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Priscilla Woolworth has retail in her genes–four generations ago her family created the original five-and-dime Woolworths, which in its heyday was the largest chain store in the world. She continues the legacy in a modern, California way with Priscilla Woolworth, an online eco-concious general store launched in 2009 that has since become a subscription-based online magazine. Back then she was living in LA with her two young teen girls, and, stumped by the lack of environmentally friendly consumer choices, she set out on a three-year intensive research mission that led to a new career.
Woolworth’s own childhood was spent mostly in the South of France (with summers in Maine), where she grew up watching her French grandparents eat seasonally, prepare simple foods daily, compost, and take their own bags to the market. “I didn’t realize how much it impacted me, observing how my grandparents lived,” she says. But she continually found herself referring to that way of life in the special books of stories and wisdom that she created annually for each of her daughters.
She has made 40 such volumes to date; she later compiled the highlights into LOLA, Lots of Love Always, a manual for young women on how to live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Published by Woolworth herself, LOLA is full of photos and graphics, and manages to cover a vast array of things that a college-bound girl ought to know, from healthy eating basics to smart makeup choices to how to balance a budget. Informed, fun to read, and notably non-preachy, the book is a good resource for anyone who cares about sustainable living. Here, Priscilla shares some of her tips.
Photography by Sarah Lonsdale, except where noted.
Remodelista: You are a big proponent of green housekeeping. What are some basics?
Priscilla Woolworth: You want to keep your home as free of hazardous chemicals as you possibly can. That means your “natural” cleaning products should not include the following: ammonia, 2-butoxyethanol, chlorine, perc, phthalates, quats, sodium hydroxide, and triclosan. A good solution, I’ve learned, is to make your own all-purpose cleaners using things you already have in your kitchen, such as baking soda. Baking soda is the ultimate multipurpose ingredient that you can use for cleaning your oven, freshening up your carpets, and loosening caked-on food from pots and pans. For the latter, sprinkle baking soda into the pots and pans and add a little warm water. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes before scrubbing. [For a homemade dish soap recipe, see DIY: Homemade Dish Soap.]
RM: Any do’s and don’ts?
PW: Storing your leftovers in glass containers is much healthier for you than using plastic ones: Take plastic-wrapped meat or fish brought from the supermarket and store in glass once home (or bring your own containers to the store). Drink beverages in reusable glass containers. Before buying baking soda, make sure that it’s aluminum free. And opt for an air popper instead of the microwave when making popcorn.
RM: Any savvy laundering tips?
PW: I’ve learned to practice better laundry habits, beginning with setting the machine on cold and running full loads to conserve water and energy. I also use the minimum amount of detergent, and I’m especially fond of reusable dryer sheets, which I scent with my favorite essential oil, lavender. Once you add several drops of essential oil to the sheets, it’s absorbed into the cloth (no need to let it dry) and when added to the dryer, the scent is released as the cloth warms up from the heat and leaves just a trace of fragrance. But as often as I can, I let my clothes be dried by the wind and sun on a laundry line.
RM: You spell out the hazards of buying pots and pans because of the toxicity of polymer substances associated with nonstick surfaces. What do you recommend?
PW: I’m a big fan of cast iron skillets and stainless steel pots, and for all my baking or roasting needs, glass or ceramic cookware work perfectly.
RM: Tips on first-time buying for an apartment or dorm room?
PW: Start by choosing bedding made from natural materials, such as organic cotton, wool, linen, hemp, or bamboo–because many sheets, blankets, and mattresses are produced from synthetic, petroleum-derived substances that have been doused in flame retardants and treated with formaldehyde finishes. Use natural cleaning products instead of conventional, commercial products with a list of questionable ingredients. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of plain soap and water for washing hands (as opposed to antibacterial soap, which is to be avoided). In addition, apartment dwellers should use a fabric shower curtain over vinyl, and when repainting, use VOC-free paint.
RM: I love the fact that you talk about beauty products in your book. Many teen girls may know about the benefits of eating organic food but are totally oblivious to the fact that they may be using makeup that is harmful to them.
PW: Just because a beauty product is sold in a supermarket, drugstore, or department store cosmetics counter doesn’t mean it’s safe. Many years ago, I decided to invest in my health and well-being by choosing beauty and personal care products that don’t contain parabens, sulfates, synthetic fragrances, petrochemicals, phthalates, GMOs, or triclosan. And unlike a decade ago, there are many fantastic, toxin-free beauty products on the market to choose from. Also, there are wonderful sunscreens available that are mineral-based and don’t have super-high SPFs–a higher SPF doesn’t mean it actually offers better sun protection; the Environmental Working Group’s SPF guide explains this well. It’s also upsetting to learn that more than half of the sunscreens sold contain oxybenzone, a potential hormone disruptor that readily penetrates the skin.
RM: Any other beauty notes?
PW: Make sure the lipstick you choose is lead-free: More than half of the tested brands contain this toxic element! See how your brand rates and find good choices by going to the EWG’s Skin Deep lipstick rating page. In general, for checking beauty products, the EWG is by far my favorite resource and well worth bookmarking. One more thing: My friend, green expert Renee Loux, recommends routinely rotating the beauty products you use because she notes that the skin and hair will inevitably reach a level of saturation and stop responding to even the best, clean natural ingredients.
RM: Anything else we should know about makeup?
PW: I learned that makeup that isn’t made without toxic preservatives–such as propylparaben, which is linked to breast cancer and hormone disruptions–won’t last or work as well after six to 12 months. Perhaps it’s time for makeup brands to offer smaller sizes.
RM: Your book acknowledges that for those on a budget sometimes fast food may be the only option.
PW: Even if fast food is what’s most convenient or all you can afford, there are still choices on the menu that are healthier, such as grilled veggies, clear Asian soups, and grilled chicken.
RM: How did you tackle the issue of clothing when your girls were teens?
PW: The teen time is all about fashion and my daughters loved clothes, it was hard because they did buy “fast fashion,” but over time, I got them to think about what they bought and where it came from, and to ask themselves if they really need it. I also taught them the merits of sharing clothes.
RM: What do you wish you had known when you first left home?
PW: Everything in LOLA. Back then, I never thought about making healthy choices.
N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published on Remodelista on July 3, 2015.
Read about my family’s attempt to Live Waste Free. For more advice on eco-conscious living, see: