Business of the Month: Lovewild Design, 136 Avenue C
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These days, even a passing acquaintance with news headlines can be enough to make you daydream of a future where your shopping is leavened by a dash of sustainability and magical realism; where your purchases, upon disposal, become soil, allowing dozens of wildflowers to bloom. Daydream no more! If you shop at our October Business of the Month, that future is now! Lovewild Design, at 136 Avenue C (btw 8th and 9th Street), is your neighborhood, low-waste, locally hand-making, family-operated gift store, where you can shop for sustainable home goods, self-care goods, greeting cards, baby products, and much more!
Lovewild Design is the brainchild of Sierra Zamarripa, the latest in a long family line of entrepreneurs going back to her great-grandfather, a jack-of-all-trades who started a taxi company and even tried his luck as a bullfighter. Sierra’s grandmother sold stockings door-to-door in Mexico City and, upon moving to the United States, became a seamstress and worked her way up to being an “aesthetician to the stars” (which she still does full time). Her parents ran an East Village institution, the antiques and oddities store / hangout for local characters Wandering Dragon Trading Company at 263 E. 10th Street — subsequently the site of Obscura. Sierra essentially grew up there, spending her free time, even as a small child, helping out, shining shoes and selling vintage jewelry and milkshakes outside the store.
As an adult, she drifted away from retail for a spell, developing an interest in sustainable development and working for non-profits. But she missed the bustle and independence of running your own business, and decided that that would be a better way to pursue her interests, have a direct impact, and connect with people. In 2014, that decision led to the launching of Lovewild at its initial Williamsburg, Brooklyn location. Shortly thereafter, Sierra’s mother started working there, despite some initial, short-lived resistance. As Sierra tells it:
She did not like what she did and wanted to get out of it. So she showed up one day and I was like… I can’t! I don’t think this is going to work! And now seven years later, I can’t work without her. She has made herself invaluable. (mothers…)
The store carries a wide range of products with an emphasis on sustainability. These include a Lovewild line of products such as letterpress-printed cards, home-blended bath salts, and screen-printed bags and towels that are made in-house, at the store itself. Here again, Sierra tries to minimize the potential for waste:
I’ve always made things; and I thought, if I’m making anything and putting anything out in the world, I don’t want it to be wasteful. So we only use materials that are very easily recyclable or home compostable. I don’t want to be responsible for anything that enters our waterways.
An apt example of this ethos are the Lovewild greeting cards, which are made out of post-consumer waste paper embedded with seeds. Customers are encouraged to plant this easily biodegradable paper rather than recycling it and thereby give junkmail-turned-greeting cards a third life as wildflowers — catchflies, elysiums, baby blue eyes, black eyed susans, and siberian squills.
Lovewild sells its line not only to individual customers, but also to about five hundred small retailers all over the country, many of them low-waste and not a few of them local, such as Alchemist’s Kitchen in SoHo and an.mé in the East Village. In an ironic twist of fate, one of those retailers is Exit 9 (August 2016 Business of the Month), whose owner Charles once declined to carry a line of t-shirts with cartoon characters that an 8 year old Sierra had hoped to sell there (she ended up selling them herself at street markets). Luckily for Charles, Sierra holds no grudges and remains a big fan of his shop.
Beyond the home products, Lovewild also carries several other lines of locally manufactured goods, such as printed tote bags from Brooklyn-based Maptote, scented candles hand-poured in Brooklyn by Queer Candle Co., and resin bundles by Incausa, a Greenpoint-based company that works with indigenous communities in Brazil and Peru to make meditative products. Sierra calls attention to the number of small manufacturing businesses throughout the city that most people don’t know about, and expresses a strong preference for working with them, because of the flexibility this allows.
In addition to offering a wide array of products, Lovewild has also offered a variety of DIY classes. Unfortunately, these stopped being feasible, when Sierra moved from her Williamsburg location to her current, smaller East Village spot late last year. The opportunity, however, to have a store in her neighborhood, a few blocks from where she lives and her daughter goes to school, simply felt like it was meant to be. She especially relishes having her neighbors as customers:
What I love about the East Village is that it’s a lot of old-timers, it is these old characters who have been around forever; and they come in. It’s people who I have seen around for the past twenty years, but we never spoke. And they come to the store.
Although space constraints now prevent Sierra from doing programming at her store, she remains acutely aware that having a space at all, and on top of that a business that buys wholesale, presents great opportunities to serve as a resource for the community and for causes dear to her heart. Accordingly, she is planning a free Halloween gift exchange program; she helped raise several thousand dollars for Black Mamas Matter by printing their tote bags pro bono, selling them, and having all proceeds go to the organization; she routinely sends bundles of soaps and toothbrushes to disaster victims; and she recently organized donations and press to help fight the (consequently) well-publicized eviction of a neighbor, Ryo Nagaoka, while he was hospitalized with COVID.
Speaking of COVID… The pandemic has forced Lovewild to adapt in a number of ways. For one, Sierra has had to reinvigorate her online presence. For another, she was forced into a 16-hour a day schedule of mask sewing. She sewed thousands of them (and still has neck nerve damage to prove it!). Some, she gave away; the rest kept her business afloat for several months. Since then, Lovewild has not only stayed afloat, but it has expanded. In addition to moving her store to the East Village, Sierra also opened, on a very tight budget, a small store in Woodstock, NY, where she now does some of her messier production work. While challenges such as supply chain issues, shipping delays, and labor shortages remain, she remains optimistic about her business outlook, and is heartened by the surging energy behind shopping local and shopping small. “Has that been a thing?”, I asked her. “I think so. In my head it always is!”
(Sierra mentions among her personal favorites Flower Power (August 2017 Business of the Month), Dress Shoppe II, and the 4th Street Co-op.)
For showing us the value of being small and local, and for finding unexpected ways of letting wildflowers bloom, we are thrilled to name Lovewild Design our October 2021 Business of the Month.
Stop by at 136 Avenue C (btw 8th and 9th Street) or visit their website.
What special small business would you like to see featured next? Just click here to nominate our next one. Thank you! #shoplocalnyc
Here is a map of all our Businesses of the Month: