Sustainable Living: Sun People Dry Goods

Imagine a place in downtown Spokane where customers can take care of their home, family, garden and gift needs, which stocks only organic, socially responsible and eco-friendly products. Thanks to Juliet Sinisterra, that dream is now a reality—Sun People Dry Goods holds its grand opening on December 4th. Sun People is a green living mercantile or general store that will stock everything from organic sheets and housewares, to efficient appliances, eco-gifts, worm composters, baby items including cloth diapers, and in the spring a full service garden center. Sinisterra, the store’s owner, says, “Our mission is to become the go-to place for people living ecologically, with workshops and the products to back it up and incorporate the skills into their lifestyle.”

Sinisterra was inspired to open this type of store after working with Community-Minded Enterprises—a non-profit focused on sustainability—and working on the Mayor’s Sustainability Task Force for the City of Spokane. This group worked to find ways that Spokane could live up to the agreement to lower CO2 levels to those of 1990. She realized that the community is a large part of making that change and as we understand the science of climate change, we begin to understand the need to change behaviors quickly. She says, “We want to make [this change] fun and easy, not scary. It’s not that you’re giving up all of these things like consuming more water and using more electricity…you’re reviving lost arts and really just having a richer lifestyle.”

The grand opening celebration should provide a taste of things to come from Sun People. The doors open for shopping at 9:00 am and the event kicks off at 11:00 am with a ribbon cutting by Mayor Mary Verner. Festivities will also include a blessing of the store, music by Brian Young and Our Mother the Mountain, kids’ activities, David’s Pizza, chocolates from Chocolate Apothecary, a Sun People coffee blend from Roast House, worm bin demonstrations and store tours.

Customers will likely encounter many unfamiliar labels on Sun People’s products; many of them are made by regional micro-manufacturers that haven’t had a market in Spokane before. Examples include Madrone regenerated clothing, a business from Port Townsend, Washington, that uses stained sweaters and t-shirts to create new, stylish clothing. Sun People will also stock regional gems such as recycled water bottles from Walla Walla and lead-free hoses from Oregon.

When looking for products, they will be examining the whole business, not just the item to be stocked. This means looking for businesses paying a living wage to employees and moving towards zero waste as much as possible.

The products on the shelves are only one aspect of Sun People. “People don’t know where to begin, so we want to make it easy…providing a place they can go with real live people giving live training as a way to facilitate living this way,” says Sinisterra. Many workshops are already scheduled for this winter including worm bin composting; DIY energy auditing with David Hale; bike commuting with Pedals 2 People and Paul Turner of the Spokesman-Review; a two-part garden start-up workshop with local expert Pat Munts; and DIY skin care with Monique Belair-Kovalenko.

One of the first workshops takes place on December 11 and aims to offer alternatives to conventional cosmetic products, which contain unregulated amounts of toxins and chemicals. Belair-Kovalenko has experimented with making her own products and now wants to share some of her best recipes and reasons for doing-it-yourself with workshop participants. She says, “I feel better knowing that making my own products often means I’m cutting down on the waste of extra packaging…I also know what’s going on my skin. It’s fun to play around and make my own scents.” Each participant in her workshop will go home with a body care kit containing toner, facial cleanser, deodorant and bath salts packaged in re-used glass jars and bottles. Belair-Kovalenko echoes Sinisterra’s comments about the store’s mission and says, “It really doesn’t have to be difficult…I plan on offering basic options that you can find in your kitchen, and it’s way cheaper than other high-quality organic products.”

Partnerships have been a key factor in Sun People’s initial months, both with local non-profits and workshop hosts and with the Spokane small business community. The Sun People staff have worked with ten local non-profits to identify their supply needs, and then created a Holiday Gift Catalog that people can purchase items from on behalf of a friend as a gift. For example, a customer might buy twenty trees for The Lands Council for their children or family members, like a local version of the worldwide Heifer project. The store will also stock t-shirts promoting non-profits and sustainable projects.

Sinisterra says that other partnerships have also emerged from within the small business community and are showing “the strength of small business working together.” Businesses including Yoga Shala, Santé, Boo Radley’s and Kizuri have worked with Sun People to promote Buy Local Black Friday, a local spin on the traditional day of consumerism. She also points out other examples of businesses working together to strengthen the overall market. Sun People and Eco Depot are doing cooperative purchasing on items they both carry to lower costs for both businesses. She says, “I don’t think we would have support like this starting up in Portland or Seattle. There’s a lot of momentum in our small business community right now.”

That momentum is currently being channeled into creating a BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) Network in Spokane. According to the BALLE website, “[the organization] believes that local, independent businesses are among our most potent change agents, uniquely prepared to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century…they are more than employers and profit-makers; they are neighbors, community builders and the starting point for social innovation.” Using this philosophy, BALLE founder Judy Wicks has led the way for over 80 networks, including 22,000 business owners to become better connected in strengthening local economies.

Sinisterra attributes much of her inspiration in opening this store to Judy Wick’s story. She says, “Around the world, there are cities with thousands of thriving small businesses and more networks to support each other…it’s really inspiring to see everyday people deciding to [start a business] and support each other in doing it.” As the store grows, Sinisterra plans to continue working on the big picture of local business, eco-friendly business and “business as an agent for change.”

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