02 February 2011

Ecozuzu, a clothing company inspired by fine art and the environment

“There is a story and meaning behind each graphic I create,” says Josephine Tournier Ingram who is the owner/designer of the Santa Barbara-based clothing company Ecozuzu. Lately, the environmentally friendly company has had a lot going on behind its creative doors. Starting with their new children’s line and due to the success of their brand they will soon start donating to Word Wildlife Foundation (WWF) as well as Leonardo DiCaprio's cause 'Save Tigers Now.'

Recently, Josephine was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her busy day to answer a few questions for This Dish is Veg:

This Dish is Veg (TDIV): What inspired you to start an Eco-friendly clothing company?
Josephine: I've been creating fine art since I was a little kid and have grown to love drawing, painting, collage, assemblage, printmaking, graphic art and design. I originally fell in love with designing graphics for apparel when I worked for Powell Skateboards and Surf One as a senior graphic artist/designer. Soon after working there, I started creating my own graphic clothing as Christmas presents for my family and friends. To my surprise, people started asking me where they could buy my shirts, which led me to dream of creating a clothing boutique committed to preserving the environment. My dream became reality a few years ago with the launch of ecozuzu.

I grew up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and deeply appreciated the nature surrounding me. I had the best playground a kid could ask for (with fresh snow, deep forests, and clean lakes and rivers). I think that deep appreciation stuck with me as I became an adult and moved to Santa Barbara, where I fell in love with the ocean and learned how to surf. I became very aware of the dangers that lurk in our fragile oceans (not just to the sea life, but also to humans). I noticed that I would often get sick after surfing from the run-off in different areas of California, Hawaii and Mexico. I remember wondering what that same pollution was doing to the fish we eat and the sea life we take for granted? I started researching what I could do to lesson my global footprint. I found so many practical things I could do that not only help the environment, but also lead me to a healthier life style.

TDIV: How important is it for you to use 100% organic cotton as the fabric of choice for your clothing?
Josephine: It is very important to me to use organic cotton for the health of our earth and people. Ecozuzu offers apparel and accessories that are made out of 100% certified organic cotton. We also offer apparel made out of recycled materials such as disposable food containers, soft drinks and water bottles. But we mostly focus on creating garments that use only organic cotton (especially for our new upcoming spring/summer kids collection, because we have found that it breaths easier and feels better on kid's sensitive skin). All of our organic and eco-apparel is made from low impact dyes. Our high quality fabrics are super soft and comfortable!

Also our promotional materials (such as tags, postcards, catalogs and business cards) are also printed on 100% recycled paper with eco-friendly soy inks. Even our gift packaging is made from local recycled materials. It costs us more to create items using 100% organic cotton, but it's worth every penny.

TDIV: How important is it for your clothing be produced locally?
My goal is to create, purchase and support only local businesses. But it's easier said than done. I believe we should all try to support local businesses. Local artists and businesses like ours depend on the support of our community. As do all local businesses. It keeps communities unique, original,helps the local economy, lessens the impact globally (using less trucks, airplanes and other modes of transportation) that can add to the pollution of our water and air. Plus, eating locally (such as purchasing food from your local farmer's market) can also have some added health benefits.

We are a small family business based in Santa Barbara. I couldn't make Ecozuzu happen without the help of my family and friends, which include local businesses who help us create our garments. For example, we use a local printer (only eight walking blocks away) who prints all of my graphics on our clothing. They are also a family run business. They run their business as environmentally friendly as possible, and print our graphics using non-pvc ,water based inks (that are non toxic and better for our earth). Not only that, but the graphic silkscreened feels softer than normal garments (as if it melts into the material). It feels softer on our skin and especially for our little ones wearing Ecozuzu. You never know when a baby is going to chew on the corner of their onesie and we want to make sure they don't ingest toxic materials and inks. That is especially important to me now that my husband and I are expecting our first child! :) I am happy to know where my baby's clothing will come from and that it won't be harmful to it's precious little body.

TDIV: What is your favorite piece in your current collection and why?
Josephine: That's a great question and tough for me to choose just one because I am personally attached to each piece. There is a story and meaning behind each graphic I create. For the 'Poppy recycled thermal long sleeve' the graphic is based on a poppy flower my husband gave to me. I took that flower and drew an illustration on my computer. I also included underneath the graphic one of my favorite poems by Mark Twain "love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody is watching, live each day to the fullest."

