Bring Your Own was started as a way to bring awareness to the amount of waste created in our communities on a daily basis. The idea began with friends and family members who often noticed and commented on how Allie Emerick (owner & founder) would always have a mason jar, bamboo utensils, a to-go container of some sort, and more when they would go out together. She was inspired to begin teaching zero-waste classes and workshops in the Harrisonburg, Virginia, community. The response was positive, and Allie knew she had to turn her passion into something bigger—and Bring Your Own was born.
Allie, we are so excited to be talking with you today. Bring Your Own has grown from operating out of a 1975 Airstream trailer to now having a permanent brick and mortar store-front. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to open Bring Your Own?
Yes, we have been open for almost a year, and have just moved into a larger space this month. It’s been so exciting to have support from the community, as well as awesome companies like Opal Avenue and Lunette! I was inspired to start Bring Your Own after I stopped teaching elementary school, and was looking for what to do next. I have always enjoyed spending time outside, whether it be hiking, mountain biking, SCUBA diving or just reading a book on the front porch. Being constantly surrounded by trash during my time outside really prompted me to make changes in my personal life. Friends and family members noticed these changes, and wanted to learn more about products I was using and why. I started teaching classes at our local food co-op and through the parks and rec department on how to live zero waste. When a friend decided to sell the Airstream trailer that she had been operating her business (www.withsimplicityllc.com) out of, my mom encouraged me to buy it and start a zero waste business out of it!
Being a Zero Waste lifestyle store, has it been difficult to find and decide what products to stock? How are brands measuring up to your guidelines?
Yes and no. Most of the products I started out with in the shop were products that I had already been using in my personal life, and had spent time researching before purchasing for myself. When choosing products, I look at the company as a whole. I want to carry products that come from a company that shares my values. I want them to take measures to ensure their products are being made sustainably, workers are being paid fairly, and they are doing their part to stop plastic pollution.
One thing that I make sure of is that ALL products from a certain company meet these guidelines. For example, if a company sells organic deodorant in a glass jar, but another one of their products is lotion in a plastic tube, I’m not going to buy that deodorant from them. I will instead purchase deodorant from the company that sells all of their products in plastic free jars/containers. Meow Meow Tweet and Elevated/Balm Baby are great examples of this because all of their products are plastic free.
Bring Your Own is unique in that it also offers Zero Waste workshops and consultations for business and home. When did you decide to venture into these services?
Yes! We are here to educate. Part of our mission is to educate the community and teach people/businesses how to make positive changes. While we want you to buy our products, it doesn’t do any good if you don’t know why you’re buying them! People often come into the store and purchase items because they look cool, and I love to take that opportunity to explain to them why it’s important that they’re buying it, and what single use/disposable product it should be replacing.
I started out teaching classes/workshops to the community before the shop ever opened, and I don’t plan on stopping! We are still working on developing the consultation side of things, but I look forward to collaborating with local restaurants and businesses this year! We are currently working on a campaign to help local restaurants transition away from straws.
Based on what you’ve seen first-hand, what sustainability trends do you predict we’ll see in the next year or two?
In recent months, people seem to be much more aware of plastic pollution and its impact on the world and our oceans. I hear about it on NPR and on the news all the time now. Cities and restaurants are moving away from plastic straws, and people are starting to understand that we need to make positive changes.
In Harrisonburg, the city recently stopped recycling pick-up, and is accepting limited types of plastic/recyclable items at our recycling drop off center. This has been really eye-opening for a lot of people in our community. While it is unfortunate that recycling across the country is changing with the recent Chinese ban on a large percentage of trash/recycling, I think it’s just the reality check that people needed.
When a person is ready to start their journey of living zero waste, what is one of the first steps they can take?
When someone is ready to start making changes toward a zero-waste lifestyle, I like to tell them that a great place to start is with “The Big Four,” as Kathryn Kellogg from “Going Zero Waste” calls it. The Big Four are straws, water bottles, shopping/produce bags and coffee cups. If you can remember to bring your own of these items, that is a great start!
Making the switch to more sustainable and ethical products is now a part of mainstream conversation. And you are right at the forefront of this shift. We’d love to know, what are your future plans and dreams for Bring Your Own?
I feel like I started this adventure at the perfect time. People are truly interested in learning what they can do to make a difference. I look forward to seeing how things go in our new location with heavier foot traffic, and really working hard to collaborate with local businesses and grow the education and consultation side of the business.