Sean Schmidt is cofounder and executive director of the Sustainable Style Foundation.

Monday, 3 Nov 2003

SEATTLE, Wash.

It’s an exciting time here at the Sustainable Style Foundation. Senior Stylist Rebecca Luke and I are gearing up for a trip to Los Angeles where we will attend the 13th annual Environmental Media Association (EMA) Awards ceremony and help style and produce a gala reception at the Business for Social Responsibility Annual Conference. We’re also in the throes of helping to organize the “I Buy Different” student scavenger hunt at Seattle’s Northgate Mall in partnership with World Wildlife Fund, the Center for a New American Dream, and Sustainable Seattle. Whew. For a nonprofit that’s only six months old, we sure are busy.

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It’s actually been a really great ride and a dream come true for me, as SSF combines two of my favorite things: sustainability and style. With a degree in conservation biology from the University of Washington, I should be out in the woods doing fieldwork. I’ve certainly done my fair share, ranging from studies of salamanders and squirrels in the Northwest to snow leopards in India. But for some reason, Nordstrom kept offering me great jobs and I ended up spending 14 years in the “fashion specialty retail” industry. It was in my last job as sustainable business and development coordinator for Nordstrom that I learned about all of the incredible innovations that were happening in all of the different “style industries.” Things like organic cotton, green building, organic foods, eco-friendly travel, and the phasing out of PVC in apparel. And that was just in one company!

That’s what SSF is all about. We want to show that you don’t have to give up looking fabulous and living well in order to do good. There are so many incredible things going on in fashion, food, interior design, architecture, travel, music, etc. Even I’m surprised by the amount and breadth of efforts going on. Did you know that Gibson has been using sustainably harvested wood in its guitars? Rock on!

Consumption is a huge part of the many social and environmental challenges facing society. So how can “style” help the situation? Good question, because no matter what, people do still need to buy things. The trick is to buy less stuff and to buy better stuff. True “style” — the essence of style — is not about conformity and buying all the latest trendy items. Style is about expressing yourself through the clothes you wear, the way you decorate your house, the car you drive, the places you choose to go on vacation, etc. So whether that’s Def Leppard T-shirts or Donna Karan, Goodwill couches or Knoll chairs, chances are there’s a more sustainable way of expressing your personal style.

So we’re off to L.A. tomorrow. We’ll be driving a Toyota Prius, checking out organic restaurants, searching for vintage modern furnishings, and I’m sure Rebecca will have a shopping spree at the Paper Bag Princess, a store that specializes in really cool vintage designer clothing. Should be quite an adventure.

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Tuesday, 4 Nov 2003

SEATTLE, Wash.

The commute into work this morning was miserable! Seemed like every road in to Seattle was backed up, but that’s Seattle traffic for you. Normally I’d take my Vespa, but since I’m running last-minute errands for our upcoming L.A. trip, I needed my minivan (lovingly named “Maggie”).

Yesterday was the day of many meetings. First, a conference call with the “I Buy Different” youth scavenger hunt team, then a follow-up with just the Seattle team over lunch, then a call with a fellow Sustainable Seattle board member, and finally a meeting at Northgate Mall to do a walk-through of the scavenger hunt stops.

The stores involved with the hunt are really getting excited about the project. I think they’re most pleased with the fact that we’re focusing on the positive efforts they’re trying to make rather than the negative. No company is perfect but many are trying to improve, so hopefully we can continue to encourage them along the way. There are a lot of great stories out there about companies and their products — you just have to ask. A great example of this, particularly given the audience for the I Buy Different campaign, is that many skateboards, snowboards, and surfboards are being made out of things like bamboo or sustainably harvested wood. How cool is that?

Tracy from the Center for a New American Dream will be staying at my place in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood while I’m in L.A. (my sprawling estate, which I call “Five Ferns” … well, it’s actually a one-bedroom flat, but I like to think of it as my sprawling estate). I pointed out the natural food store and other cool spots in the area, so I think she’s all set.

