Interview by Lydia Krupinski Photos from Mary Ellen
When people purchase a product its life span is often far from their minds. Videos like The Story of Stuff reveal the cradle to grave cycle to which consumables are doomed.
By re-using products not designed to survive their original intent, artisans like Mary Ellen are re-shaping how we utilize these abandoned items. Mary’s company, Mary Zoom, takes these unwanted materials and transforms them into functional and whimsical goods for the whole family.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
A. My name isn’t really Mary Zoom, it’s Mary Ellen. The name Mary Zoom comes from my kid brother Mike. When we were little, he had a pet mouse that he named Mary Zoom – Mary after me and Zoom because she was FAST! Well, I’m not quite as fast as the original Mary Zoom and definitely not as cute. Currently I live with my husband in Goodland, KS, a small farming community in far northwest Kansas. We moved here from St. Louis 12 years ago to pastor a rural church and have never looked back.
Q. Tell us about what you were doing before you started Mary Zoom.
A. By day I am a medical transcriptionist in a critical access rural hospital. My dream, however is for Mary Zoom to become my full-time job. The medical field is interesting and being a behind-the-scenes member of the patient-care team is nice. However, reclaiming and repurposing cast-off clothing is what really fills me up.
Q. When did you first discover your creative potential?
A. I come from a family that has always fostered creativity, so the idea of being creative has always been normal for me. When I was 5, my grandmother helped me make my first doll dress. She also later taught me to embroider. My mom taught me to sew and by the 5th grade I was actually able to sew clothes that I could wear in public without too much embarrassment.
Q. Where do you find inspiration?
A. I find that I am most inspired by every day living, the humdrum stuff of life. My best designs and ideas seem to be those that I crafted to solve a problem or make my life easier.
I am also inspired by the pioneer women who came here to Western Kansas. I personally know women who lived through the dust bowl days of the 1930s. Spending time with these women and listening to their stories of life on the farm, how they worked in the fields along side their husbands and how they built a home and a living from whatever was around, is very inspirational. I want to be like them when I grow up!
Q. What does ecological “sustainablity” mean to you?
A. Sustainability is another word for stewardship. A steward understands that he or she is taking care of something that doesn’t belong to them. It is the same way with me – While I live on this earth now, I feel that I am only borrowing it. I want to steward what is around me in a way that the generations who follow me will be able to enjoy their lives even more than I do now.
Q. What drew you to making accessories from recycled materials?
A. Our family has always been “sustainable” even before sustainable was the thing to be. I was never bored because my mom kept any paper that had a blank side in a box, and that was our drawing paper – no sketch pads for us! She also kept every scrap of fabric and that was my supply source for projects for quite a long time.
As a teenager, I would take my Dad’s out-of-style wool tweed suits and remake them into clothes for myself. So as an adult, making accessories from recycled materials was the natural thing to do.
Q. Are you part of any area groups, organizations or crafting communities?
A. I am a member of Team EcoEtsy – a great team of artisans who focus on sustainability. I also am a Master Gardener through the Kansas State University Extension Office. I love gardening, and as a Master Gardener, I have access to lots of information on organic and sustainable gardening practices.
Another group I am involved in is the Goodland Arts Council, which promotes the arts in the tri-state area of Northwest Kansas, Southeast Nebraska and Northeast Colorado. We have a great gallery here in Goodland to showcase artists of the Great Plains. (shameless plug!)
Q. What advice would you offer for others looking to live a greener lifestyle?
A. Relax and enjoy life. Use what you already have instead of always thinking that you must go and buy something new. A green lifestyle is a great opportunity to develop creative thought processes when it comes to finding a green solution for a problem. It is also fun! I love the challenge of using what I have instead of defaulting to consumerism.
Q. What words of wisdom do you have for individuals looking to start an eco-biz?
A. First and foremost, your product must be something that YOU love, that naturally flows out of your unique personality.
Secondly, do the research. Learn who your target market is. Learn about bookkeeping. Make sure that your overhead, which includes your time, does not eat up your profit. If this is a hobby, that’s okay because you are having fun. But if this is to be a serious business with the goal of real income, then research is a must.
Lastly – Jump into the deep end with both feet and enjoy the ride of your life!
Q. Where’s your favorite place to hunt down materials?
A. Garage sales and our wonderful thrift shop here in Goodland, Kansas. I mean it – it’s the best! On sack sale day, I can pay $1.00 for everything I can stuff into a grocery sack. That is a LOT of t-shirts! Seriously, if you are ever traveling through Western Kansas on I-70, you MUST stop in – you won’t regret it!
Q. If you could be any vegetable, what would you be and why?
A. A zucchini – My favorite vegetable! Zucchini is quite productive and therefore can be shared. With imagination, zucchini can be put to use in many, many ways, from casseroles to bread to muffins to just being sliced up and put into salads. I would like to be like that – productive, creative and giving. Plus, it is my favorite color – Green!
To learn more about Mary, Mary Zoom and her products, visit her etsy at www.maryzoom.etsy.com