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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Summer Rayne Oakes: Fashioning a More Sustainable World

Hippies and clothes-horses, beware! If you still believe sustainability can't be stylish, or style can't be sustainable, fashion model Summer Rayne Oakes has a message for you: "If you're a fashionista, you can't see beyond your Spring collection. If you're an environmentalist, you can't see past your own back yard." Such directness is typical of this 21-year-old Cornell graduate who's taken on the challenge of proving to the fashion and media worlds that the newest look doesn't have to involve environmental degradation or exploitative labor practices. In pursuing this mission, Oakes weaves the roles of student, educator, diplomat, entrepreneur and model into a unique professional identity: "Traditional ways of doing business need to be breached, and innovation needs to allow for bridge-building between corporations, non-profits, and governments. It is necessary to be 'multi-lingual,' metaphorically speaking, for spontaneous cooperation to occur.... That is where I see my role coming into play -- this 'multi-lingualist' that bridges the gap between stakeholder entities in order to create a 'spontaneous collaboration for sustainability' as it relates to the fashion & beauty industries."

"Multi-lingualist" may be a phrase that your computer's spell checker doesn't recognize (not yet, anyway), but Oakes has already established herself as a fluent translator of several professional "languages." She recently published a cover story in Yogi Times entitled How Fashion Got Its Soul Back" in which she demonstrated her virtuosity both with a keyboard and the multiple disciplines underlying sustainability. She also writes a monthly column called "Behind the Label" for international fashion magazine Lucire. She created EcoFashion 101, a "conscious curriculum with style," that engages middle and high-school aged students with the concept of sustainability through fashion and popular culture. She's involved in Organic Portraits, an effort to promote ecological knowledge and raise funds for the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico, through avant-garde photography and sustainable fashion. Finally, she's on the road participating in both ethical fashion shows and interactive workshops on sustainable style.

While just reading about her range of activities may bring on a spell of fatigue, Oakes has been a multi-tasker from a young age. Raised in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, she notes that her parents supported her early interest in the natural world. At the same time, "my mother fondly pushed me into activities that I probably would have never pursued: tennis, ballet, piano and art." At her small high school, Oakes pursued growing interests in social causes, and served as an HIV/AIDS peer educator, a tobacco peer educator, a state environmental competitor, and a peer mediator. In her senior year, she introduced her school to the Yellow Ribbon Project, a suicide prevention program. In college, she continued her environmental education by pursuing a major in natural resources, and after watching a gleeful professor jump into a lake to capture whirligig beetles, she added a second major in entomology. She notes that all of these experiences contributed to her current activities: "My passion for bringing upbeat social and environmental ventures to the fashion and media industries has been an evolution of all my past experiences, including getting down and dirty with some six-legged creatures."

Despite her success at a young age, Oakess eclectic past keeps her philosophical about the direction of her unique calling. "Though I have clear ideas of my own, there is no telling where my current work will take me. I can say, however, that it has been one heck of a roller coaster ride thus far. When you are paving a new way for change, you hit a lot of bumpy roads, and it's never without a lot of ups and downs." So far, though, Oakes has demonstrated that bumpy roads can lead both to changed minds in established industries and more sustainable efforts to keep the world stylish. For the latest on Summer Rayne Oakes' projects, visit http://www.summerrayne.net/news.htm.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
Guest Columnist -- Greener Magazine

Photograph by Storm Williams.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

GreenBusiness.net: Continuing the Conversation

Editor's note: A new feature in Greener Magazine premiers today with the introduction of our guest Columnists and Editorial page Greener Board. Our first Guest Columnist is a pioneer sustainability author and commentator who began sustainablog in July, 2003. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is a writer, a teacher and a passionate green activist.

When I first came across the GreenBusiness.net web site, which touted “a discussion list for eco-entrepreneurs,” I was excited to find such a resource, and quickly signed up. After a couple of weeks with no discussion, though, I was afraid that the list was yet another one of those great online concepts that never quite caught on. The discussion did begin, however, and as I joined in with my two cents, I came to realize that this “great online concept” would work because creator Jason Trout simply wasn’t the kind of person to let an idea die.

Like most entrepreneurs in green business, Jason’s desires are simple: higher profits and a greener planet. While he’s in the process of making that first million and saving the world from itself, though, Jason has one more modest goal: keeping the lines of communication open among the growing sustainable business community. GreenBusiness.net, started in February 2004, was his attempt to recognize that goal. In the year and a half since, the site has grown to a community of over 230 members, ranging from heavy-hitters to newbies, and has morphed from a simple email discussion list to a full-fledged discussion portal. Members have enjoyed conversation about the joys and challenges of running a sustainable business with like-minded entrepreneurs. Frequent participant Jennifer Boulden of Anavo Group and IdealBite compares the list to “a green cocktail party” where everyone understands the concept of sustainability. “I am a 'green business owner' - and sometimes it gets tiring to have so many people look at you quizzically when you answer that age old question at the cocktail party: ‘so, what do you do?”

Such comments let Jason know that he had the right idea when starting GreenBusiness.net. Having experienced the sense of community present at the 2003 Co-op America Green Business Conference, Jason had left wondering, “How could we continue the conversations and relationships begun at the meeting?” He began a search for an online group, certain that someone had already created what he was seeking. When he came up empty, he decided to fill the void he saw himself. Already a web business veteran with the charitable portal site Metaaid.com and email service Planet-Save.com (now under other ownership), both of which he started while studying at the University of Iowa, Jason recognized a genuine business and community-building opportunity.

Greenbusiness.net came to fruition after graduation while Jason was involved in yet another venture, long-distance and Internet service provider Red Jellyfish. When contacted by an aspiring green entrepreneur about web development for his online store, Jason was able to pass on information that saved this businessperson $15,000. “At this point, I knew what GreenBusiness.net could become,” said Jason. He foresaw “a resource for sharing not only thoughts and ideas, but also concrete opportunities to make and save money between people passionate about the environment and business solutions to environmental problems.” Jason now divides his time among his responsibilities as marketing and business development partner of Red Jellyfish, and as sole proprietor of both GreenBusiness.net and BlueAction.org. Since all of these businesses share the goal of profitable environmental sustainability, he finds that they enhance each other and allow him to work concretely towards a single goal of “saving the world.”

While started to serve the larger green business community, Jason also hopes that GreenBusiness.net can continue to mature into a successful business of its own. He charges an $8 per month subscription fee, and notes that this doesn’t scare away potential members. “If anything,” he notes, “the revenue allows us to make the site and list even more useful for the members.” Jason envisions that once the site is on firmer financial footing, he’ll be able to use these resources to benefit the membership through print and online advertisements listing the companies who belong. He also sees the site as a natural place to turn when looking for talent. “We’re in the process of adding member profiles to the site, and plan to make them searchable. We hope that such features will make the list more attractive to potential members and continue the growth of the community.” All of these ideas recently came to fruition as Jason sought out a designer in the community to create a brochure for the 2005 Green Business Conference that would, among other things, “list every company represented on GB.net from Anavo to Zinio.”

Jason is attending the Green Business conference in San Francisco as I write, and a post to the message board demonstrates the power of his initial concept: “I've already met three ‘Gbers’ and know there are many here I haven't met yet … but I'll find them before too long.” Judging from the determination he’s exhibited from the germination of GreenBusiness.net, I have no doubt Jason’s already found these folks, and will return from the conference with even more of that initial enthusiasm to build a more successful and sustainable community of green business thinkers.