Green By Design Episode 209: Loni Brown of EntirelyEco
Hear from the founder of the eco-friendly, non-toxic home goods store EntirelyEco about not compromising on style when you go green, working with a contractor when building a non-toxic home, the best home goods options for babies, and more.
Erica Reiner (00:06):
Hi, everyone. This is green by design. And I'm your host Erica Reiner. Today I have with me Loni Brown, Loni brown is a healthy home expert and the founder of both wholesome wholesomeness and entirely eco where she has lovely home decor for the whole family and it certified eco all that good stuff. And I believe you're out in Colorado. Is that right? Lonnie?
Loni Brown (00:36):
Yes, I'm in Colorado now.
Erica Reiner (00:38):
And she's also a mom of two? Yes. Okay, great. Got it. Got it all today. Okay, so she is gonna talk to us about what she does, but a funny story is that we kind of came whole circle because Lonnie reached out to me a few years ago. We were talking about green interior design and then years later we reconnected on Instagram and this is only just like a couple of weeks ago. And then she very kindly invited me to the clubhouse like social network saying slash audio, whatever. And then we discovered through our phone numbers that we had already known each other and she remembered that was where it was from. So it was a really cool kind of like small world eco thing. And I'm so glad to have her on today. So thank you for being here. Thank
Loni Brown (01:37):
You so much for having me excited to chat. Yeah.
Erica Reiner (01:41):
So tell us about what you've been up to for the past few years since we last connected and about entirely eco and all that kind of stuff.
Loni Brown (01:52):
Yes. So when we, when we had last connected, I actually hadn't even started an entirely good at that time. I think we, that was like around maybe 2017 or around there. But I was building a home in Denver and I was living in the bay area. I lived in the bay area for about nine years. And then prior to that, I was down in Southern California for like, I don't know, 20 plus years. And so we were building a home like from scratch in Colorado and I was living in San Fran, like right outside of San Francisco at the time. And so I was completely overwhelmed with trying to get it all done. I also had like a one-year-old at that time, she's now about to turn four. And so I was, I've been, you know, living eco-friendly for a really long time, but because I was essentially building my home from scratch, I, this was my opportunity to get it perfect, to just do all the things I needed to do, but I was also working full-time I had a one-year-old I was really overwhelmed.
Loni Brown (02:57):
And so I was like, I need some help. I just need someone who can help me. And I have, you know, I've had other designers who've just been in my network, just, you know, because of my own design experience, but I was like, no, I need someone to be really focused on non-toxic green design. I want everything eco-friendly. I want to really focus on the toxins because I have a small, small baby. And that's how I just, I that's how I found you. And and I just, like, I was like, I just need help with a project. But anyway, so it, it worked out well and we, we got the home done and it's still, I feel like it's still a work in progress, but as I was going through this experience, and even just when I was pregnant with my daughter, I realized that it was really hard to do this, to like have an eco-friendly home, to make sure that everything was like to my standards.
Loni Brown (03:51):
I mean, there's no like nutritional label for like home decor and furnishings and building supplies. I mean, you really, you really have to do your own research and you really just kind of have to know what's out there. And so it was really overwhelming. And so when I went through that process myself, I was like, there has to be, there has to be a better way. There has to be easier way. And so I did, I got the idea to start my site from just my own experience. And I was like, I wanna, I wanna, because I was already vetting a lot of these vendors and a lot of these manufacturers and really doing that own research on my own. I was like, I want to just have a place where people can come and see products that they like and not have to do all the research there on their own.
Loni Brown (04:41):
Like they're a trusted source that, you know, has vetted the products and have high standards. And so that's really how I got the idea to start to start my own business. And it's been really fun because people have, you know, have reached out to me and like, I mean, literally in tears, like how I was when I was building my baby registry and working on my own home, I literally was sobbing in tears, like trying to figure it all out. And, and I've had that same reaction with some of my clients. They're just like, you know, I didn't know this, like, I didn't know, I didn't even understand greenwashing. And because in the home decor industry, like there is no nutritional label. Right. It's just so hard. People, you know, manufacturers are able to label things safe for baby eco-friendly non-toxic and you're just all the buzz words. And there's still like formaldehyde or still [inaudible]. And it's just, it's just hard for moms that just want to have a safe environment. So that's how my company was born.