As I mentioned, it’s all about last-minute errands today. In addition, I’m getting Collin Dunn, our new website and online magazine intern, all set up in the office. Stay tuned for the launch of sass, SSF’s online magazine. I’m really excited to have someone helping on the website. With Collin and several of the other program interns coming on board in November, we should have some pretty amazing things started up by year end.

Wednesday, 5 Nov 2003

LOS ANGELES, Calif.

As expected, yesterday got a bit crazy right before Rebecca and I took off for L.A. The fun started as Collin and I tried to get a computer up and running in our office for him to work on. We have a great donated computer, but it’s missing a lot of the key things it needs to be fully functional. For example, it’s got Windows NT, but we have XP Office to load. The big adventure came when we had to find a bit of software to get us to the Internet so that we could download updates on things. We figured we could find one of those ubiquitous free-minute AOL CDs that there seem to be millions of, but, not surprisingly, when you’re actually looking for one, you can’t find one. We figured there’d be one on the street somewhere if we were lucky, but actually ended up having to shop around for one. We did finally find one in a rack just inside a grocery store, but still couldn’t get things up and running. Collin’s on another computer, though, so don’t fret — great things are still on their way.

Next it was fitting all of our stuff — well, Rebecca’s stuff — into her little car for our trip to the airport. We joked that we should have chartered a small jet for all of her stuff. To be fair to Rebecca, keep in mind that she is bringing outfits for models to wear and such, so it’s not like it’s all her own wardrobe. It was just kind of funny. She filled a huge snowboard bag and had two other bags that weighed a ton as well.

One quick trade secret that I learned, and it’s certainly applicable to everyone, especially world travelers with big bags and such: If you can, check your “possibly over 70 pounds” bag(s) at the curbside check-in — they’re much less likely to weigh your bags out there. Needless to say, Rebecca did just that and her heavy bag went right on down the conveyer with no sign of an extra fee.

The flight was over before we knew it because we were in creative mode planning for the Business for Social Responsibility reception event we’re helping to style and produce. We also had some great ideas for sass magazine, SSF’s soon-to-be-launched online publication. Get ready for something way cool on that one.

I was “shocked and awed” when we went to the rental-car desk and found that the hybrid we requested was actually there! I’ve tried so many times to get a hybrid and they never had them. So, yes, we will be traipsing around L.A. in a Honda Civic Hybrid. Rebecca is already in love with it. We initially named it Holly, in honor of one of Rebecca’s summer interns, because we decided the vehicle, a cute little Civic that is silver and chrome, is both sweet and flashy, just like Holly the intern. Holly will be working with us down here for the event, so I’m sure she’ll be pleased. The name has actually evolved a bit now to Holly Golightly, in reference to our favorite Audrey Hepburn film and the fact that she’s light on the environment. I hope to pick up a digital camera today so we can send along a pic of Holly Golightly for you all.

The rest of the night went pretty smoothly. Dropped Rebecca’s stuff off at the Century Plaza where she is staying and where the BSR event will be on the 13th. The Century Plaza is a very cool and stylish hotel, but it’s also a Westin which is part of Starwood Hotels which has made a pretty strong commitment to the environment. Then I was off to stay at my buddy Keith’s house in an area called Los Feliz while he’s working in Hawaii. Keith is a script and trailer writer who’s actually really into SSF, so this is part of his in-kind support for the organization. It’s certainly saving us a lot of money since we’ll be down here for 11 days.

On tap for today: Off to a store called Johnny B. Wood that specializes in vintage modern furnishings. We checked in there last time we were down — very cool stuff and perfect for our needs. We’re also going to check out a few other Venice Beach vintage and second-hand spots. Then off to the Paper Bag Princess in West Hollywood, which has all the vintage designer apparel. This is where the celebs go if they want to wear vintage to the Oscars and such. We’re hoping to find a few things for the models to wear at the BSR event, and, yes, I’m quite sure Rebecca’s going to be in heaven. They have a whole section of Pucci, one of her favorite designers. Last but not least, it’s off to the 13th annual Environmental Media Association (EMA) Awards, a big Hollywood to-do with lots of celebs honoring environmental work in the TV and film industries. Warner Brothers and Aveda helped us out with tickets, so a big thank you goes out to them.