I enjoy taking a break from work to walk to Alice Keck Park, where I listen to music and sketch the nature around me. On one of these occasions I drew a blooming plant in my sketch book and then decided to scan in the drawing and vectorize the image so that I could print it on a garment. I ended up printing it on a skirt from a specialty Fair Trade boutique,that donated 1% of each skirt I purchased from to fund a growing grant for women launching small businesses in Africa. So the garments are not locally made, but help support communities in need. It's made out of 100% organic cotton and has an adjustable waist (so I can wear the same skirt pregnant or not ). The graphic was printed locally and with non-toxic water based inks.

My husband's favorite piece in the men's collection is the 'Eye' organic t-shirt. He says it's extremely soft and comfortable. Because the graphic was printed with the non-toxic water based ink, he doesn't feel the silkscreened graphic on his skin inside (it is soft and part of the material). The shirt also holds special meaning to us because my family has been effected by the eye disease called Choroideremia (similar to Retinitis Pigmentosa). Members of my family (such as my father) had their eye sight slowly taken away by the disease until they were left blind. My sisters and I are carriers of the eye disease and hope to not pass it on to our children. But if it does get passed down, we are all investing in a great organization to fight blindness. Therefore, for every Ecozuzu 'Eye' organic t-shirt we sell, I will donate part of the proceeds to the Foundation Fighting Blindness (Blindness.org).

TDIV: What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
Josephine: Sustainable fashion means a lot of things to me. I consider our small clothing line sustainable because we are always trying to find ways to make it as earth-friendly and ethically as possible. Our goal is to make Ecozuzu a brand that helps our community (local and international) in need. Our goal is reducing our global footprint to preserve the earth that our children will inherit.

I also consider Ecozuzu as 'slow fashion'. Meaning I take my time in creating each graphic in a mindful and meaningful way. I don't launch a new collection every fashion season. I typically launch a new collection about once a year, when I feel inspired artistically and have the funds to produce it.

TDIV: What is the most challenging part of your work?
Josephine: I have found two big challenges in my line of work. The first is finding enough time. We are a small family run business. For the first two years I was only me creating/running Ecozuzu. As an artist I found it difficult to wear so many hats in running my own business (owner, creator, designer, sales, book keeping, purchasing, web design, promotion etc). I really enjoy creating the graphic art, designing the garments, directing/styling photo shoots, editing photos and designing catalogs/postcards, web design, producing trade shows, and doing promotions (such as twitter, facebook and press releases). However, the rest of technical demands I found challenging. Luckily, this year one of my sisters (who lives in London) has joined me in helping me with production, purchasing, trade shows, promoting and expanding Ecozuzu in Europe.. It has been wonderful. I also deeply appreciate all the help my husband gives me emotionally as well as practically (such as helping me decide which graphics/garments I should produce and directing/editing our Ecozuzu videos). We are also thankful for our friends (who have modeled our garments) and colleagues who have (who have photographed beautiful shots for us). We couldn't do it without the help and support of our friends and family.

The second challenge is making a sustainable business like ours profitable. There is a reason they call us 'starving artists'. At this point in time, we are only making enough profit to create/produce the next collection. That has made it challenging to sustain our brand. I find it frustrating that the cost of organic cotton, printing, and recycled paper is so much more expensive to purchase. Every part of producing a garment that is sustainable and ethical is usually more expensive. Therefore I have to charge more than a normal garment store... yet most people are not willing to pay more for green garments such as Ecozuzu. I keep thinking that people are eventually going to turn away from cheaply made, ethically questionable, possibly toxic garments from cheaper stores... but the truth is, most people are on a budget and can't afford much more. As a budget-concsious person, I understand that delema. But it is frustrating non the less. I'm hoping some day earth friendly, green, sustainable clothing will be more affordable as people demand higher standards in fashion and appreciate unique creative garments. As I have seen Etsy grow (a place where artisians like us sell handmade products), I feel hopeful for the future.

TDIV: What is the popular item in your clothing line?
Josephine: Our 'Falling Stars' Organic long sleeve shirt is our most popular item from our women's collection. I think it has a lot to do with how soft and comfortable it is. The Ecozuzu 'Biplane' t-shirt is our most popular men's garment. I assume it has something to do with the fact that Adrian Grenier (Entourage, Devil Wears Prada, Planet Green's Alter Eco) has been photographed by PopSugar wearing that shirt. It's also very soft and comfortable!

TDIV: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Josephine: The most rewarding part of my work is the entire creative process. From the moment of inspiration to seeing the final printed product roll off the drying rack. I can't express how much I enjoy that process.

