MEET MARCI ZAROFF
This month we sat down with Marci Zaroff, one of the original eco-preneurs to get the backstory of what inspires her. From managing the production of a home goods and apparel company, to running off to the White House - she is a genuine changemaker that never has a dull moment. Merchandising Director Veronique Lee (VL) sat down with Marci Zaroff (MZ) for this month's Modavanti Muse interview.
VL: You have pioneered awareness and change in the eco food, beauty and textile movements. How did it all begin?
MZ: I read the book "Living in the Light" by Shakti Gawain when I was 15 years old and experienced an awakening that inspired me to become a vegetarian and learn as much as I could about the environment and human health. I met the founder of AVEDA when they were a very small company, and as the kid with the lemonade stand—an inherent entrepreneur—I recognized the power of business to affect positive change. After immersing myself in a California lifestyle and getting a business degree from UC Berkeley, I moved to NYC and in 1990 co-founded "Gulliver's Living & Learning Center" to take people on a "journey to the land of health." In addition to offering an organic cafe, natural foods cooking classes, a national magazine called "Macrocosm," yoga classes and the first AVEDA concept salon in NYC, we created a professional certification program, which is known today as "The Institute for Integrative Nutrition"—the world's largest integrated nutrition school. With growing consumer demand to embrace a conscious lifestyle, it became apparent to me that there was a "missing link" in the wellness equation when it came to fashion and textiles. I was aware of the interconnection of food and fiber in agriculture and humanity's symbiotic relationship with nature. As a style-driven consumer with a conscience, I coined the term "ECOfashion" and founded "Under the Canopy" in 1996, to fuse my passion for fashion with my commitment to environmental and social responsibility, demonstrating that those worlds were not mutually exclusive.
VL: What do you consider the most important aspects of your life and conscious living?
MZ: I believe that we must always follow our heart and live truthfully. It is never about teaching by preaching, but instead, teaching by example. Because we are made of energy, we can create whatever reality we choose, so by integrating my personal and professional values, I can maintain a state of balance that keeps me in the flow. I understand and appreciate that we all live 'under the canopy' of the planet's ecosystem together and that man and nature are a reflection of each other. I feel deeply connected to our global community, with an innate sense that serving others is also serving myself. I try to live every day in a perpetual state of gratitude, with positivity, passion and purpose as the keys to happiness. Love is at the root of all that is—love for each other, the world around us, Mother Earth, and the infinite universe. I am always open to learning and expanding my consciousness, while trusting my gut and embracing the notion that all of the answers we need reside within.
VL: What is your vision for yourself and your life’s work?
MZ: My mission is to revolutionize the fashion and textile worlds via creative vision, innovation, inspiration, education and collective action. I love to connect dots and build bridges from the tribe to the boardroom, from the treehugger to the fashionista. As Lao Tzu once said, "the journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step," and as long as we step forward, we can stay on a path whereby all living things can co-exist in harmony. My meta vision is to see the "norm" become the "alternative", and the "alternative" the "norm." Currently, I am leveraging my 30 years in business to plant new seeds of opportunity, propelling the ECOfashion & wellness-focused lifestyle movements toward an "ECOrenaissance"—a rebirth of popular culture, built on a thriving ecosystem of creativity, consciousness, connection, collaboration and community. I often say that as an entrepreneur, I feel like a little kid in a candy store—doing what I love, making a good living, and changing the world. Check, check, check. In fact, another one of my favorite quotes (by Kahlil Gibran) is "work is love made visible," so if you love your work, it's not work, it's love.
VL: How have you seen sustainability change over the years?
MZ: In the early years, the idea of "alternative" diets and lifestyles were perceived as some hippie, new age movement. Organic/sustainable fashion conjured the image of crunchy, frumpy, beige, boring, rough hemp, potato sack clothing. Sustainability directors were seen as the "ugly stepchildren" of their companies, not really taken seriously, but instead, serving as an image placeholder. People thought my concept of "ECOfashion" was insane—that it was paradoxical because "ecology" and "fashion" seemed to be two dichotomous worlds with totally different values. Through the years, individuals, brands and companies have been able to break these stigmas, with conviction, and even science, adding value to values in sustainable products, with a "this AND that" mantra versus a "this OR that" assumption. As more consumers have joined the world of consciousness, waking up to the core truth that we all really want to look good, feel good AND do good, sustainability has somewhat recently shifted to be "cool" and "relevant", and no longer "out there." With organic food now being embraced at least occasionally by over 84% of mainstream American households (~OTA), and with the rise of the Millennial "Nice Generation" (as The New York Times called them), it's a new day, where green/ sustainable/ethical/conscious business is no longer about staying ahead, but now about not being left behind. It's apparent when you see the rapidly growing B Corp movement, that sustainability is "GOOD" business. Performance, profit and price can go hand in hand with people, planet, passion and purpose.
VL: WHAT DO YOU DO TO KEEP UP WITH ALL OF THE AMAZING THINGS HAPPENING IN SUSTAINABILITY TODAY?
MZ: Never a dull moment! The Internet is an amazing tool and my husband and I are YouTube and documentary junkies. There is no lack of material, including newsletters and blogs, filled with amazing and juicy growth fuel. As long as I have been a part of this movement, I continue to learn something new every single day. One of the most exciting concepts around sustainability is that, like Buckminster Fuller, we can design a new reality by thinking out of the box. As Einstein said, "we can't solve today's problems with the same consciousness that created those problems." Because I do a significant amount of global public speaking, I love to immerse myself in conference content, meet new people, and birth new ideas by sharing information, since one plus one can equal 11. The events I attend are cross sector and range from fashion to natural food/lifestyle to renewable energy to social innovation - with many spokes on the collective wheel of change. Serving on numerous Director & Advisory Boards—such as The Organic Trade Association, Textile Exchange, Fashion Positive by Cradle to Cradle, Fair Trade USA, Turning Green and Fashion Revolution Day—keeps me informed with sustainability consumer and market trends. It's an exciting time to be a part of the sustainability movement. As I often remind my kids, this is just the beginning and it's not going away; human beings are waking up to our true nature and desire for lifestyle choices that resonate without compromising human and planetary health, our global community or future generations. Organic food, ECOfashion, green energy, social justice—they are here and here to stay.
Marci's conscious style favorites for Spring
Eclipse Dress by Silvae
"I like that it's made in the USA from eco-friendly materials (distressed linen blend), yet has a European design flair and interesting artistic silhouette."
Georgie & Elaine Geoy Ombre Skirt
"This has a fun drape and ombre color, and can be dressed up or down. Not sure what the material is (peace silk?) but I like the designer's philosophy and local made-to-order commitment."
Oryx Bracelet by Base Project
"Really nice in both the silver and gold. I am a fan of Base Project and their stylish Fair Trade artisan efforts to create jobs and invest in community development. Cool founders, cool conscious jewelry."
Reference Necklace by Dirty Librarian Chains
"I love that it's zero waste, made in the USA and designed with a unique artistry from recycled materials."
Indigo Pebble/ Suede Belt Bag by Hipsters by Sisters
"This is one of my fave items on the Modavanti site. Sleek & stylish, yet functional, it's also vegan AND lined with organic cotton, yay!"
Shahana Sandal by Love is Mighty
"Nice designer name and the sandal has an inspiring feel good, fair trade story without compromising design. The silver & gold foil weaving adds a unique craftsmanship."