What will Rebecca and Sean wear to the EMAs, you ask? How will they incorporate both “sustainability” and “style” into their outfits? Well, you’re just going to have to come back tomorrow for the full report.

Thursday, 6 Nov 2003

LOS ANGELES, Calif.

I don’t know how Rebecca does it. Yesterday I tackled the fullest to-do list I’ve had in a long time, and by the end of it all, I was pretty tuckered out. With her company, les Egoistes, which specializes in creative services (event production, styling, personal shopping, etc.), she does this all the time. I have to say that it required a lot more energy than any fieldwork I’ve had to do, including coming down out of the Himalayas after the snow leopard project I did. I got home last night and full-on collapsed on the bed. But … it was all worth it!

So the day started, or was supposed to start, at 9:00 a.m. with a trip to Venice Beach to check out the Johnny B. Wood store for vintage modern furniture. Turns out they didn’t open until noon. So we went to check out the Paper Bag Princess for vintage designer dresses for the models to wear at the Business for Social Responsibility event. Also not open till noon. So after a bit of coffee we thought we could at least check out the Fred Siegel store nearby. Turns out they have a bunch of great vintage stuff that has been refashioned and one of the salespeople was a guy we knew from Seattle. Crazy. He gave us a good tip on some other vintage furniture stores, Modernica and Modern Objects, so we did end up with a few great finds to rent for our event. After all the furniture stops, we went back to the Paper Bag Princess where Rebecca loved the designer stuff and their bulldog loved me. Yes, I spent most of the time at PBP trying to keep Luciano, the bulldog, off my leg. He was sweet … he was just a little too sweet on me.

Next it was off to Venice Beach for Johnny B. Wood. We ended up with all kinds of great finds for the registration areas and reception we’re styling for BSR. And the owner, John, was a really great guy, really into SSF, and ended up giving us a great deal on rentals. We also hooked up with a friend of a friend down here in L.A. who does set design for a lot of the studios. Needless to say, he had all kinds of great leads for us on prop houses. The “CSR Savvy Lounge” (CSR stands for corporate social responsibility) that we’re cooking up is going to be so cool!

With the sourcing done for the day, it was time to get all dolled up for the Environmental Media Association (EMA) Awards. The moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived. What did Sean and Rebecca wear? Here goes: I wore some cool Donald J Pliner shoes, some really cool gray pants, and a black three-button sport coat I found at Value Village. My white shirt was one that I’ve had for a long time and my cufflinks were by Lois Hill, a jewelry designer out of New York and Thailand who is 100-percent committed to social and environmental responsibility. She uses all women-owned companies in Thailand to produce her jewelry, which is really cool. Rebecca was the eye-catcher, though. Her piece de resistance was a long skirt by Seattle designer Andrew Dyrdahl made out of recycled parachute material. It was beautiful and everyone was asking about it.

A funny thing happened on the way to the EMAs … As I was waiting for Rebecca outside the hotel, all of the valets wanted to know more about our rented Honda Civic Hybrid. A couple of them had already driven it and others said they wanted to try it out, including the bellhop. It was the first one they’d seen. Caused quite a buzz in front of the Century Plaza Hotel with our little “Holly Golightly.”

As far as the EMA Awards go, they were incredible — even better than last year. We, of course, arrived in Holly Golightly (although the Toyota Prius was by far the star of the show, with Toyota being the premier sponsor and all). Rob Schneider was the MC and didn’t hold back a bit on his jokes. The standard celebs were there: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her husband Brad Hall, Wendy Malick, Soleil Moon Frye, David Spade, Amy Smart, etc.