Erica Reiner (05:38):
That's a lovely story. Thank you for sharing that. And yeah, it kind of breaks my heart to hear that because I'm sh to can just imagine someone who is like trying to like, make all these preparations and already overwhelmed and, you know, trying to like do the right thing to start going down this rabbit and being like, oh my God, having all these realizations about how much is out there to be, I guess you could be concerned about and also how difficult it is to parse through it. So yes, it's it's certainly the wild west out there. There's no nutritional label. Like you say, there are lots of different certifications, but you kind of have to go at it like piecemeal and you have to know what your, what certifications you should be looking for for each type of product. So it's definitely super confusing.
Erica Reiner (06:32):
My approach is just to do our best and try and balance, you know, the client's aesthetic and budget with some of the mean concerns that they have and just take it one step at a time. So that would be my advice to anyone who's listening. Who's feeling a little overwhelmed cause we've all felt overwhelmed before and it's okay to just do your best. But so, okay. So that was a really cool, like initiation story, I guess, tell me a little bit more about what kind of stuff you sell and how you vet the products and that whole journey. Because a lot of what, well, this podcast was, you know, started and is meant for mostly the home pro industry, trying to help mean stream green design and just make the industry greener on the whole and maybe provide a bit of education for designers or home pros or speakers or whatever who are, who are trying to learn a little bit more. So that would be helpful to know what you're doing there. So,
Loni Brown (07:57):
So on my store, so I really focus on like certified organic types of products eco-friendly and really like, I would say bed and bath. So a lot of the like Finn finishings we, I do I do sell like carpet and rugs and things like that. And then for my design clients, I mean, it's, it's, I mean, I can source anything paint finishes you know, do you do custom built-ins? I mean, all kinds of things. But on my store, we're just, someone is maybe not a design client or just shopping. It's really those like finishings in terms of bedding and bath towels and mattresses and pillows and those types types of things. And I'm actually developing my own line of decorative pillows because in, and even selling on my store, I sell a lot of other brands and other other vendors with, with green. And eco-friendly a lot of the products, if you think, just the bedding and the bath products and rugs and just things like that. A lot of them are very earthy tones because I think that's the vibe of eco-friendly and green is very, I'm a granola
Erica Reiner (09:10):
Person. That's all. Yeah.
Loni Brown (09:14):
And a lot of people like that. But if we want to talk about going more mainstream there's just not a lot of color when it comes to eco-friendly like home decor. And so my line that I am actually manufacturing, as we speak is all about color. It's all about you don't have to sacrifice design and your style and vibrancy to, to go green and to go eco-friendly. And so a lot of the patterns and the designs that are in my products that I'm developing are colorful because that's, you know, people come to me and they're just like, I want to have my home a little more green. I want to reduce toxins. I want to have more sustainable, but just everything out there is kind of bland. And I'm like, I know I'm like, it's, you know, it it's a thing because people like that aesthetic, but you know, over the years there's been so much innovation around just the dyes and colors.
Loni Brown (10:12):
I mean, before in order to have like, you know, really natural products, you really couldn't use a lot of dyes just because the dies themselves were toxic. And there's just lots of chemicals that are introduced in the dying process. And and so it was hard to get really rich colors. Now though, it's, I mean, it's, it's a lot easier. I mean, I, I I'm even looking at packaging that's made with algae ink can, you know, there's just so much innovation when it comes to dyes now and color, so you can actually create and have products that are color rich and still eco-friendly and still non-toxic. So, so it's been really fun to work on that project and to be able, especially as a designer, to be able to bring color lots more color into the design. So so that's been fun
Erica Reiner (10:59):
Color. Amen. oh, so many thoughts. So yes, when I, when, Ooh, just at the beginning, like furniture, accessories, whatever, like you could only really find like like yeah, super granola stuff. Like there was no aesthetic attached to it, not knocking on the Amish, but it was all kind of like Amish style or early American style, like Oak furniture. And then over time, the attention to aesthetic and style has really increased. And, but also this like kind of like California modern casual situation and the white wash, everything is trending right now. So a lot things are Sam's color, which is so sad. I love color. You actually can't see in the background, but my walls are actually a really light green and they're not white. So I think that is a wonderful thing. And I think you really hit the nail on the head with like, just making sure that aesthetic, not that it comes first, but that it's right.
