is en vogue, and I don't mean the color. Sporting purses and jewelry made from recycled materials, celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Christina Applegate, Sienna Miller and Katherine Heigl are donning not just designer labels but eco-friendly and socially conscious accessories. Sometimes I've questioned movie-star trends, but influencing us with forward-thinking green fashion is a good thing.
Matthew Deming, 35, owner of the gift shop Symbiotic at 140 Township Ave. in Ridgeland, is also forward thinking. He has opened the first store of its kind in the state. Offering fresh ideas for unique gift giving, the shop specializes in selling eco-friendly, socially conscious and local U.S.A.-made items, just like the ones the stars are wearing.
"No one needs anything in a gift store; if you are going to buy, why not make a difference?" Deming says. "You buy a gift for a friend, and you in turn are then helping maybe some refugee woman, or homeless person."
Thus his store name, Symbiotic.
The day I show up to interview Deming, the sunlight is beaming through the huge store windows, making his floors made from recycled shipping pallets shine. Display shelves are clean and modern. The smell of wood is inviting. I introduce myself while my eyes try to take everything in.
Deming jumps right in before I can ask questions. "Let's start at the front of the store," he says. Deming's logo is "Every Gift Has a Story," and he is excited to start sharing the stories with me.
Picking up a colorful bowl, he tells how Vietnamese women, working with the fair-trade market, made it out of recycled magazine pages. Also working under fair-trade standards, Cambodian women make bowls that he carries in his shop. These bowls are made from used plastic bags that the women find in the dumps.
What is fair trade?
Fair trade means that people who are making the products are paid a fair wage to help feed their families and send their children to school֖unlike sweatshop factories where workers are not given a wage that reflects the work they do.
Deming warns that consumers should look out for "knock-offs" of recycled goods. Instead of using recycled products, companies will produce the products they use to make their "recycled goods." Deming sells only fair-trade items, and he does not carry knock-offs.
We walk to free-standing shelves where purses and bags of all shapes and sizes are displayed. The purses and bags are either made from recycled paper wrappers picked up by homeless people or maps and paper products that were misprints.
When many design-house sweatshops existed, the workers were trained to make high-quality stitching. Deming explains that many of the workers have now moved over to the fair market and taken their high standards with them.
"Angelina Jolie has one of these bags," he says. I was eyeing a little purse made from New York transit map misprints.
Smart Glass and More
Smart Glass is recycled glass art made in the U.S.A. California decided they would not throw away any of their glass products, but instead recycle. Displayed on a sleek wall shelf, the pieces called "Fire and Light" are etched and numbered. Deming also carries dinnerware of the recycled glass, which he says is becoming popular with brides.
Deming's Smart Glass recycled jewelry lies in a glass cabinet in the back of his store. Smart Glass is fashioned into earrings and necklaces. The colors vary from the different types of bottles used. Heigl, Miller and Applegate have been photographed wearing similar pieces.
Symbiotic carries wooden toys made in the U.S.A.; bath and body products made by women trying to turn their lives around; cards made by homeless children in San Francisco; and many other socially conscious and green items. It's fascinating stories like these that make Symbiotic worth checking out.
By the way, instead of the cute little purse, I decided I just couldn't live without a pair of recycled earrings. Next trip in, I'm getting the purse. I didn't know going green could be so easy and chic.