Published on November 21st, 2007 | by Victoria Everman8
Eco Seller Interview: Melissa Stajda of TheStanleyFamilyLodge.com
Started by two former Detroiters living in North Carolina, The Stanley Family Lodge is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Jeremie and Melissa Stajda. Inspired by the abundance of wilderness around their new home, the duo was strongly influenced to change their lifestyle for the better.
“We both finally committed to practicing healthy and ethical habits through vegetarianism and veganism. We began recycling, limiting our consumption of new materials, and making a strong effort to be more environmentally responsible people.” Having a hard time finding affordable vegan and eco-friendly items, the two decided to start a new online store. “Our goal is to provide a shop where you can find a wide assortment of everyday items in one convenient stop.”
Melissa was gracious enough to battle through first-time pregnancy queasiness (congrats to the couple on welcoming little Clara June Stanley into the world!) to do the following interview with me.
Victoria E: How did the idea for The Stanley Family Lodge develop?
Melissa Stajda: Wow, so much was involved in the decision to start The Stanley Family Lodge! I had just closed my online shop April Fool Handmade, where I successfully created handmade accessories for a couple of years. I was kind of in limbo, trying to figure out what my next project would be. And I was getting really serious about being a Vegan and making some huge lifestyle changes. Also, my husband Jeremie and I were looking for a project that we could work on together. So everything just kind of aligned perfectly, and we came up with the idea to start the shop!
After much brainstorming, Jeremie and I felt that we wanted to do something different, something important, and something responsible. There are already so many shops online, so many handmade items being created, and just so much stuff being thrown into the world of e-commerce. After being part of the indie D.I.Y. community for so long, I was becoming frustrated with the lack of recycled, organic, vegan-friendly, and environmentally responsible goods being sold. It felt like there was this big boom where everyone was trying to capitalize on the popularity of “handmade”, but everyone was missing the point. I saw a lot of “handmade” items being created in mass quantities, making use of new and non-recyclable materials, and everything seemed to be a dime a dozen. Not the ideal image of the indie D.I.Y. movement I was part of!
So we decided that if we were going to throw ourselves into the marketplace we wanted to do it with some environmental responsibility. So we went forth with the idea to create a shop that only carried goods that are vegan-friendly, animal-friendly, sweatshop-free, recyclable, make use of sustainable materials, safe for the environment, and affordable. Our ideal shop!
VE: What connections do you see between the D.I.Y. and environmental/sustainable movements?
MS: I see a lot of connections between the two movements. What’s really great about them both is the idea that you have to be somewhat of a rebel to get started. To make it in both the D.I.Y. and Eco-friendly worlds you have to make a conscious effort to step away from everyone else… and to take a chance on an idea that the majority of folks see as an unlikely success. Most people equate success with dollar amounts, and don’t expect that you’ll bring in much of an income making or selling handmade or green items. So those around you may discourage you, and won’t be as supportive as you’d hope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I don’t just get a real job and bring home a paycheck every week! Everyone seems to value success and productiveness differently. But thankfully most folks in the D.I.Y. and Eco-friendly worlds value their success by ethics, community, and social progress! So you’ll definitely find the support you need within those communities.
On a negative note, I have to admit that I am saddened by large corporations’ recent attempts to capitalize on both the D.I.Y. and Eco-friendly movements.
While I of course encourage everyone to make steps in creating more responsibly, and changing the way we consume… I don’t trust the motivation of some companies. Examples are large chains like Wal-Mart selling “organic” foods, McDonald’s testing their new “eco-friendly” coffee shop, and Bono recruiting every corporation and their mom to create the “Product Red” line of goods. I think that companies are using the environment, consumer guilt, and disease to capitalize and pull money into their stores. Wal-Mart can’t redeem themselves by selling organic fruit, and I don’t think they’re trying to. I think it’s all sneaky, and just a huge marketing ploy. If I want to support the fight against AIDS in Africa the best thing I can do is donate my money directly to the cause, not by purchasing a Red Motorola Razor cell phone that was produced in a factory, will most likely never be recycled, and possibly contains toxic chemicals. And I see this capitalization dripping down into some smaller businesses also lately, and it’s just disappointing when people miss the point.