Erica Reiner (12:16):
Parallel there with the eco-friendly characteristics of a product. Like, I think I've talked about this on here before, but take oh, who does a good job of this take like Allbirds or Rothi [inaudible] or even Tom's was kind of like the vendor. I don't know why I chose all shoe companies right now, but they kind of paid attention to the aesthetic and also had a green or social component with it, which was the icing on the cake. There are going to be a small percentage of people who choose something that's eco-friendly first, but we're really the minority. And it doesn't apply to all Greenies in all circumstances because everyone has their criteria and their priority. So I just think it's so critical for people who are, and makers who are interested in the green space or greening things up that they really consider things that are selling factors and mainstream factors along with the green part of things, because it's just going to stay so niche and like, you know, tiny market share.
Erica Reiner (13:29):
And that is not what we want. We want things to be spread far and wide and mainstream because that'll have the biggest impact globally. This is a bit of a tangent, but I saw someone posting on some like eco Facebook group I'm in about like small green companies that sold out to bigger umbrella companies and like, oh, what a shame, blah, blah, blah. And I can certainly recognize that in the past, you know, maybe publicly owned companies or big companies might have like washed out some of the good things that started with a mom and pop shop where smaller brand. But I actually view that as being a good thing because they probably have huge distribution and marketing budgets too, as long as like the brand can stay in integrity and intact with what they're doing the first place, which is why they were bought out. That that's actually a really good thing because the more, the more people we can get to buy green, the more it'll push for even more innovations and more price drops and accessibility and access. So that was my professor Reiner lecture for the day, a little bit of a tangent, but I just think you hit upon a really good point. So congratulations on starting your own line. I can't wait to see all the colorful, fun stuff for your throw pillows. Are they going to be covered or inserts too?
Loni Brown (14:56):
So there's zippered covers and then and then I sell the inserts as well, but you can just buy, you know, they could just buy the cover if they want to mix and match, but it's all gots. It's all got certified and, yeah.
Erica Reiner (15:08):
Wonderful. so what do you want other designers to know that you have gained in your experience going through starting your businesses who might be thinking about going green or trying to educate themselves a little bit?
Loni Brown (15:30):
Yes. I would love people to know that it's, it's, it's not as hard as people think. Especially nowadays I think five years ago, 10 years ago, it was a lot harder just because you really had to search. And there, there wasn't this huge, like as big of a movement now though, I think especially even with the pandemic and COVID, I think just people are way more aware of their indoor environments. They're way more aware of toxins and chemicals and, you know, building up their immune systems. So, you know, I definitely have been seeing this shift to want to reduce toxins and even just groups and communities pop up with lots of people. I mean, some of the communities I'm in are, they're literally 20,000 people in these groups that are all wanting to like reduce toxins at home and all of that.
Loni Brown (16:29):
And so right now, I think I think letting people know that you can still have a really well-designed space and it's still be eco-friendly. I think that's what people, that's kind of this new wave of, of people knowing that, oh, I didn't realize I didn't have to sacrifice design. I didn't realize that there were actual designers out there that specialize in this. It's a great selling point. I think as industry and as professionals, to be able to offer this to your clients and even, you know, I've talked to other designers where they don't even market themselves as a green designer. They're like, I just market myself as a designer. And I just try to incorporate naturally, even if the client's not asking, I try to incorporate better products, like better building materials, better quality, you know, decor and finishes and things like that.
Loni Brown (17:25):
And they'll let them know, you know, these are some of the benefits of the product, but they don't, it's not that they're even wanting clients to seek it out from them. They're just offering this as a standard in their service. And which to me is great because I do think there's a lot of misconceptions around green design and just eco-friendly that it ha that it's like way more expensive and that the quality isn't as good as some of the standard conventional products and that's just not true anymore. And so I think that as an industry, there's not as many clients seeking this out because of some of those misconceptions. So as designers, we have to just offer this, we have to just make this a part of our practices so that we're just doing better for the planet and doing better for people.
