Embrace Your Weird: What I learned at my visit to Package Free Shop
If, like me, you’ve awakened to the fact that we have to curb our waste if we want to save the planet then you might have already started changing your habits. Maybe you’ve bought a stainless steel water bottle that you can use instead of buying plastic bottles. Maybe you’re buying fewer pieces of clothing and checking that they’re ethically and environmentally friendly before purchasing them.
But then what? There seems to be so much more we can do, right? Lauren Singer and Daniel Silverstein, two Zero Waste pioneers thought so too, which is why they’ve recently opened Package Free. To quote their site:
Package free, a Zero Waste pop up shop in NYC, offers everything that individuals need to transition to a low waste lifestyle in ONE PLACE.
Located at 137 Grand Street in Williamsburg, it’s an inviting space designed by Tomas Janka with illustrations on the walls by the Hypist. It’s filled with a carefully curated assortment of items to help you live in a way that produces less trash more simply. I spoke with Lauren and Daniel at length recently and here’s what they shared: (LS=Lauren, DS=Daniel)
How & Why Package Free Began
DS –When Lauren and I had our first meeting to work on package free shop the first question we asked was why are we doing this? And it was so we could have a store to shop at. It’s not something where we’re dictating to others “You should really do this!” No, it’s “I really want to do this.” I want to embrace this lifestyle and create somewhere that makes it easy for other people to adopt it as well.
And Lauren’s knowledge of this lifestyle, and experience living it is so rich and so diverse that when you say “Zero Waste Lifestyle”, her brain — I mean she came up with a list of 100 products in like nano seconds! I came at it from this idea of really wanting to change a retail experience. So much of what I learned from working with Lauren is how to live the life through a shopping experience.
LS –And all of these brands are my friends and I don’t think of them as just brands –they’re people who saw a problem and were like “Fuck this. I can’t live my life with this problem existing. I can’t be a clothing designer and contribute to this waste, I can’t be a person in this world and look at plastic harming the ocean, I can’t see disposable tampons going into landfills anymore…” and they just saw these problems and they decided to do something about it.”
And I’ve looked up to these people for years. It’s not just cool products but amazing people and mentors and partners in this fight that we’re all fighting and finally this store is a way to bring them all together. Like Daniel with his brand finding the unified customer and finally empowering the brand. So the more that we grow the more of a voice that we give these brands, and as these brands stay true to their mission, it just helps to solve a problem even faster.
Even People Like Lauren and Daniel had their “a-ha moments”
Working as an assistant designer at Victoria’s Secret, Daniel saw the inner workings of fast fashion firsthand.
DS –I began to understand how much we were paying for waste and how that was something we were creating in other countries on other peoples’ soil out of their raw materials and I didn’t want to be a part of that catastrophic landfill contribution. and after doing that I started my brand ZWD to try to mitigate that waste and after doing that for several years I was actually able to transition my personal life to a zero waste life style completely in the last year.
Lauren’s “a-ha” moment was in college.
LS –I was in a class that everybody in Environmental Science had to take and there was this girl who would bring a big plastic bag of food and a plastic fork and knife and a plastic drink and chips and she would eat everything and throw it in the trash and I was like what the fuck are you doing? We’re environmental science students and you’re making a ton of trash and you’re using all this plastic and its really gross!
…and then I went home and realized my whole apartment was plastic: my refrigerator was full of plastic package, my bathroom was full of plastic packaged products, my clothes were made of plastic and I realized I was a huge hypocrite! There I was getting mad at this girl while I was doing basically the same thing. Ironically I was also protesting against the oil and gas industry all the time, while actively subsidizing them through my consumption choices multiple time per day, every day. This was a huge wake up call.
Embrace Your Weird
Once you think about the effects of plastic and garbage on the planet, trying to move towards zero waste seems like an obvious step…except that it’s really stepping outside of our collective comfort zone.
You Can Do It!
