Shops are popping up across Canada encouraging consumers to reduce packaging and changing the way we shop, The Burlap Shoe in Victoria is an example of the new model of environmentally conscious businesses.
Victoria couple, Paula Romogosa and Nairn Flucker have created The Burlap Shoe to help others reduce their environmental footprint. The Burlap Shoe is primarily an on-line business offering products to aid individuals to reduce packaging and live a more sustainable lifestyle.
Recently the Burlap Shoe also brought Bea Johnson to Victoria for two very successful speaking engagements.
Zero Waste Canada was honoured to visit with Paula and Nairn, to learn more about their business.
How did you come up with the name of your on-line business?
Paula and I needed to come up with something that represented an eco-friendly attitude. It all came together while we were hunting for good quality coffee beans that didn’t come in plastic packaging. We had visited some of the local coffee roasters and had seen the large burlap bags they import the green beans in. Burlap, is made from the Jute plant and is sustainable, compostable and biodegradable. Anything eco-friendly oriented is all about reducing consumption and impact on the planet. The Shoe represents the ecological footprint we leave in this world.
A Burlap Shoe would return to the earth if left to its own devices, leaving little to no impact on the earth.
When did you start your on-line Zero Waste shop, The Burlap Shoe and did you think it was a niche that needed to be filled?
The whole business simply snowballed quickly into itself. We have been operating the online business and resource page since April of this year. The very reason we felt passionate about sharing everything online grew out of our own frustrations of not having the resources available in town to successfully achieve a Zero Waste lifestyle. There are a couple stores that have some items, but don’t fit fully into our ethos. There were no true Zero Waste stores on Vancouver Island yet, we are so pleased to be the first. We knew we couldn’t simply provide products to people without giving them ways to start and places to go in the city, where they can go to shop Zero Waste. We feel very strongly about making this a collective community venture. The easier we can make Zero Waste, the more people will stick with it.
How were you able to connect with the Zero Waste community in Victoria?
This summer we started participating in the Sidney Night Markets and Saanich Farmers Market. The feedback and response from people has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.
The markets provided us with the opportunity to engage people one on one, and provide products and ideas that can make the transition into Zero Waste living simple.
Social media in this age, has a resource for everything. Victoria has several Facebook pages for Zero Waste minded people to gather and chat about ideas and solutions to refuse and reduce waste. Through the Zero Waste Victoria, Victoria Zero Waste Living, and The Burlap Shoe Facebook pages we are able to reach out and connect with the community. Despite our resilience against it, we both started hashtaging through Instagram to reach more people.
The Burlap Shoe website is more than an on-line shop. Much information on the Burlap Shoe website is community education and support for those wanting to learn how to make better choices. Was it important for you as part of your business plan to offer this support?
When Paula and I first started, it was hard to find all the basic items and resources we needed to succeed. It took some time to find the tins for purchasing meat from the butcher, bamboo toothbrushes were hard to come by, and all the produce bags we saw were all made from polyester based materials. So when we launched the business, we wanted to ensure people were able to start and not get discouraged or overwhelmed while trying to shop Zero Waste.
By providing people with the resources, ideas, and products we made it convenient for people to get everything they needed to succeed all in one place.
We had seen a lot of people that had decided to do a one year Zero Waste challenge, but we didn’t see that as a positive enough change. We believe that this should be a lifestyle change not a temporary challenge.
On your website you have a list of businesses that that allow customers to bring their own containers, how has the response been from shops that you have approached?
The Zero Waste movement is still very underground here, but it’s growing fast.
While out shopping we have received mixed reviews, from praise to fear, from those on the other side of the counters. Through persistence we have managed to convince some business to allow Zero Waste shopping in their establishments. The businesses that already embrace Zero Waste policies are always receptive and happy to be included in our list of Zero Waste businesses around town.
We have found that in Victoria, most shops are already making small changes to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced.
Do you think that entrepreneurs can create positive environmental change?
We always say that the smallest ripples can have the largest effect. By encouraging and helping people make simple and small changes we believe we can generate a positive environmental change. It’s not about perfection either; it’s about making better choices. For every metal straw we sell, we perhaps save dozens of plastic straws from ever being used. This movement is growing and now that we have joined it, we are seeing more and more waste reduction and prevention efforts all around us.
Passionate leadership from a few entrepreneurs can inspire change in the community by empowering individuals to embark on their own Zero Waste project.
You describe your on-line company as a Zero Waste project, how do you envision this project growing.
We decided to call it a project simply because we knew it would be forever evolving. Everyone that has adopted a Zero Waste lifestyle, including us, needs to start small and allow the experience to grow as we learn and develop new ways of achieving Zero Waste goals. Nothing happens overnight, and the small changes we make today will fortify decisions we make tomorrow. We have designed the website to be community oriented, by requesting feedback and suggestions on where people have gone and found Zero Waste solutions. We have received many good suggestions from the community on new places to visit and shop. Due to the positive response and enthusiasm we have received thus far, it’s not too farfetched to say that we hope this will evolve into a store front location in the future.
