An Interview with Live Eco's Nikki Seegers

We had the great pleasure of interviewing Nikki Seegers from the South African eco-lifestyle website, Live Eco. She graciously took the time to answer our rather lengthy questions, and also tell us about her new southern suburbs organic food market, which will be launching soon in October. We absolutely love your website – it’s a great mix of relevant lifestyle news with an eco-angle. Your bio says you worked in corporate for a few years – what was the catalyst for you quitting and beginning your new adventure? How did you go about it? Thanks! I knew from a young age that corporate would never really be for me, I found it too restrictive and wanted to live out my passion for the environment and beautiful things! I came across the concept for Live Eco whilst living in the USA and on my return to SA saw that there was nothing similar available locally and so Live Eco was born… I did it part-time in the beginning whilst working 9-5, but when the site started to gain some momentum I decided to take that leap of faith and have not looked back since. I would not have been able to embark on this adventure had it not been for the unwavering support I've received from family and friends. Being an entrepreneur is not for sissies! Talk us through your business successes of the past 5 years. What have been the highlights so far? Highlights include being invited to the NAIAS (North American International Auto Show) twice by Ford USA and to another fascinating conference – Go Further Trend Conference- at Ford's HQ in Detriot, MI. Being a Top 10 finalist in the SA Blog awards in 2010 and founding and organizing our annual upcycled design competitions Avant Garde object and Avant Garde dress, together with design schools across Cape Town. I think in order to be successful you really have to love what you do, to get you through those tough times as these are a plenty when you're starting out, especially in this industry. Live what you love! You’re launching a new southern suburbs farmers market soon – we can’t wait! Tell us more about it and what inspired the idea? What are you hoping to achieve through this initiative? What sort of things can we expect to find at the market? Yes! Michelle (one my closest friends and co-founder of the market) and I were chatting one afternoon and saying how we, both living in the Southern Suburbs, have not been able to find a market/outlet in the Rondebosch/Claremont area where you can buy local, fresh produce and grab a craft beer or glass of wine with friends while enjoying a bite to eat - and so the Live Eco Market idea was born! We want to achieve just this, a place where friends and families can hang out, listen to some local music talent while munching on local, natural, organic, biodynamic or Fairtrade foods and enjoying a glass of wine or a beer or even a coffee and have the ability to stock up on farm-fresh (straight from the source) fruit, veg, sustainable meats and fish for the following week. Do you have a favourite market in Cape Town? Locally I think the Earth Fair market in Tokai is great. I'm also a huge fan of the Blaauwklippen market in Stellenbosch. I've also heard great things about the new Root 44 market. Organic food is no doubt “trendy” as such. How do you go about breaking away from the conception that organic food is a trend and incorporating it into people’s everyday lifestyles? When it comes to eating sustainably, I think its important for consumers to think local first to reduce your carbon footprint this way and support local producers who often can't afford official organic certification but produce organically and sustainably. Then, if you can afford it, go certified organic. Certain stores such as Woolies now have a big drive on their organic produce and you can get certain organic items for the same price as regular fruit and veg. I think consumers just need to be aware and most importantly READ the labels so you know what's in your food. How important is it for the market to provide exposure for grassroots businesses and small start ups? A number of markets in Cape Town host more established companies and vendors, or have many of the same vendors on board. We've tried to source most of our traders from the community as we want to build that "community spirit" at our market. “Think Eat Save” was the theme for this year’s World Environment Day, an initiative to reduce food waste, which is a massive global problem that has negative humanitarian, environmental and financial implications. Will you have measures in place to reduce food wastage at the market, either through criteria that you have with the vendors or by making market-goers aware of the issue? We have specified that our vendors need to use recyclable or biodegradable packaging and utensils. When it comes to food wastage generally speaking market traders produce on a small scale and will not be making massive quantities of items prior to market day most of the traders we've signed on make to order in order to prevent wastage. We will encourage our traders to donate to shelters in the area should they have any surplus of perishables at the end of the day. twitter header What are the most effective green measures people can take, food-wise? Are you