Erin Schrode is typically West Coast: she rejoices in huge self-belief, and grew up in an organic household long before most of us knew what the term ‘organic’ meant when applied to tomatoes. And she’s putting her wealth of talent and privilege to great use.
Sublime: Where did your interest in sustainability come from?
Erin Schrode: I was born into a little organic bubble. When my mum was pregnant with me, she read a book called Diet for a Poisoned Planet. My dad went to work one day and when he came home, she had organicised – if that’s even a word – the house. Northern California was, for me, the most incredible place to grow up in terms of developing a conscious mindset, of healthy living and access to local organic alternatives. I feel privileged that that was the norm for me at such a young age.
My mum says she came to my kindergarten and I was explaining to people about how important it was to eat cherry tomatoes, but not the ones from the supermarket, the organic ones you bought from the farmer. There wasn’t an ‘aha’ moment for me – it’s always been the norm, which is why I’ve been so fortunate to be able to live a total eco lifestyle. I already had such a strong foundation.
S: In terms of the environment and sustainability, what have you learned from studying in the Middle East?
ES: It’s the environment, education and youth, in a nutshell. Right now I’m interning with an organisation called Eco-Peace/Friends of the Earth Middle East, and what really attracted me to them was using those three interests of mine as a means for cross-cultural communication.
I’m very interested in international affairs; for example, thinking about something as simple as shared water resources and bringing kids together to learn not only how to foster stewardship in their own communities, but how collaboration with their peers who are experiencing the same hardships in a similar climate can change their outlook on multiple aspects of life.
S: How do you think the West is progressing with embracing a greener lifestyle?
ES: We’re very privileged to be able to support conscious consumerism, conscious capitalism, whereas in other parts of the world, for example Ghana, where I was living this autumn, environmental consciousness has a whole different meaning. In Africa it’s a means of survival. Here in the Middle East, I feel it can be both a source of conflict and promoting conflict resolution. In the West it’s also a responsibility, and yes, I speak in very general terms, but we are fortunate enough to have the education at our fingertips to hear about climate change, pesticide use, health effects, endangered animals on literally an everyday basis. When I went into schools in Ghana to speak about something as simple as not throwing garbage on the ground, and recycling the plastic water sachets they drink out of, that was a new concept. So by no means is it our burden, but it is our privilege and responsibility in this day and age to take charge.
S: Which eco-designers have you collaborated with, and who is your favourite?
ES: I’ve had the privilege to work with the New York fashion designer Bahar Shahpar – she’s a star. I walked for her in Fashion Week a couple of years ago. I’ve collaborated with Stewart + Brown, who make one of the best organic cotton t-shirts on the market, as far as I’m concerned. Loomstate Organic have done phenomenal partnerships with Barneys Green. Julie Gilhart, who is the former fashion director of Barneys New York, really did a lot in terms of the fashion world, bringing in Theory and Philip Lim for Barneys Green, lines that I know and love, with an eco twist. You don’t have to sacrifice style for sustainability. You can have it all.
S: Have you found that people are more open to eco-fashion?
ES: Absolutely. My dream for eco-fashion is that you purchase or use a product because it’s good, and part of its being good are its ethical standards and sustainability. It has to serve both purposes, because you’re not going to sacrifice your lifestyle and throw away what you have if you’re not getting something in return. That’s what these fashion companies have learned, and why the environmental sustainability movement has grown.
S: Tell us about ‘The Schoolbag’.
ES: Yes! That’s my baby. Reading about the earthquake in Haiti really struck me, and I felt the need to go. I’ve never had that kind of response in my life, and at age 18 I hopped on a plane and went to work in medical relief. I stayed in a tent on base, with unbelievable volunteers from all over the world, and fell in love with the kids. I couldn’t believe the dozens of students that came every day to our base because they had nowhere else to go.
One night I was in the paediatrics tent, and one of our translators, an out-of-work teacher, said to me: ‘If only I had the materials, I’d teach the kids myself.’ That was when I realised I could connect the dots and fill this need, and in a way that I know would have an impact. All aid has to be an investment for the future, and has to stem from people on the ground.
So I went home and said, OK, let’s get some school supplies to these kids in Haiti to allow them to continue. Education is all we have when it boils down to it. You can’t strip a person of that, even in such a trying time. That’s what gives these kids the wings and strength to go forward, and for me it was important to do so in an environmentally sustainable way.
The Schoolbag is literally a bag with the materials student needs to study for one year. We’re still figuring out exactly what the bag will be, but last summer we took 400 notebooks, pencils and some schoolbags made of organic cotton. We’re now looking into making it from recycled plastic bags. I want to plant the seed of stewardship young, because this is a new beginning for that country and you know, global green means build it green. Global Green USA is building New Orleans back green, and that can certainly apply to Haiti.
S: So it’s all been progressing well?
ES: It’s been unbelievable, and I just found out last night that I’m winning an award from The Sisterhood, which is all about empowering women. That’s a great vote of confidence.
S: What are your hopes for the future?
ES: I’m trying to stay in school; it’s been rather challenging. I was home for the holidays and my grandma said, ‘Honey, I think you just use NYU [New York University] as a cover.’ If my grandma thinks that, imagine what the rest of the world thinks! I’m very into experiential education. In my junior year in high school, I spent time in New York acting and modelling, then I went back and finished because that was important. NYU was my dream school; it’s in an international metropolis, and they have this incredible global study program.
People ask me, what do you want to do? I want to make my mark, and inspire other people. Sure I want to change the world. My mum’s taught me that if you see an injustice, you speak up or you approach every situation from a thoughtful mindset, and that’s how I live my life day to day. I love it.