I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Thea Merritt, the founder of EcoNow, a resource for locally hand-made and eco-friendly goods. Thea created her company when she saw that there was a need for eco-conscious products in Orange County, California. She began by hand-sewing alternatives to single use items and offering them at local farmers markets. Eventually, she was able to open a store-front in Costa Mesa’s The Lab Anti-Mall. The store boasts a wide variety of goods, including an extensive refill station and many reusable, biodegradable alternatives to plastic. It has now become my go-to, one-stop shop for all of my daily household needs. To learn more about this amazing hidden gem, read the interview below.
When did you first start getting into living a zero-waste lifestyle?
Throughout my teenage years I adopted a minimal living mindset. I didn’t like having too many things and liked to be very organized. About 5 years ago, I evolved my minimalism and non-attachment to material things into a sustainable living mindset that came from learning how a very small amount of “recyclables” are actually recycled. I wanted my carbon footprint to be minimal so I fully embraced biking to work and school, stopped relying on recyclable materials, and educated myself on the impacts humans have on the planet.
What made you decide to start EcoNow?
A lot of people would compliment my lifestyle and say things like “I wish I could do that,” and I would reply, “you can!” but realized quickly that without a resource to provide for people, it was all talk and no action. I tried searching for sustainable stores, restaurants, and organizations in Orange County, and I couldn’t find much. I felt pretty alone and then an “ah-ha!” moment came and I realized I could help create a sustainable community. I began sewing produce bags, cutlery pouches, and Eco Towels (our paper towel alternative) and I found a few local farmers markets to sell at. I remember some of the people I met at my first market and I remember the feeling they gave me, I realized I wasn’t alone on this mission to sustainable living and living with awareness, and it motivated me to keep going, keep growing.
How did you go about creating your business? Did you go to business school or was this venture something that organically unfolded?
I did not study business but chose to study philosophy. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life and I figured I could choose a career later as studying Philosophy leads people down many different paths. In school I learned a lot about myself, such as how to think critically and to apply my morals.That was when I decided I wanted to provide for my community, do good for the Earth, as well as for people. Before starting Eco Now I worked with people with special needs and I thought I would become a teacher in that field. But as my love for sustainable living grew and I started making eco-friendly goods for other people, I knew it was my passion and I wanted to see if I could make it more than just a hobby.
What does sustainable living mean to you?
Sustainable living to me is living with an awareness of myself, of others, and of our planet Earth. It is not only about consuming consciously but living consciously. Sustainable living is so much more than waste management. It helps you to be aware of yourself, of your choices and their effects even after they are out of sight.
For me, sustainably living ties in nicely with slow consideration and intentional choices. Because of this, I find a greater appreciation for the simplest of tasks.
Do you also relate sustainability with a gratitude for the tinier moments?
100% – I did not name my business Eco Now to reflect immediacy, which I’m sure many people think. (I decided that it is okay if people think Eco Now is about immediacy because sustainable living is a very urgent and important topic to address). I named it Eco Now as a reminder to be present and aware. I wanted to share my own personal mantras through my business name. I ask myself often, are you present, are you aware of your choices, are you being eco now? My philosophy on life is that you only ever have this moment and it is important to know whether you are living in the moment completely, if you are present, and if you are acting in line with your morals.
What advice would you give to those just beginning their zero-waste journey?
Be easy on yourself, educate yourself, use what you have first, and buckle up because once you wake up to this lifestyle there is no turning back.
What advice would you give to those just starting a business?
Simple. If you believe in yourself you can do it. You will know when you are making the right choice and you will know when you are on the right path. Many things will be really fluid and easy and I believe that if they are it means it’s right. Whenever I have friction in a moment, I step back and assess and ask myself, “Am I looking at this the right way? Is now the right time to be focusing on this?” Usually, it just takes a moment of awareness to tell what move is the right move. Most importantly, be critical of yourself and be ready to put the work in. Your life will likely be consumed by your business and you need to decide if that is the kind of life you want to live.
What are your favorite zero-waste local artists?
I try to work with all my favorite local zero waste artists, you will find some of their stuff in our shop, or you will see us collaborating in some capacity. Here’s a list of some of the amazing local companies, people, and organizations I have discovered in the past two years.
Backyard Bee’s is an ethical and local beekeeping service. They rescue bees, harvest honey sustainably, and make awesome beeswax based products like deodorant, shampoo bars, and body cream and they use sustainable packaging! You can find them at Orange Home Grown Farmers Market every Saturday and also we have few of their goodies in our store.
Fleur & Butter, is a local artist that sews and plant dyes reusable bento bags. They also hand make bread and offer local delivery, they even wrap the bread in their sustainable bento bags! You can find some of their stuff in our shop or on IG @fleurandbutter
Community Consciousness, is a local organization that touches on many topics both sustainably and ethically, I believe they began as a resource for composting in Orange County and have now evolved into much more than that, they organize local events, beach clean ups, and fundraisers, they have a few artists on their team (if not all?) and their promotional gear always looks incredibly fresh! They are an incredibly compassionate group of people that have big plans for our Orange County Community and I can’t wait to see how they grow. Find them on IG @communityconsciousness
Thistle and Sage Botanics is a local candle and natural fragrance maker and you can even refill your fragrance bottles and candles with her! Her candles are top-notch, soy-based, and phthalate free. You can find a few of her best selling candles in our store.
Cycl – Cycl is an app created by a friend of mine here in Orange County. The app is a resource and voice for all who are trying to live sustainably but still want to eat out and shop with small businesses. The user can locate and rate restaurants and stores on their sustainable practices. I’ve needed this app in my life and I know that countless others need it in their lives as well, even if they don’t know it yet! Hopefully this app will motivate users and business owners to be more sustainable with their practices. Hopefully businesses will learn that more and more of their customers care about sustainable practices and that it is a factor in deciding where they spend their money.
Popsikle Shop – A local thrift store on wheels here in OC. Yeah that’s right! Popsikle Shop runs out of this adorable camping rv and you can shop second hand clothing and accessories. Through COVID Popsikle Shop adapted with a power move and now they style second hand outfits virtually as an additional service to people. I love that they offer styling and shipping but I still can’t wait to see their second hand store on wheels in person again! They are more popular on TikTok but they have a page on Instagram and website for shopping as well.
If people wish to learn more, what resources (blogs, podcasts, books, or documentaries) would you recommend?
I don’t always recommend topics that are solely focused on zero waste, sustainable living, or our planet’s environment state. I like to share materials on what I believe is the root of everything, self-awareness. Here is a mix of both:
- The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Masli
- Be Here Now by Ram Dass
- A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhardt Tolle
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Podcasts: Science Rules! with Bill Nye
- Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with Carl Saegan
- Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey with Neil De Grass Tyson
I want to thank Thea for her generosity and her time. I think that she has brought something that Orange County was sorely lacking and in doing so, has strengthened this community and made it a much better place. If you have been considering visiting EcoNow, I would highly recommend doing so. Feel free to bring your own refillable glass jars and bottles, but if you have none, no worries! They can be purchased in store. All bulk items are purchased by weight at very affordable prices. My favorite products are the Jojoba Oil (which I use as eye make-up remover), the Tea Tree Shampoo and Body wash, and the All Purpose Cleaner.
For those wondering, the shirt I am wearing is from For Days, the first-ever closed loop clothing line. They’ve just released these dual-colored retro shirts upcycled from previous shirts that they had on the site. The tees are vintage V-neck fit with a shorter hem. For Days has a great incentive for closing the loop, which is to trade in used For Days clothing for newer styles at a very steep discount. I would definitely check them out!