a proponent of vegetarianism/veganism? What about the GM food factor? Buy from and support local farmers. I also think "Meat Free Mondays" is a great and easy way for families to start thinking about how much meat they consume. With regards to GM foods, I think genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world's hunger, food shortage and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by producing crops that do not require or rely on pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides. But having said that, there are also many challenges for GM foods especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labeling. I think it's a technology that we can't ignore but also need to proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment. What are your thoughts on South Africa and green initiatives – from the implementation of large scale measures such as solar and wind energy to the smaller habits of everyday life? It seems like ordinary South Africans have a long way to go when it comes to recycling, using eco-products and trending lightly. I am horrified by the amount of people who don't even bother to recycle. It's really not difficult, I think South African's need to get over their "lazy" attitude towards the environment. unfortunately in SA an "eco lifestyle" still has a premium attached to it and many people can't afford to go the solar route or buy eco products. But that's why I feel so strongly about recycling or upcycling – its FREE and makes a HUGE difference. Each and every South African can do this. What eco-friendly measures have you incorporated into your own lifestyle? At home we recycle just about EVERYTHING! When it comes to my wardrobe I have adopted the motto "Buy Less. Choose Well". We practice "meat-free mondays" and carpool as much as possible. All laundry gets sun-dried and use blankets to keep warm at home in winter instead or cranking up the electric heater. What does the “Trending Lightly” slogan mean to you? It refers to the people we talk to and what we talk about. We aim to show people that a fashion forward, trendy, chic lifestyle can be an eco-friendly one as well. It's possible to be smart, sexy and sustainable. You recently posted an article on your blog about ethical fashion brand Edun and their big financial loss. You’re also on the panel of judges for the Avant Garde Dress 2013 competition. What do you feel about the potential of green fashion? Is green fashion something that will become mainsteam and be able to compete with current retailers, price-wise? Eco and ethical fashion can't currently compete with the prices of fast fashion. If you are paying your workers fairly and producing sustainably it's not possible to sell a t-shirt for R29 and make a profit. Demand for ethical and eco fashion has been slow but with the factory collapse that happened in Bangladesh earlier this year, the world has woken up and the tragedy has brought it to people' s attention that something needs to change. Locally designers need to up their game when it comes to designing trendy, attractive, sustainable clothing and shoes in order to compete with mainstream fashion. This is one of the reason's I started the Avant Garde dress competition. I wanted young fashion design students to start thinking about sustainable fashion whilst still studying in the hopes that some of them will be inspired by eco fashion and go on to become sustainable designers. Overseas green fashion is growing in leaps and bounds, the difference there is that consumers are better educated when it comes to eco and ethical clothing and are demanding sustainable fashion. There are a few local designers in SA doing great things such as Lalesso and Lunar but we've got a lot of catching up to do. It's a subject I'm extremely passionate about so watch this space!
Last year's winning Avant Garde Dress
If there is one thing you wish South Africans would take to heart regarding our environment, what would it be? Stop littering and take pride in your immediate environment and community. I'm a big believer in the broken windows theory. Can eco-friendly also be affordable? Absolutely! Recycling is free. Riding a bicycle or using public transport is more affordable than buying a car and paying for petrol. Buying local is often cheaper. It just requires a little thought and research but being green definitely does not need to cost the earth! What are your future plans for Live Eco? Where do you see your business, say, in 5 years time? The Live Eco brand has experienced quite a bit of growth in 2013 alone. We launched Give Eco earlier this year which is SA's first online eco gift registry as well as the Live Eco Market which will be launching in October 2013. This year we successfully opened up Avant Garde dress to all the fashion design schools in Cape Town (we had worked with just 1 school previously) so future plans include opening up the Avant Garde upcycled design competitions nationally. Many thanks to Nikki for her thoughtful and inspiring answers, and we're very excited for her new southern suburbs market! If you're a vendor requiring biodegradable food packaging, then do take a look at our eco-friendly range of cups, containers and cutlery. Remember to embrace all things eco, and trend lightly!