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by Lydia Krupinski

Tis the season for holidays, food, family and friends. As some people prep for the fellowship, reflections, and feastings of Thanksgiving, others around the country are already salivating at the midnight shopping promises of big box stores and retail chains. While the term Small Business Saturday may not be as catchy as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the first Saturday after Thanksgiving has been designated as such to encourage consumers to support the vendors in their own communities.

In the spirit of this week’s holiday and the upcoming shopping stampedes Sprout Chicago would like to highlight a group that’s launching a special campaign to remind Chicagoans to spend their dollars locally this holiday season. Urban Folk Circuit is a group dedicated to supporting and growing the handmade craft and music community in the city. Started in July of 2010, the team unites artisans from around Chicagoland in monthly traveling craft shows that highlight the diverse talents and skills of handmade business owners.

Sprout Chicago caught up with Kelli and Jess, super-crafter extroadinaires and founders of Urban Folk Circuit, to pick their brains about crafting in the city and their latest campaign: Shop Chicago for the Holidays.

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Interview composed by Lydia Krupinski

I discovered Soaphappy! this past November when selling my Pierogi Picnic goodies in a local craft show. Desperate for a stick of natural lip balm, I promptly snatched up a stick of their ultra hydrating Vanilla blend. This one product made me an instant convert. I now covet my stick not letting even my beloved husband snag a use.

Hanah and Nellie are the dynamic duo behind this local soap racket. Their delicious and down-to-earth products blend natural vegan ingredients with exotic spice combinations that will jazz up even the weariest Chicagoan’s winter morning ritual. With soaps like Jazz+Beet boasting ingredients like ginger, rose, beets and jasmine – it’s no wonder this fiesty pair is stirring up trouble at local craft fairs like the DIY Trunk Show.

To spice up your chilly holiday week Sprout Chicago brings you an exclusive interview with these two soap divas: Read the rest of this entry »

Interview and photos by Lydia Krupinski

As our food becomes frequently outsourced to other regions and countries, groups are taking a stand and resurrecting a time-honored tradition: the victory garden. While some movements set to re-invent the wheel, others look back to previous generations for inspiration and to empower their communities. One such group literally broke ground on the far North side of Chicago a few weeks ago. The Peterson Garden Project sets to connect Chicago residents with the earth, their food, and each other. Located just west of Western on Peterson Avenue, this incredible space is changing the way residents are looking at food, community, and empty lots.

By renting a plot, experienced and novice gardeners can share in the satisfaction of growing their own food, which in turn cuts down on both their ecological and economic footprints. For only $45 a season, growers receive a 24 square foot plot, access to the gardening forums, and unlimited advice from their fellow gardeners. For those unable to tend their own land, the Project’s volunteers can nurture a crop for a reasonable donation. The only requirements: Visit your plot 2-3 times a week, commit to using organic gardening methods, and pay your dues. It’s that simple!

Sprout Chicago had the honor and privilege to visit the newly tilled space and speak with the garden’s founder, LaManda Joy, about the Project and more. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview and Photographs by Lydia Krupinski

I am on a mission. On a quest to find natural and locally made products for the day to day requirements of life. I’ve learned how to make my own deodorant, grown veggies, and have cleaned with vinegar. But there’s one task too daunting for DIY: soap making. There’s a fine art and science to the creation of this daily necessity that I dare not discover on my own.

That’s why I am delighted to bring you an interview with a local soap master who’s creations have stolen the hearts of many Chicagoans, including my husband. David Melis, of Edgewater Soaps, has been making delicious batches of  suds since 2002. From lavender oatmilk and rosemary lemon soaps, to avocado facial bars and coconut neem oil dog shampoo, David’s creations span a wide range of scents and needs. Read on to learn about his dedication to natural ingredients and passion for his work. Read the rest of this entry »