How does your work in the marine environmental field influence your work creating The
The oceans are of vital importance to protect and both of our passions and livelihoods revolve around protection and education of the world’s oceans. It all seemed like a seamless fit.
One major consideration that Paula and I are were set on, when deciding the direction we wanted the company to move in, was ensuring that the majority of products we carry had to return to the earth once they reached the end of their lifecycle. Knowing that so much waste ends up in landfills and worse yet, the ocean, it was crucial that the products we supply be at the very least recyclable, or better yet biodegrade or compostable. We strive to bring local products, and the goods we use and sell are primarily bamboo, wool, unbleached cotton, and plant based materials.
We don’t want to bring in reusable items just simply for the sake of selling products; we want the products to be part of the solution, not part of the problem later down the line.
Plastic pollution, microfibers, toxic chemicals and the growing amount of marine litter are all having a significant impact on the health of our waters. As a marine biologist and Aquaculture technician did you see this impact in your work?
Unfortunately, pollution has become ubiquitous in our oceans, both locally and world wide. Our careers have brought us right into the oceans and we have seen what marine litter can do to wildlife. And at the same time, we know that the pollutants and microplastics in the water are entering our food chain and affecting our health in devastating ways. By creating awareness of these problems and offering simple lifestyle changes to reduce plastic pollution, we hope to create a positive impact on the environment and the way people respect it.
What do you recommend the average person do to reduce their impact?
It might sound extreme, but by removing your main garbage bin you become more aware of the things you throw away and start rethinking your purchases. You start analyzing your daily habits and become more creative as to how you go about your day. It really makes you conscious of what you consume.
Paula and I are also big fans of the “recycling is not the solution” philosophy that goes along with Zero Waste; everyone’s first step should be refusal. By simply not accepting waste, like straws, plastic utensils, and plastic bags, it reduces the demand for single-use disposable items and hopefully forces companies to reconsider the materials they are supplying to their customers.
Many people read the blogs of individuals collecting a year’s waste in a mason jar and they feel overwhelmed. What advice do you have for someone that may want make lifestyle changes to begin a Zero Waste lifestyle?
Start by making little changes. We believe a great place to start is with the big wasteful 4: plastic straws, plastic bags, take-away coffee cups, and plastic bottles. If you can eliminate the use of those from your life, you’re off to a roaring start. It is not about perfection, it’s about making better choices. There will be days that will feel like total failures, and others that are a total Zero Waste win. Reward yourself for the good days and learn and grow from the more trying days.
Reach out to the Zero Waste community, we are here to support each other.
What advice do you have for individuals in other communities who want to have Zero Waste shopping opportunities in their communities or the person who is nervous about asking their grocery store or butcher if they can bring their own containers?
Bulk is unexpectedly everywhere once you start looking for it. Get to know your neighbourhood and explore. Discovering all the new places to shop is part of the fun.
With anything new, practice makes perfect. Engage the person behind the counter, they are only people too. Make light of the situation, hand them your container and tell them you are trying to save the world. You will be surprised at their positive responses; most of them will be quite happy to accommodate your needs once they know you what are trying to accomplish. And after a while they will get to know you and will expect you to bring your reusable containers.
What products do you recommend to help people reduce waste?
Reusable grocery and produce bags are a big one. Many stores now offer cash back on your bill when you bring your own bags to the grocery store. Total win-win! We have been taught through habit that every single piece of produce needs to go into a thin plastic bag, but have you stopped to think if it is truly necessary? Place your apples, peppers, and tomatoes in loose they will be fine, promise. Refusal, is your best tool – simply don’t accept waste.
Purchase reusable cups, straws, and cutlery and have them with you always. Having these things with you is not a burden at all and it can greatly reduce the amount of waste you would create otherwise. Anything can become habit if it’s done consistently.
What plans do you have for the future?
Paula and I would like to continue encouraging and educating as many people about Zero Waste living as possible. We want to become even more involved in our community and its waste reduction strategies. We would like to be recognized as a community leader in the fight to eliminate waste in the Greater Victoria Area.
We will continue to pursue new ideas and products to make everyone’s Zero Waste journey a success.
ZWC notes: Bea Johnson gave inspiring presentations in both Sidney and Victoria to enthusiastic crowds, thanks to two Victoria area businesses making a difference – The Burlap Shoe and Pacifica Real Estate Inc.
Nairn tells us that he and Paula have plans to open up a Zero Waste Store with a butcher and local foods in the future. ZWC looks forward to sharing the continuing journey of The Burlap Shoe.