Written by Kassia Binkowski, Contributing Editor to The Good Trade
Meet Alden Wicker of EcoCult
With a passion for sustainability and an eye for quality and aesthetic, Alden Wicker founded EcoCult, a highly curated and beautiful online publication for those who want to live more sustainably - even in urban environments. We recently had a chance to hear from Alden about what inspires EcoCult and her own sustainable lifestyle in NYC.
You have managed to build a beautiful publication about sustainable living in New York City. What was the inspiration behind EcoCult?
It came about the same way many ventures do. I didn’t see the kind of blog I wanted to read, so I built it! At the time I founded EcoCult, “green” blogs made the sustainable lifestyle look frumpy and ugly, which wasn’t my experience. I wanted something highly curated and beautiful that would help me live my life more sustainably, without the constant and shrill guilt tripping that comes with many eco blogs. I also wanted to approach it as a journalist that verifies claims, does research, and writes well, so that my readers would trust me. I basically wanted to prove that you could live your life just as well and beautifully (if not more) if you make sustainable choices. I think I’m doing that now.
The urban landscape is not necessarily what comes to mind when one thinks of sustainable living. Let’s face it, there’s nothing bucolic about it. Can you tell us more about how you’ve blended your sustainable values with your very metropolitan lifestyle?
Well, if I’m honest, I didn’t get out in nature as much as I wanted to last year. NYC has a tendency to suck you and never let you leave! But there are pockets of nature here – parks, rooftop gar-dens, farm-to-table restaurants, the farmers market, the Hudson and East Rivers. And many good day hikes are just a short train ride away.
On the other hand, living in an urban area is naturally sustainable, because we use fewer re-sources! I always take the train, bike, or walk to where I’m going. My apartment is 650 square feet, which makes me think twice about buying anything new, because where would I put it? We have access to the most sustainable food, fashion, and home design right at our fingertips. I can walk six blocks down the street to a store stocked with items all made in America or walk three blocks to a store that stocks locally made cheeses and craft beers. (In fact, I created a guide to all the sustainable businesses in NYC, and it’s 23 pages long!)
I can only imagine the advantages of being surrounded by innovative companies and a bustling economy when it comes to connecting with responsible brands and ethical products. What are some of your go to brands for sustainable products these days?
Oh, what a good question! I can’t list all of my favorite brands because there are so many. Can I cheat and direct you to my Shopping Guide instead?
Even as we miss the crisp stock and glossy pages of a print publication in our hands, we can’t help but be impressed by the digital content you’ve been able to curate. What are the advantages of building an online business when it comes to growing your reach and expanding your impact?
I love being able to operate on the fly. Paper glossies take months to plan and produce. But I can sit down at my computer today and put out a beautiful editorial by tomorrow morning. Also, isn’t it such a weird feeling to read about something in a magazine, then have to go to your computer to Google it? I feel like the future of certain types of publications are online, especially ones that are focused on fashion or other types of commerce. But I’ll always love reading my New Yorker in print.
With so many online publications competing for limited readership, how do you continue to differentiate EcoCult and what are the attributes that you’ve decided to stake your reputation on?
I’m a published freelance journalist, so you see that reflected in the quality of my writing and my lush interviews with makers and notable sustainable people. I think brands love to get covered by EcoCult because I really nerd out with them on their process and ask good questions. I’m also not afraid to say no to brands that may be well-intentioned but don’t fit my aesthetic. There are enough blogs now where I don’t feel the need to cover every sustainable brand out there. I wouldn’t be able to anyway! So EcoCult feels like a very curated experience that’s been created by a tastemaker, not just an assemblage of random tidbits. Oh, and the pretty pictures certainly help. I rarely use stock photography, preferring to take original photos. I think that elevates the feel of my articles, making them more trustworthy and unique.
You managed to turn the indulgent lifestyle of one of the world’s busiest metropolitan centers into inspiration for doing good and living responsibly. What advice can you offer to other readers looking to minimize their footprint and maximize their social impact regardless of geography?
Quality over quantity. Many consumers are waking up to the fact that just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean it will make you happy. I’m not opposed to consumerism, as long as it’s very thoughtful. Make every purchase with intention. Save up for one good sweater, instead of five cheap ones. Get some produce from the farmers market, instead of a bunch of snack packs from the grocery store. Really do your research before handing over the credit card, so you feel confident that what you are buying isn’t exploiting someone or polluting the environment. Put the work into digging through a consignment store to see if you can find what you need there, before you walk into a chain store. Meditate on whether a new TV will actually improve your life, or whether you could spend that money on an experience or class. I think of my home and life like a museum – if I were to die tomorrow, I want every item to be a reflection of my values and have meaning.
I also practice the art of saying a kind and loving “no” to things that don’t jive with me. Thank you for offering, but I don’t need a bottle of water. That’s lovely of you, but I would rather not have that free gift bag of samples. Ah, no plastic bag, thank you. That looks delicious, but I’m not hungry right now.
Building any small business - much less one that maintains such aims to inspire such impeccable standards of design and quality in a notoriously hippy space - is not an easy road. What are some of the challenges you have faced in curating content for EcoCult?
I’ve had to become comfortable saying no. Like I mentioned, there are a lot of well-intentioned people who want my help promoting something. Even if it’s a good cause, I just can’t do that for every person who asks. I don’t have the time! And just because it’s a good cause, doesn’t mean I should work for free, which is a hazard of being a sustainable blogger. This isn’t volunteer work; this is my job. I’m valuing my work and time more these days. And brands that I love working with are recognizing that and supporting EcoCult back for the value I give them.
You have built a high impact career in an artistic industry. Having written for numerous publications, founded Ethical Writers Coalition, and led EcoCult - where do you want to go from here? What are the next areas of impact that you envision for your business and your life?
In 2016 I would like to increase my revenues by creating partnerships with more brands that I love and respect. I would also like to write for an expanded list of notable publications, and improve my writing skills in general. I would also like to bring on more smart contributors. If you know of any passionately sustainable fresh writers, send them to me!
Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One Thousand Design. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.