Erica Reiner (18:13):
Mm. Yeah. I have heard of that as well. It was a vegan designer who I can't recall her name right now, so sorry about this. But she was saying someone was asking her on a different interview, like, like, what do you do if they want leather, like want something, this particular look. And she was like, I just don't even tell them, like I just sourced this feaux leather and it looks great and it's great quality and blah, blah, blah, blah. Now, what I will say is I've talked about this on here many times and interviewed an expert on this last season. I have a different take on the sustainability of leather and I actually think is really sustainable quality product to use. But that aside to your point, yes, I think people are just kind of like wrapping it in and that's a completely great way to go to you just set like your internal standard of what you're going to be looking for in suggesting to your client and away you go.
Erica Reiner (19:13):
Another thing I think would be really valuable for you to share is your experience because you had your own personal ground-up construction experience getting the contractor and being able to communicate your needs and your specs with that contractor. I don't know if I've talked about this on here yet, but I did something very similar. It was a ground up, but we did basically like a lot of gutting and construction to our place here in south LA. And I felt like I took every opportunity and, and did everything I could to make sure that the contractor and the foreman had my green spec sheet in regards to construction materials. Now this is outside of interior design. This is more of a, like of a green construction pro person or architect or like green coach, or like whatever you want to call yourself.
Erica Reiner (20:24):
But when you're a designer and about to start working with the contractor, and there are a few key things that you know about the building on envelope and toxicity, it was just about impossible to get them to read and adhere to my spec sheet. Now the quality, I mean, basically like the issues with the contractor is a different story, but I was surprised that in thinking I'm a designer, I can totally like project manage and communicate with them. I was surprised at how hard it was to get them to do these green things when they're so used to just turning out projects certain way that by the stuff that might already be in the truck, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I'd see like the caulking bottles in the trash in the trash can. And I'm like, that is not non-toxic. So I would, that was my experience I have learned from it. It was a very painful point for me, but I would love to know how you handled it and what that looked like for you.
Loni Brown (21:34):
Yes. So I worked with a major builder. So this is like a planned community. And so I worked as a major builder. So there, you know, for some of the things it was, it was honestly, some of it was out of my control. But for the things that I could control I just made sure I, they, we just talked about the products, you know, it, it wasn't I felt like, I couldn't just say here are my standards and go, I felt like I had to source the products. I had to say, like, this is what we're using for paint. This is what we're using for this. Like, you know, like, it's just, you buy
Erica Reiner (22:09):
Them or they bought them.
Loni Brown (22:11):
Oh, they bought them. I just, I just told them what to buy since
Erica Reiner (22:16):
I didn't do. And they ignored me.
Loni Brown (22:18):
Oh, they didn't know mine. I mean, I explained to them why, you know, why this was so important and I am, you know, and w you know, we just had that understanding and they they just, you know, they just used what I said and I was onsite. So I could actually see her, like using, you know, using the things I was going back and forth from San Francisco to Colorado. So that was a little difficult, but, but my husband was here weekly. Like he has, we moved here because his job relocated here. So he was actually already here working. So he would just come by and like, look at everything. But that part, you know, that part was was, it was definitely difficult. I feel like when I, my contractor that I use for all of like my built-ins and you know, I didn't have my actual builder do any of our built-ins.
Loni Brown (23:08):
I was like, I'm gonna have that con be completely done by my own contractor. So all of my built-ins and everything like that I worked with a contractor and he was already like, not completely green, but he was already like moving in that direct direction and really wanted to, to, to branch into this type of service. And so I was like, wow, this is a huge project. I'm like, he, we, we did all, all of the end caps on all of my stairwells. He did all of our built-ins. I mean, it was, it was a, he, he did all of our like custom master closets, you know, like, so it was huge, huge project for him, but I was like, I'm going to show you like all the materials that we're going to be using. And he, he also wanted to the ones that I was sourcing, he wanted to be sure that it was going to work for his level as well, just in terms of craftsmanship and making sure that was gonna be a solid product. And so we really got to partner on that, and that was a great experience. And he had the desire to like really want to go down this direction, because he was like, I have seen this kind of shift and people wanting this. So to be able to say that I've done these projects and I can offer this to people is great. And the paint that we ended up using, he had never used before. And he gave
Erica Reiner (24:23):
The paint a shout out real quick
Loni Brown (24:26):
This paint Safeco. Yeah. have you used it? Not that I can think of her. Okay. It's
Erica Reiner (24:34):
Like, you know, I ha I might have, sorry to interrupt you. I might have they're like primer.