TDIV: Do you have any star (repeat) customers?
Josephine: Yes! Thankfully, most of our customers have become repeat customers (mostly through BTC Elements and our Ecozuzu website). We have also been surprised by the popularity of our garments ordered by customers in Australia! One of our new star buyers is our local Santa Barbara Museum of Art (museum store).

TDIV: What inspires you when creating a piece?
Josephine: Love, peace and nature. I love sketching trees, plants and flowers (for example the men's 'Tree Branch' organic t-shirt is based on a cherry blossom tree outside my window pre-blooming). You will see messages of love/peace in most of my garments. I also base some of the designs on some of my fine art collection (such as the 'Art Print' hoodie based on a print I created).

TDIV: Do any of the pieces from your collection have a significant meaning to you?
Josephine: Every piece has some sort of significant meaning to me.

In my new spring/summer collection you will find graphics that were inspired by memories of family members that had a beautiful impact on my life. For example, my husband's grandpa passed away last year and I felt compelled created a graphic based on a 1972 photo of him racing motorcycles. It was a way for me to celebrate his life. I also based our current 'Biplane' t-shirt on a photo of my grandfather who passed away around the time I was born. I gave a shirt to my mom for Christmas one year... and to see her expression when she opened her gift was priceless.

TDIV: Does your company donate to any charities?
Josephine: A portion of our Ecozuzu proceeds are donated to various charities to support organizations such as 1% for the Planet, Surfrider Foundation, Care Org, Foundation Fighting Blindness, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

This spring/summer a local store in Montecito called 'Summer for Kids' will be selling our new Ecozuzu kids line. They are an environmentally sound children's store that donate 100% of profits to children's charities!

Ecozuzu will soon also start donating to WWF (Word Wildlife Foundation) as well as Leonardo DiCaprio's Cause 'Save Tigers Now'. As our brand grows and becomes profitable, we hope to donate more to theses and other wonderful charities.

Through our Ecozuzu facebook fan page and Twitter, we also publicly support charities and their work (such as Heal the Ocean, Plastic Pollution Coalition, SB Art from Scrap, SB Community Environmental Council, Global Green, Women's Economic Ventures, Invisible Children, American Red Cross, Amnesty International, Direct Relief International and more.

TDIV: In the last year the term 'going green' has been all over the place, even though most of us that are vegetarian/vegan have been living a green life style for many years. Is there anything about the current 'green movement' that frustrates you?
Josephine: I can understand that frustration. I am thankful for all the people who have been living green for years (like my mom who was since the 70's and people that have lived that way for generation upon generation). For me, it's a journey. I have been grow to be greener in my 32 years of life on this planet. I know that I still have a long way to go to be more giving and conscious. It's a process. I have done quite a bit of teaching (art and graphic design to kids and college students) and I think it's important to support and excite our younger generations to live a greener, ethical and healthier lifestyle.

That being said, I do worry sometimes that big companies exploit what it means by being 'green' by labeling themselves say organic when they actually only use 10% of organic material. Yet, I have to remind myself that 10% is a step closer to sustainability. Sometimes it takes baby steps for some people or companies. I find it addicting to try and make my business (and home life) more and more eco friendly and my hope is that big companies that actually have large global footprints will also come to love living green (not just to sustain our earth, but to save resources/money, and to promote healthier living to their employees//families).

TDIV: What is the one item you wish people recycled more?
Josephine: I wish people would recycle more paper and plastic grocery/shopping bags. But I want to take it a step further and encourage people stop using them all together and use reusable bags (such as our 'Earth Art' organic tote bag) or any other reusable bags they may already own.

TDIV: What is the one vegetarian item besides the clothing you create that you can't live without?
Josephine: I am a food lover, so I would have to say fruit! Berries are my favorite dessert in the world (especially raspberries and cherries when they are in season). Yum!

TDIV: What's in store for the future?
Josephine: I am about the release our new spring/summer 'Rose Tattoo' women's tank top (made out of 100% organic cotton with water-based ink), along with matching kid organic T and baby top. We will be selling them on-line just in time for Valentine's Day! They will also be available at the Santa Barbara Whole Foods 'Local Artist Market' once a month starting Feb 5th.

We are currently in the process of releasing our new Ecozuzu Kid spring/summer 2011 collection (that debuted at the London Bubble Kid trade show). I'm looking forward to having it featured in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (along with being a guest artist at the museum store on March 3rd). Here is a sneak peak of the collection:

Jodi Truglio | email
Jodi is a strict vegan and animal rights advocate that grew up in up-state New York. She holds a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. In her spare time Jodi enjoys doing yoga and pilates.

Photo credits: Ecozuzu