Lots of incredible nominees this year and even more amazing projects going on that EMA is spearheading. The one that really surprised me was the BP Solar Neighbors program, which Edward Norton helped to establish, in which a celeb buys a solar system for their house and then BP Solar matches it by outfitting a house in a low-income area with solar, both to provide more clean power and to reduce the electricity bills of low-income families. Pretty cool. Norton also was awarded the EMA Futures award. The EMA’s Mission in Music Award went to Alanis Morissette in recognition of all of her social and environmental efforts.

The post party is always incredible with all sorts of free gifts — organic cheese, Aveda products, and other great environmentally friendly goodies. The food is always outstanding, put together by a collection of chefs and other food producers (Organic Valley Farms, Whole Foods Market, etc.), so we were completely spoiled. And, of course, a lot of schmoozing going on. Ran into Danny Seo and the Organic Style staff, and folks from Under the Canopy (an organic clothing line), and I made a special point of finding the BP Solar folks to talk about their project.

All in all, a really great event for EMA, for us, and most of all for the environment. With this kind of thing going on it can only serve to effect even more change in the TV, film, and music industries and continue to inspire many current and future environmentalists going forward.

A huge thank you to Warner Brothers and Aveda for providing us with tickets. Rebecca and I took lots of notes and thought up a ton of ideas for our first annual Outstanding Sustainable Style Achievement (OSSA) Awards that we’ll be organizing for April 10, 2004.

Friday, 7 Nov 2003

LOS ANGELES, Calif.

Rebecca and I got going around 10:00 a.m. yesterday with a trip to the Modernica Props warehouse near downtown L.A. I must tell you, being a huge fan of vintage modern style furnishings, I was in heaven. Modernica, the company, reproduces a lot of the amazing furniture designs from the ’50s through the ’70s. In the prop house they rent out these pieces, as well as two floors of true vintage pieces. Some of the most incredible stuff I’ve ever seen. The best part is it’s all rentable, so stylists, studios, etc., don’t have to keep buying new stuff, they can just rent it — much better use of resources.

Turned out that the owners are both from Nebraska too (Rebecca lived in Nebraska for a while and I was born there), so we had a great Nebraska moment. Micheal (yes, Micheal), the manager, was a really great guy and was practically family by the end of our four hour extravaganza. We were able to rent probably 75 percent of our needs for the Business for Social Responsibility event at Modernica, so it turned out to be a great find. I’d like to just bring my sleeping bag next time and stay amongst the out-of-this-world couches, chairs, tables, lamps, etc. Now that would be urban camping.

Next it was off to Hollywood Cinema Production Resources, a nonprofit organization that acts as both a prop house and a youth education and training program. Here we found some more great things for the BSR event: 26 space chairs and 30 or so colored cubes and stands for the models that Rebecca is going to have throughout the event. There were also two huge space pods from the recent remake of “Solaris” that I fell in love with. Not sure what I’d do with 12-foot-diameter space pods, though — cool for a tree house, maybe. The best part about Hollywood CPR is their training program, though. With a focus on youth and diversity, they really have an amazing program going.

Next it was a conference call with our event team. Rebecca found the closest hotel lobby from which to call (I’ve done conference calls from the most amazing places — Mt. Rainier lodge, a high school, hotel lobbies, etc.). We’re down to crunch time and so far everything is coming together.

Rebecca and I finally got lunch, yes lunch, at 4:00 p.m. or so. A Mexican restaurant popped right out at us as we started our search for lunch venues, so the immediate chips and salsa were quite welcome.

As my time on Grist is coming to a close, I invite everyone to keep up on the rest of our adventure on “sslog,” my sustainable style web log on our SSF website. Lots more great things ahead, and of course the final report on the actual event. Thank you all for checking in and joining us on our L.A. adventure. Keep up the good work, y’all, and stay strong. Peace.