On My Mind, Under the Root
We all rush through our lives…living day by day within the chaos of this city of Big Shoulders. Between work, volunteering, events, errands, and other responsibilities, we often forget to stop, look, listen, and simply…breathe.
This gentle reminder was revealed to me while interviewing Jennifer Brown, dancer, writer, and eco-business owner. Owner of Under the Root, a whimsical line of mythically inspired undergarments, and Quark, an equally magical collection of eco clothing and accessories, Jennifer does it all while taking the time to muse with me about life, Chicago, and living sustainably.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
A. I am originally from Peoria, Illinois.  Those times were filled with tornado alarms, outdoor play, and more bicycling than you can shake a stick at.. I still ride a bicycle and hoping to acquire a more trusty, road bike soon.  The move to Chicago twelve years ago for Columbia College Dance, shuffled me here.  I had already moved across the United States a handful of times, and the hopes of following my passion for body discipline led me back here.
Now, the dust has settled a little and Under The Root is underway.  The Business of Art has been the leap from the beginning, and luscious from the landing.
Q. When did you first discover that you had an eye for design?
A. I love this question.  My great-grandmother was a seamstress and the curiosity came to fruition inside a high school classroom from another woman in my life that was silently grounded.  I have always admired the human body and simply wanted to swaddle it.  The drive to master design was, and continues to be, secretly the adventure running concurrently to my desire for body movement.
Q. What inspires you in your day to day life and in your designs?
A. Inspirations at this moment are the lush nature of individuals and the soft curves of a sonnet.
Q. What does ecological sustainability mean to you?
A. As a dancer, and a woman, I am deeply rooted in our awakening.  I have always wanted to ‘clean up’, ‘clean out’, and connect with those individuals whom desire freedom and wholeness as a means to help balance each other with our individual quests.
I understand there are countless ways to ‘give back’ to nature and even our immediate environment has potential for creating less waste. The reminder that mindfulness is the ultimate motivation, it is a way of life.  Under The Root has not always used sustainable fabrics. The shift is happening due to the price finally reaching a cost I can afford and the technology catching up to reach me.  I will continue to use reclaimed, recycled, and vintage materials.
Q. What’s the most rewarding aspect of leading an ethical business?
A. The knowledge that hope for balance with our environment is possible and now.
Q. What initially inspired you to open shop on Etsy?
A. I chose Etsy because it was a tool that presented itself as the means for reaching individuals globally.
Q. Quarks is celebrating its one year Etsy anniversary in August. What would you say has been the most rewarding, and challenging aspect of bringing the two businesses to an online community?
A. The reward is the continued motivation in actualizing a vision.
The challenge changes from day to day although always a sign in the road that points to happiness.
Q. Where can Sprout Chicago readers find your items offline?
A. UTR sells to three boutiques within Chicago and one in Toronto, two online original shops, and a roundtable of personal clients.  The count is growing as I write and a magnificent way to express more designs, to reach more people.
Q. What do you love most about Chicago?
A. Chicago is filled with deep, dark thoughts coupled with the lightheartedness of people in acceptance and laughter.
Q. What advice would you offer for others looking to live a greener lifestyle?
A. Begin with your diet, we see things differently when paying attention to the body function.
Q. What is your favorite Chicago performance group?
A. Red Moon Theater
Q. What’s your favorite local bookstore?
A. Armadillo’s Pillow
Q. If you could be any vegetable, what would you be and why?
A. I would be a turnip.  I love the colors and full bellies of this root vegetable.  A Turnip is a colloquial term for an old fashioned oversized pocket watch.  There are memories for me of dancing turnips, where that comes from, I have yet to find out.

by Lydia Krupinski

gray under the root

We all rush through our lives…living day by day within the chaos of our fair city. Between work, volunteering, events, errands, and other responsibilities, we often forget to stop, look, listen, and simply…breathe.

This reflection dawned on me while interviewing Jennifer Brown, dancer, writer, and eco-business owner. Creator of Under the Root, a whimsical line of mythically inspired undergarments, and Quark, an equally magical collection of eco clothing and accessories, Jennifer does it all while taking the time to muse with me about life, Chicago, and living sustainably. Read the rest of this entry »

