Everything from elephant art to eco-consciousness
To celebrate its move, Eco-Martha's Vineyard will host a grand opening gala this Friday, Dec. 12. The move to a larger location was necessitated by the rapid growth of the business, which opened less than a year ago just a few doors down Beach Road in Vineyard Haven from its new location. Its growth is due in equal parts to owner Mark Martin being an aware supplier and by the local demand for environmentally responsible products. Says Mr. Martin, "I can't imagine a community could be more supportive."
The gala will feature an unusual exhibit of gestural paintings done by Thai elephants that, encouraged by their trainers, paint with a brush held in their trunks. Proceeds of the sale will benefit the fight against poaching. Organic wines will be served, and Zephrus will provide food made from some of the store's fair trade products. Starting at 7 pm, Jill Zadah, an Eco-Martha's Vineyard employee who has toured with Janet Jackson, will perform.
When you step inside the new Eco-Martha's Vineyard Bio-Store, a virtual eco-department store housed on two floors in a warehouse-like building at 151 Beach Road, you're struck by the spare, modern look of the space. There's also a pleasant aroma of naturally perfumed soaps and cleaning products, coffee and new pine.
Mr. Martin started out selling cases of environmentally sound trash bags to businesses and organizations, and then expanded when, as he says, "I realized this was an anomaly. Everyone wanted what I had and more."
The large space has the look and feel of an upscale urban design store with a wide range of retail items, everything from hemp clothing to educational toys, gardening supplies to cosmetics. Most are priced to be affordable.
Mr. Martin, who had never owned a business before, had a pivotal experience a few years back when his two dogs became sick during the pet food scare. He discovered that the "healthy" dog food he was buying was the same as the commercial brands made in fertilizer factories. "I'd fallen hook, line, and sinker," he says. "I'd become a robot...I thought to myself, 'We've become a society of victims.' I thought we had no control over what companies did."
Realizing consumers could take control by not supporting businesses whose practices they oppose, Mr. Martin found his cause. "I put everything on the line to do it differently," he says, "to be a company that's transparent and honest, and bank on the belief that the community will support it."
Mr. Martin notes that, although eco-friendly is the focus, he also carries only products that are manufactured in a responsible manner. "I need to know how it's made, how workers are treated, what kind of packaging is used, as well as the materials and ingredients," he says. "We really put everything through the ringer."
When he discovered that a line of green cleaning products he carried were made by a company that still employed animal testing for other products, he took the line off the shelves, throwing out $4,000 worth of merchandise.
The larger space enables Mr. Martin to install a filling station for cleaning products by a company he vigorously supports - Options for Life. The refill station allows customers to reuse containers. The disposables that the store carries are all made from corn and other biodegradable materials.
For the gala opening, the store will offer all of the clothing at wholesale prices, and according to Mr. Martin, about 30 percent of the merchandise will also be sold at cost, a sale that will continue through Christmas. He says, "I want people to walk through and focus on having a really pleasant, educational experience without their bank balance going bust."
Mr. Martin's future plans include adding more Eco-Martha's Vineyard label products, as well as installing a green roof and an education center. "I truly believe the only way to make a change in the environment is to include it into the fabric of the consumers' everyday life," he says.
Eco-Martha's Vineyard grand opening gala, Friday, Dec. 12, 5-8:30 pm. Elephant art exhibit to benefit fight against poaching. Organic wine, food provided by Zephrus. Singer Jill Zadah performs at 7 pm.
Oak Bluffs resident Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.