VE: Has starting the online store helped your own daily life become more green?
MS: Having the shop has definitely motivated us even more to be green in our daily lives. While we were living really responsibly before we started the shop, we’re constantly trying to improve our lives! We have a lot of artists, friends, and family who look to us to help educate them on things like shopping green, living green, and creating green goods. So we for sure feel an obligation to live by the words, and ideals that we dispense to everyone around us. We also receive so much positive feedback from people, and that is a great motivation for us too! We kinda feel that if we can live up to these high expectations we set for ourselves, and share our experience and resources with everyone… then maybe they’ll realize they can do it to. You know, when you’re taking on anything new you look for people who are making it work for them. We hope that we can make living green seem simple and attainable, so that it’s just more encouragement for our friends, family, and customers to try the same.
VE: Do you think it would ever be possible for the DIY movement to be as mainstream as, say, low rise jeans? Why or why not?
MS: I think it’s totally possible for the D.I.Y. movement to become mainstream! I look at Renegade Craft Fair, Readymade Magazine, and companies like Fred Flare who are all highly influenced by D.I.Y., and see that it’s having quite an influence. Also it seems that these days everyone from your thrifty college student to families are looking to become more self-reliant, and the D.I.Y. movement fosters that. There are so many great things about D.I.Y. culture that can benefit so many people, it’s no wonder that it’s catching on so well with forms of mass media like cable television networks and national publications.
People want to save money, they want to make a living off of their creativity, they want to find ways for their family to have fun together, they want to learn how to forge a better sense of community, they want to bring more function and practicality to their lives. All of these things are now easily accomplished by anyone who can pick up a great magazine at their local book shop, watch a super fun and informative show on cable, or search on the internet.
I think this is all proof that people really love D.I.Y. and that it’s only growing in popularity!
VE: What we some of the easiest and most difficult things to adjust to when making your lives more green?
MS: It was definitely more difficult than easy, adopting a greener lifestyle! Fortunately we happened to move to a small community in Carrboro, North Carolina that was a very environmentally friendly one. So we were actually influenced and encouraged by our surroundings. But some things we struggled with were availability of necessities, affordability, variety, and convenience. When you’re a young married couple living on an extremely modest income some problems do arise. One of the hardest things was re-budgeting our lifestyle to accommodate our vegan nutrition. We chose to become vegan not just because of animal rights, but also because of the health benefits. So our grocery bills were suddenly nearly double what we were used to. It quickly gets expensive when you set such high standards of living. While stores like Whole Foods offer generic organic food items, sometimes you have to pay a lot to get those basics that you need. Our budget was also affected by other necessities like clothing, toiletries, household items, health care. When you only want to wear organic and sweatshop free clothing you’re options are limited, and most likely pricier. And when you make a sudden change in lifestyle like we did, you have to start from scratch in a way and replace a lot of things in you home. We had to make a slow transition, because it’s all our budget would allow… but we did it and it’s worth it!
Some easier things for us were recycling, because we live in a community that enforces it. So we moved into our apartment fully equipped with our own recycling center, and complimentary recycling bins for our home. So while we might have ordinarily been a little lazy about recycling before, we were forced by law to get with the program. That was great motivation! Also, when you start caring about something like the planet which is larger than you or anyone… you start to take stock of your life and every thing’s purpose. It was suddenly really easy for us to skip taking trips to the mall, and shopping for unnecessary items. We felt ridiculous buying coffee from expensive chains, when we could make it ourselves at home. We stopped eating out so much, and taught ourselves to cook healthy. We started spending more time at home together, taking less car rides, spending less money on useless things. Once you get the ball rolling, you see the bigger picture… and your life starts to change in every tiny aspect.
Like I beg everyone, at least just start with small steps! Slowly make some changes, and it will all start to make sense.
VE: Besides just selling indie, eco-friendly goods, what else does the online store do to be sustainable?