You see them everywhere: totes at the grocery store, totes at the pharmacy, totes at fairs, totes on the beach. It seems that people can’t get enough of this affordable and  practical accessory. We’re encouraged to green bag all of our purchases in these fun quirky carriers…but how many of us stop to think where these bags are coming from? Are they themselves eco-friendly or are we just succumbing to another consumer cycle ?
For those of us wondering how to green even this small detail of our daily lives, Linda Miles offers a stylish answer. The sole owner of a whimsical and functional line of eco-friendly accessories called Fashion Green T Bags, Linda provides conscious consumers with a recycled alternative. Fashion Green T Bags specializes in what the name suggests: Tote bags made of discarded tees.
Not only does Linda Miles have an eye for design and a heart for the environment, this teaching veteran of twenty-six years has dedicated her life to helping people throughout her community. So Sprout Chicago feels honored to bring you the following interview with a woman who’s not afraid to speak out, get involved, and be heard.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
A. I live in Kent, Ohio in a development, but we don’t have neighbors behind us. Instead we have a gorgeous set of trees, a small lake and beautiful field. I create most of my bags in the dining area of my kitchen since I want to be near family as I work.
Helping the environment and helping local food banks have been my passions, so I started making bags and donating as much of my sales as I can to our local food banks.
Q. When did you first discover your creative potential?
A. I’ve always been a little “unconventional.” For my current store I wanted to stop using store bags and couldn’t find another tote option that I liked. I thought my totes were a totally original idea but it was someone else’s original idea somewhere.  ;) They’re so strong and hold so much that when I found out about Etsy I decided to make and sell some.
Q. What do you think sets your pieces apart from other Eco-friendly Etsy sellers?
A. My bags are extremely well made. The openings are all triple-layered and seamed and I use 2 different ultra-strong stitches to secure the bottom.  One tank shirt can carry a 5# bag of potatoes, 2 64 oz. juice jars and 2 large jars of peanut butter with room for more (if you can lift it.  These bags last forever.
All of my bags are made from shirts that are “final sale” at thrift stores because, especially in this economy, I don’t want to take something that someone else might wear. I wash all items in an HE washer using cold water and all natural soap nuts (an actual nut shell that contains soap and can be composted after use). I also reuse packaging materials whenever possible and I include little “treats” with each purchase.
Q. What does ecological “sustainablity” mean to you?
A. I have a difficult time understanding how so many people around the world believe that we can take resources, spew pollution by the tens of thousands of tons and expect there to be no negative impact. Everytime we can reuse or repurpose we give a minute fraction back to the earth, but when we act collectively, we can create a huge positive difference.  We have a duty and obligation to ourselves and our home to think and act globally.
Our home lighting is all CFL and we employ eco-friendly practices in our daily lives. We use an electric lawn mower, have our heating/cooling on timers and run them at temperatures that are not wasteful. We have energy efficient appliances and use vinegar and baking soday as our primary cleaners.  Each time we think of a new way to be more eco-friendly we incorporate that practice in our lives.
Q. Where do you find inspiration?
A. It’s distressful to see so many plastic and paper bags leaving stores every day. Each has such a negative impact on our planet.  The store totes I’ve used seem to fall apart quickly and don’t seem to be truly Earth friendly because of their short durability. If one can reuse an item longer, the positive impact is better.
Q. What advice would you offer for others looking to live a greener lifestyle?
A. Be totally aware of your practices. Look for every day activities that can be made less negatively impactful on the environment. Take reusable containers for leftovers at a restaurant or ask for reusable foil instead of plastic or styrofoam containers whenever possible.  Say “NO” to using plastic straws. Bring your reusable mug to refill instead of using disposable options. Be exceptionally aware of packaging. There are so many ways we can help.
Q. What is your favorite green website?
A.Stop junk mail for FREE!
Q. If you could be any vegetable, what would you be and why?
A. I might be corn. It’s yellow, my favorite color, spends a long time growing in the sun and is versatile.  I would lobby against my unhealthy uses however and work hard to make people realize that there are far better fuel options than I and that I’m actually more destructive as a fuel than I am helpful.

by Lydia Krupinski

sixer

You see them everywhere: totes at the grocery store, totes at the pharmacy, totes at fairs, totes on the beach. It seems that people can’t get enough of this affordable and  practical accessory. We’re encouraged to green bag all of our purchases in these fun quirky carriers…but how many of us stop to think where these bags are coming from? Are they themselves eco-friendly or are we just succumbing to another consumer cycle ?

For those of us wondering how to green even this small detail of our daily lives, Linda Miles offers a stylish answer. The sole owner of a whimsical and functional line of eco-friendly accessories called Fashion Green T Bags, Linda provides conscious consumers with a recycled alternative. Fashion Green T Bags specializes in what the name suggests: Tote bags made of discarded tees.

Not only does Linda Miles have an eye for design and a heart for the environment, this teaching veteran of twenty-six years has dedicated her life to helping people throughout her community. So Sprout Chicago feels honored to bring you the following interview with a woman who’s not afraid to speak out, get involved, and be heard. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview by Lydia Krupinski    Photos from Mary Ellen

embelishment

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview by Lydia Krupinski   Photos from Mandinka Designs

sir franklim satchelReduce, reuse, recycle…a common mantra that is repeated religiously by eco verts of all varieties. Many of us have found new and unique ways to practice what we preach. Mandy Curl is one such re-inventor. Mandy, along with her mother Liz, run the eco-biz Mandinka Designs, where suits are transformed into satchels, messengers, handbags, and more! Sprout Chicago caught up with Mandy via the internet to learn more about her biz and dedication to sustainability. Read the rest of this entry »