Loni Brown (24:38):
Yeah. They have, they have a bunch of, they have a bunch of really great options. They even have an option where if you have a piece of furniture that is not, non-toxic like, it has like glue and formaldehyde in it. They actually have like a sealer that you can put over it that will just trap all that in there and minimize the offgassing. But he was really concerned that the that the, the paint wouldn't be test standard because he was like, oh, zero VOC, like low VOC is like, what are they using? There's no solvents, like, or what are they using for the solvent? You know, like he was just really, really nervous. And I was just like, look, I know you have a standard of like your, your product, but like, this is really important to me. I have tiny baby. Like, I just, I don't want the offgassing, you know, so he, he used it and he was like, this is amazing.
Loni Brown (25:26):
He was like, I'm going to start to use this as a standard for all of my clients, even when they don't ask, ask about it. And he said, it wasn't actually that much more expensive. So this was something that like, he's is now using for clients even when they don't ask. And he was like, it's even better for me as a, as a craftsman because I'm not breathing in all of those fumes. I'm like, absolutely. So, so that was just an example of a really great relationship that started with, with the contractor who had a little bit of a desire and really wanted to learn as they went. And so that was a perfect, I think, relationship to be able to work on this big project.
Erica Reiner (26:03):
I'm so glad I asked that because my story is a horrible story, but your story was so uplifting. That's such a perfect example, and I couldn't have gotten a better response. So that's beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Okay. So what just quickly in like really brief kind of condensed version, what are your, like top three go tos for green design when you're working with a client
Loni Brown (26:32):
Like process strategy? Yeah.
Erica Reiner (26:35):
You could, I, it could be that, or it could be like your top tips in terms of what kind of products you like to okay. Either way. So,
Loni Brown (26:45):
So when it comes to finishes, so think stains paints those types of things. I really focus on low VOC or zero VOC. I really specialize in baby environments. So I'm working on my projects that I work on our homes with small children, like nurseries and the rest of the home too, but, but baby rooms and nurseries and things like that. So for me, like, you know, low VOC, zero VOC finishes is like a non-negotiable like, that is just, you know and then when it comes to furniture, I like, I prefer solid wood furniture with those zero VOC or low VOC finishes. And then it's really important that the glues and resins that are used also are low VOC so that they don't have that extra formaldehyde that's in them or, or any kind of solvents that are added. And there's some certifications that I'll look for, but, but there are a lot of brands that may not have the certifications but they still have quality products.
Loni Brown (27:47):
So it's just reaching out to this point and just, you know, when I was, when when I was working on my own project, I I really care about the aesthetic and the design of the furniture too. And so I found some really, I was like looking into some really good brands. And so I would just ask them, like, send me your material, data safety sheets. I can look at the finishes that are used. I can look at the glues and the residents that are using. I can determine if, you know, if they're low VOC or not, because some of these, especially some of these smaller furniture companies, they don't have the budget to do all of the certifications. And so you can find some quality products that that would meet the standards that don't have those certifications that, that could still work.
Loni Brown (28:29):
And so usually when I have clients that have smaller budgets, that's usually the route I would go because those, those companies are going to have all of the certifications that you're looking for. They are going to be a little bit more expensive. So so the, so I would say that those are, those are the big things for me. And then and then I really am not a fan of synthetic, anything, to be honest. I don't like synthetic rugs, synthetic carpets, synthetic materials for like sofas and things like that. A lot of them are like performance fabric, but it's synthetic and they're made with petrochemicals. They, a lot of times have extra flame retardants added to them. So I'm just not a fan of those. So I prefer to go the natural fiber route without, you know, any of the flame retardants or pesticides and things like that.
Erica Reiner (29:15):
So that's a great top three, my quick follow-up question for your second one about like, just send me the data sheet. Are you then cross referencing the ingredients, so to speak with like declare or like, where are you crossroad? You Google that I am, or like, how does, yeah, yeah.
