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Afternoon coffee with: Zem Joaquin

by Grace Bonney

Afternoon coffee with: Zem Joaquin (founder & CEO, ecofabulous.com)

With the energy of an Olympian and the personality of someone who belongs on Broadway stage, it’s no surprise Zem Joaquin is the most well networked person I know in the ecosphere. Need a safe cosmetic resource? She’s got it. Want to compare eco-friendly qualities of bed linens? Talk to Zem. Want to know about the chicest Hollywood-style party raising funds for a big green cause? Not only is she invited—she planed it. Formerly an editor at House and Garden and Domino, Zem is an eco-consultant, a Build it Green designer, the green contributor for 7×7 magazine, the eco-luxury specialist for Planet Green’s Alter Eco, an advisor for Global Green and Healthy Child, Healthy World—and the list goes on. (Take a breath.) Oh yeah—and she’s the powerhouse behind the eco-resource website ecofabulous.com – on our short list of fave websites over at Home by Sunset).

Through all her endeavors, Zem’s goal is to help companies and individuals create beautiful, smart, sustainable spaces and practices while improving health, education and access to well-vetted information. She has two children and an incredible husband and they live in the beauty that is Marin County— and I had the pleasure of visiting their home for Sunset last spring. (She admitted she rarely  sleeps.)

As is typical of Zem, here she shares with us a wealth of knowledge on a range of topics, over an organic soy latte:


Regular or decaf?

Today I’m working from ecofab headquarters (Dogpatch District of SF), indulging in an incredibly satisfying organic blue bottle soy latte from Piccino Cafe across the street. When I’m working from home I’ll usually just sip Numi or Mighty Leaf organic green tea—in my favorite I Am Not A Paper Cup mug.

Recycling geek, vintage freak or SUV-driving jock in high school?

I grew up on a commune without electricity or flushing toilets so by the time I got to high school I was going through a bit of a “rejecting my roots” phase. I just hated having to sacrifice style and fashion for that “au natural” look. But by college I was channeling my childhood and even started the recycling program at my university. Yet, I’m the kind of girl that likes to have it all—which is what my company is all about—so I am committed to finding sustainable solutions that are just as stylish as their conventional counterparts. These days, you really can have your organic cake and eat it too!

What was your inspiration for ecofabulous and your mission behind it?

I founded ecofabulous as a result of my own personal journey to design an eco-friendly environment for my family when I realized that the products I was using in my home were toxic and thus intensifying the asthma that both of my children were battling. Step by step I started transforming my home into a healthy haven and the more I learned the less I was able to trust traditional products the way I once had.


In 2006, mentored by William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, I embarked upon a remodel of my home. At that time there really weren’t any resources to help me find the well-designed, more thoughtful products I desired. Though I originally started ecofabulous as a blog—a place where I could share what I had found and tell others about sustainable products that didn’t sacrifice style or quality—it garnered interest from the outside community and since then, we have expanded into a much more robust site !

Our ultimate mission at ecofabulous is to inspire people to live a more sustainable life, and to provide the tools (via products, resources, and tips that meet our stringent criteria) to do so without having to sacrifice style or quality.

What’s a new project/product you’re really enthused about?

We recently launched our weekly newsletter, Zem’s List, where I share an inspiration and some very chic ways to go green—we’ve had a really great response from readers. Take a look at last week’s newsletter all about eco-friendly pillows—the easiest (and most affordable!) way to update your look. We are currently gearing up to launch our Eco Deals & Steals newsletter with free giveaways, weekly sales, and exclusive discounts for ecofab insiders—it’ll have everything you need to enter the green world in style, without breaking the bank. And if you sign-up in the next few weeks, you’ll be entered to win a $250 shopping spree at West Elm—they have some amazing new organic items!


Why Marin/San Francisco?

I have traveled and lived all over the world—and while I enjoy new experiences and seeing new cultures, I am always so happy to be coming home to the Bay Area. The access to nature and a little European feeling makes it the best of both worlds. And as far as the green movement is concerned, San Francisco is one of the best places to be—there is so much innovation and commitment in this city, I am constantly surrounded by inspiring people.

What’s a new company on your green radar you want everyone to know about? (Think: shout from the rooftops)

1. I love October Anniversary’s new line of recycled gold and silver cocktail rings—they are massive (the rings often cover 2-3 fingers at once). Since gold mining is one of the most polluting industries in the world, an October Anniversary ring is the perfect statement piece to, well, make a statement against continued mining activity. They also have an adorable key necklace charm for only $30 that comes with a silk thread in the color of your choice.


2. We just saw samples from Olsen Haus’ new line of vegan shoes and they are hot! I am swooning over their “Love” style wedge in Teal—the perfect summer peep toe.


3. I just got back from the Loomstate for Target launch party and was astounded by the super-cute, surprisingly affordable line of sustainable clothing designed by Rogan Gregory and Scott Mackinlay Hahn. The limited edition collection hits Target stores on April 19th with prices ranging from $14.99 to $44.99!


4. And though Pottery Barn and West Elm aren’t “new” companies, per se, they are coming out with a ton of evolved products lately. I’m loving the recycled aluminum accent table from Pottery Barn—it’s cast from a Victorian garden table but has the perfect amount of glam to create that eco-luxe look. The pin-tuck duvet from West Elm is so boho-chic, but not outrageously priced.

5. And lastly, the office is still going crazy for Jaya Loves Tekeko’s adorable kids’ pillows Jaya Loves Tekeko’s adorable kids’ pillows made with organic bamboo and organic cotton, stuffed with kapok fiber (a great eco-friendly option that is super soft!). My team and I are slightly partial to the owlie .

What one (or two or three) surprising thing(s) everyone can do today to make the world a more sustainable place?

1. The shower can be a seriously scary place. New vinyl shower curtains off-gas around 108 different chemicals within the first 28 days of use! Avoid buying PVC whenever possible—use an organic cotton shower curtain or one made from recycled polyester. Teach yourself to do a smell test—most toxins are detectable if you train your nose (that “new car small” is a sign that it’s off-gassing).

2. Simple things like using a reusable water bottle and coffee mug, and buying organic cotton (it takes 1/3 a pound of pesticides to produce enough conventional cotton for one t-shirt!) can make a big difference.

3. We just did a piece on Tasteful Tips for a Waste-Free lunch (Part 1: Dining Deskside and Part 2: The Take-Out Route) that’s filled with ways you can cut down on your “carbon fork-print.” Incorporating any of these simple ideas into your daily routine would be a huge step! Always order Eco-To-Go!

You’re an environmental hero (don’t be modest; go with it), but you’re also human. What’s your eco-confession—something that’s been hard to give up in support of a sustainable lifestyle?

I travel quite a bit for work and relish going on more relaxed sojourns as well, but flying contributes a great deal of CO2 into the atmosphere. In response, we are taking less vacations that require flying and buy offsets when we do venture out of our hybrid driving realm. We are doing more local stuff, which is pretty easy when you live in California—there are so many eco-getaways on every budget.

What’s your earth day wish?

I wish everyone would take the time to think about where the products they buy come from, where they will end up and what they are made out of! We can all seek out better, healthier options.

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