We are kicking off the New Year with our first Member Spotlight of the year featuring my friend and former EcoEtsy Team Captain, Karen Lee of EcoKaren. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Karen on a personal level, she’s a great mentor and I have much respect for her. Karen’s 5-star rated shop EcoKaren has been on Etsy since 2009. Besides operating her Etsy shop, she is also a respected blogger, she is one of the founders of the Green Sisterhood, a network of green women bloggers and she also shares some great tutorials and insights on her own personal blog EcoKaren. Karen is also a social media guru who recently published an Awesome Starter Pack for New and seasoned Etsy Shop Owners. It is my pleasure to introduce you all to Karen Lee.
I am a “retired” Chiropractor- turned-chauffeur-chief cook-and-bottle water for two kids, a husband, a fur baby, and two aging parents. But now, I’m a full-time green blogger/Etsy shop owner. I recently started a blogging network called Green Sisterhood with a friend, Anna of Green Talk, where we connect green companies to professional bloggers to help bridge the gap between green companies and consumers. It’s exciting to introduce companies doing great things to the public because more we are aware of existence of green products the better for us and the planet. We want to increase the awareness so we can demand better and healthier products. Our purse speak louder than words.
Spare time? What’s that? But if I had some time to myself, I’d play the piano. I used to play a lot but lately, I just don’t have the time. And it’s frustrating to play once in a while because playing the piano is NOT like getting back on the bike. You need to practice; like they say, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Unfortunately, typing on the computer keyboard is not considered practicing. If it was, I’d be at Carnegie Hall by now.
What is your craft? and products do you offer in your shop? What are your most popular products?
I basically make anything that I can upcycle with available resources from thrift stores, Goodwill, my craft room and sewing room. I’ve sold shawls and scarves made from old t-shirts and flat sheets (I once had a customer who ordered 4 custom shawls and didn’t want to tell her husband! What a hoot!) I also sold crocheted organic wash cloths and reusable make up removers. My latest muse is making pendants. I use vintage music sheets (I have a ton of old yellowed music books made in Japan that I don’t use anymore), old library catalogue cards (Remember those? A good friend of mine gets them for me.) and old NYC Subway maps for the pendants. When Super Storm Sandy hit the NYC area, I raised money by selling the NYC Subway Map pendants to raise money to donate space heaters to the victims. Team Eco Etsy members were great in supporting me during the fundraising. I love this team!!
What were you doing before you started your Etsy shop?
Watching Oprah and eating Bon Bons… Kidding.
I had a Chiropractic practice. I have no idea why they say “practice”. I swear, I was good at treating my patients. I was done with my residency and done “practicing’ on fake patients! But yea. I was educating patients why they were in the state they were in and fixing them. They were terrible to their bodies!! Their posture, their daily habits, their diet, their environment…everything! That’s when i realized how WRONG our lifestyle was and how damaging we were to ourselves and to the environment. So when I retired to stay home with my kids, I started my Etsy shop and my blog, Ecokaren – educating my buyers and readers about the effects of our actions on the environment. Starting 2014 though, I’ll be focusing MORE on how our own health and how it goes hand-in-hand in making our environment healthier.
Hence, I just started a 4-Week “Healthy 2014 Challenge” on my blog. I hope everyone can join me and learn how to stay healthy or get healthier. After all, just like the Earth, we only have one body. So take the challenge with me!
How did you get stated in your chosen craft and what do you enjoy most about it?
I always liked crafting, knitting, sewing, crocheting…cooking…piano playing…anything that required using my hands. I wish I knew how to weld metal or throw pottery. I think I’d really like that. Sorry…I digress.. It was natural that I started selling knitted wash cloths and upcycled crafts when I started my Etsy shop. Ironically, the word, Chiropractic, means ‘done-by-hand‘ in Greek. So, I was meant to be a Chiropractor to use my hands to make people feel better instead of using a prescription pad.
Where do you get your inspiration for your products?
I’m always inspired by discarded materials or resources that are still in good condition to be turned into something else – to have a second life. I don’t have a creation in mind until I see something I can turn into something else. I’m totally backwards from most sellers. I’m too bored with making just one thing. Maybe I have A.D.D.???
What makes Your Business Green?
Materials and resources that are used to make the items are at least 75% recycled or upcycled. I package and ship everything in recycled or used materials. I have never bought any new packaging materials. I got a huge bag of beautiful linen fabric from Freecycle a couple of years ago and I’m still using them. If I have to buy new fabric, I buy organic. I use Modal (fabric made from beech tree) from an unused flat sheets to make scarves and shawls. I use ‘vintage’ everywhere possible as long as they don’t fall apart. I’m going to be expanding my jewelry line to include more vintage findings. There is so much story behind anything vintage…and technically, everything I OWN is vintage. Yes, I’m that old. It’s a beautiful thing!
In one word, describe your creative process.
Where do you craft your products?
You DO NOT want to see my space. It’s in a corner of my small living room. I had a flood in my basement – twice – and we never finished it. I’m afraid to. So now all my crafting materials that were in my basement studio are sitting on a large table in a corner of the living room. It’s a good thing I don’t weld or throw pots. That would NOT make my marriage fun.
What advice do you have for Etsy shop owners who are interested in greening (making eco-friendly) their business?
Refuse, reuse, reclaim, upcycle, and recycle…in that order. If you can’t do one, do the next. There is always something you can reuse to create your items OR to package them with. If you are using new materials to make your items, use sustainable and non-toxic materials. If not for the planet, for yourself. You will be exposed to them all day long. It’s not healthy to breathe in or to come in contact with all the toxic chemicals or fumes. Be good to yourself and you’ll be good to the planet without even trying.
What is your biggest challenge running an eco-friendly business?
Nothing. Seriously. The funny thing is, I don’t consider my business as an ‘eco-friendly’ as a business category, really. I think ANYONE can make their business eco-friendly. And what’s even better? You save money when you are eco-friendly.
When I spoke at Martha Stewart’s Dreamers into Doers event a couple of years ago on “How to Green Your Business and Save Money“, the small business owners were thrilled to learn that being eco-friendly means saving money! For example, you save money when you print double sided, email invoices or statements instead of mailing them, reuse packaging materials and don’t buy new and invest in LED light bulbs in your office and you’ll never have to change a lightbulb. So it’s really not that hard to be eco-friendly and added bonus of saving money is a sa-weet motivating factor. It’s Win-Win!