DS –I really struggled for a while because the way my life was set up I was able to be very low waste for a very long time but zero was hard because I didn’t live alone and I wasn’t in total control of my life and I think a lot of people with families and roommates and siblings struggle with this. I also had a problem learning how to graciously say no to things. And I think for me Lauren has been a really big inspiration, role model, mentor, in learning how to do that in a way where it’s not pedantic and it’s not off putting but it’s really just living your truth and I think people have been warm and receptive –although sometimes at first it’s uncomfortable or maybe they crack a couple of jokes. But over time I see them carrying mason jars or saying no to straws and it feels good it feels like I’m having a positive impact.
LS –At first no one even knew that I was living this way but then they would see mason jars or I would tell my mom that I wouldn’t want Thanksgiving leftovers in plastic containers and then they started asking questions which is why I started my blog to kind of make it easy for people. When I first started using mason jars for coffee at coffee shops people were like “yeah fuck single use plastic that shit sucks!” or at bars when I’d ask for a drink and without a plastic straw and they’re like “Yeah! These things are the worst –why do we use them?” and so it’s taking action on something that lays dormant in everyone’s head anyway.
…But Maybe Not All At Once — and That’s OK
LS –You can’t go zero waste in a day or a week or a month. It takes time and you need tools and you need to change habits and learn how to organized and prepared and so it’s not kind of like swapping things out. It’s more like setting that infrastructure up and once you just have it and you start little by little it becomes really easy.
The Package Free Shop Can Help You Make the Shift
DS –Pretty much there’s only “one” of everything in the store. Meaning one of each product in its category. Very few options. We’ve done a lot of work to get the best product in each category with the right balance of function and price. It’s just about finding the authentic brands who have sustainability and quality in equal measures in the design, function and packaging of their products. And we can share all of this directly with the customer.
But Lose Your Pre-Conceptions About A Sustainable Lifestyle, Please!
LS –We’re also combatting the pre-conceptions that most people have about living a sustainable lifestyle
1. That it’s exclusionary expensive. Most of our sales have been under $60 and that’s people buying multiple products that will replace other products in a way that will save them money over the long-term and might be less expensive even to begin with.
2. You don’t have to be a hippie or “crunchy” to do things that are “eco” and so we wanted this store to be simple and minimal but not isolating. I feel like anyone with any kind of style, background or interest can come in here and connect with an aspect of it. There are even hints of that throughout the designs.
3. We wanted to show that these products are functional and beautiful regardless of whether or not you give a shit about the environment.
DS –We’re not saying ‘be a hippie’ live without stuff, don’t have your cake and eat it too, we’re saying “oh you want to support something? You can get the thing that you want and also be supporting a cause, and a small business and re-appropriate the funds that would be going to the oil industry or the funds that are going to something you don’t believe in.
And it’s not deprivation. You can actually have more for yourself. For example, this coffee cup is $18 but in many coffee shops now in the city if you bring your own coffee cup you get money off your purchase so in no time at all it pays for itself and start saving money.
And Ultimately It’s More Than A Store But A Building Block For Community
DS –A huge part of what we want to do, and a big part of our collaboration, is bringing all of our lifestyle skills together.
So our space is modular. Everything is on wheels and easily moved so we can have all different kinds of events here. We have DIY toothpaste, deodorant, soap-making and skills that Lauren has and I’ll teach intro to hand sewing and basic mending, host panel discussions, lectures and workshops from the brands that are in the shop and also get the local community involved. There are so many people in this neighborhood doing incredible local farm-to-table dining or natural wines and all kinds of things that can bring this community together.
Even in the few weeks we’ve been opened we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people coming in –maybe just out of curiosity — that they are interested in this but they feel a bit weird and isolated and this is somewhere they can embrace the weird and meet other people who feel like that — to use Lauren’s earlier phrase! It’s a great place to not just get the toothbrush but also to learn to make the toothpaste, not just buy the clothes but also learn how to fix them. And to meet other people who are doing the same.
Package Free is at 137 Grand St, Bklyn NY & will be open at least until July. Check out their eventbrite for upcoming events!
This was first published on Medium.com