MS: We really try our hardest in every step of the business, to be environmentally responsible. One of the first rules we made, and communicated with our artists, was to completely eliminate any junk mail/advertisements/swag from our packaging. I’ve always found it frustrating when I order from a shop and receive piles of business cards, buttons, and flyers with my order. These items are destined to go straight in the recycling bin (or even worse, the trash), and we did not want to add to that waste. We’re also strict about making use of only recycled papers, and limit our use of packaging and paperwork with orders… only including a very small receipt in each. Our packing is all recycled, making use of the wrapping we receive when artists send us their goods. We do our best to package everything, so it looks new and clever when it lands on your doorstep… but we hope that our customers appreciate our resourcefulness! And one thing that I learned from my prior business was to set a schedule for shipments. Even down to the shipping… we set a weekly schedule, pay postage from our computer, and ship all of our packages from home. I found it really beneficial to make friends with my postal carrier! These days I grab my packages, hand them over to her, and I’m done.
It all comes down to how resourceful you can be really. Whether it’s trying to make your home greener, your business, or your community… you just find new and better ways of accomplishing things.
VE: As a young couple running an eco business, how do you balance your goals of helping to change/save the world and making a profit?
MS: This is the really hard part of running any business! While we really want to make the ethic behind our shop our only focus, we’re young and about to start a family… so income is of course important too. I can honestly admit that we are at a disadvantage sometimes, being a shop that will only sell a certain standard of goods. I look back to my former business, and other popular indie online shops… and they’re able to carry a larger selection and variety of goods that we are. Stocking our shop, and finding artists who share our ideals is a hard thing to do sometimes. When we started the shop we were very lucky and found alot of folks who were making eco-friendly goods, but as time goes on it becomes more and more difficult to find certain items. But I can say that no matter what, we’re always working to make the shop meet our goals! It takes alot of research, relying on tips from friends, and spending endless hours online… but we always end up finding the best people to work with and welcome into the shop. We just stick with it, and our hard work pays off eventually.
We’re also very realistic, and were aware when we started that things would take time and most likely progress slowly. While we’d love to make the shop our full time job and take out a business loan to open a brick and mortar location, we understand that it’s more responsible to take things at a slower pace. And while this business may not be incredibly profitable at times, we stick with it because we truly love the ethic of the shop. Our number one goal was always the ethics, then maybe profit if we’re lucky!
VE: What do you say to the folks that still believe Global Warming is just a myth?
MS: Luckily I haven’t met anyone in person who’s expressed their disbelief in Global Warming to me. If I did, my head might explode! It’s just such a large issue to take on in discussion, I don’t know if I could handle it in a calm manner. What I do discuss with a lot of people though, are smaller issue, and local issues. It seems that people are more likely to listen and attempt to understand if you approach them with issues that they can witness on a daily basis, or in their own environment. Living in the south I encounter a lot of people who don’t understand my choice to be vegan, so I take on that issue a lot. Small steps is my approach! While the issue of veganism is just as complex as Global Warming, it’s something that I can talk about from my own personal experience and I think people appreciate that more. I can start by explaining the health benefits I experience, then talk about animal rights, and then about how veganism can positively affect Global Warming. A lot of the time if you just start spitting out scientific facts to folks, their eyes glaze over and they stop listening. So you have to think of who you’re talking to, what they appreciate in their environment, and try to find a way that the issue personally relates to them. Otherwise, as passionate as you may be about something, your message just won’t get across. Or you could just tell them to watch “An Inconvenient Truth”!
VE: Do you have any future hopes or plans in expanding the online store and its impact on the green and DIY movements?
MS: Well, our long term goal for the shop is to open a brick and mortar someday. It’s what we want more than anything, so that we can have a more active voice in the community, and interact with people more. We can only get so far with our message online, and we feel that we would have a greater effect and could reach more people if we were physically based somewhere. In the next year or so we’ll be picking up and moving to Philadelphia, where we’ll hopefully be able to make these things happen! But right now we’re just really focussed on establishing ourselves in the online community, building working relationships with artists, and widening our customer base. Once we feel really confident in this venue, then we’ll move onto bigger and better things!
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