Loni Brown (29:32):
I will usually go down a rabbit hole. I will look up on declare first, cause that's usually easy easy, quick search. And then a lot times they just list the product. They're like, this is the finish that we use. So then I will go to that company's site and see if I can find out more about the finish and and ask, you know, ask them very specific pointed questions because if you just say like, oh, is this non-toxic they're going to be like, yeah. And so like, when I was looking at baby furniture, they'd be like, yeah, it's baby furniture. Like we're all certified. And when they say certified, they just mean, they just mean the like CPSC, like certification where your baby's not going to like get strangled or like, they don't mean like, they don't mean like not off gassing, formaldehyde.
Loni Brown (30:17):
Right. So a lot of the baby manufacturers that will say like, oh, we're certified and we're, you know, our products are, you know, certified, safe and all that, but safest, subjective and relative. So they, they mean safe. Meaning your H your kid's head, isn't going to get stuck between this like that. Right. So, so I have to actually, I have to actually ask them like, no, no, do, does your product have formaldehyde in it? And they'll be like, oh, there's no formaldehyde. Why would there be formaldehyde? And I'm like, well, send me your data sheet. Let me know, like, let me take a look. And sure enough, a lot of times there would be formaldehyde and yeah,
Erica Reiner (30:52):
Because it's just like some customer service or sales rep who was like, crapped on how to sell and like their product lines we'll have the manufacturing, the, one of the problems with manufacturing, I think like being far removed for a lot of things that we're importing in the us is like, there's just an informational disconnect, let alone like the socioeconomic debate about it or whatever, but it's just kind of like same thing with our food industry. Like when you're so removed from how the sausage is made, like, it's just, you can't really expect the sales people who are making whatever minimum wage to like, no for you. With the exception of a few great companies and hopefully more to, more to come up to the market. So really good points again. There has been some debate about the very heavy, difficult topic of sudden infant death syndrome and what causes that. And I'm curious what you've come across in your research because as a mom, and also as now a practitioner I have seen like scholarly, you know, write-ups on both sides of the issue. One was an older study from New Zealand that had like super conclusive results from, you know, like the kind of mattress, et cetera. And then I've seen a lot of stuff like debunking that are trying to debunk it. So just wondering if you had any thoughts, it's a hard topic. But let me know what you've seen. Yeah.
Loni Brown (32:29):
So, I mean, there's no disputing the firmness of the mattress like that has definitely been proven, but whether or not the mattress is organic or not, offgassing chemicals or flame retardants. I mean, it's still, it's still, it's still like, kind of out there, but my, my take on this is there is not a lot of knowledge around SIDS just in general. Right. They, they they can't really explain it. They know that certain things can contribute or, you know, increase the risk or decrease the risk. But in terms of definitive, like this causes this, it's just, it's just hard. So so I say that because it makes a point for both sides, right? The side that's like, this is impacting this. It's like, we don't know. And the side that says, well, this might not be impacting this, or it's, it's not conclusive. They also don't know.
Loni Brown (33:23):
So I, I look at things that they have proven, like, you know, when a tiny newborn baby has been exposed to smoke, right. They're breathing in that smoke, their lungs are still developing that as linked to increased sits. Right. And they've done some studies on that and that's impacting the respiratory system. So in my point of view, anything else that is going to impact the respiratory system, like offgassing of toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens already. Right. We can't save it. That does not increase the chance of CITs. And so we don't want to be the Guinea pigs. And so that's why I err on the side of telling clients that like, yes, like if you have a safer mattress, it is going to decrease the risk of sits. Like it just it's, your baby's not breathing in known carcinogens. Right. and so even if that isn't conclusive or, you know, proven I think that the link is strong enough to make the case that we should go down this route until we're proven otherwise.
Erica Reiner (34:30):
Well, thank you for your take on that. I appreciate it. And for my last easy question, where is one place that anyone listening, who wants to contact, you can find you
Loni Brown (34:42):
I would say my website, which is just entirely eco.com. And like I have other ways to contact me from the website, like all my social handles and all of that, but that is where I hang out, I frequently will put content out on the site, educational resources products. It's just all the good stuff. Wonderful.
Erica Reiner (35:07):
Well, this has been really enlightening and so fun. And I'm so glad that we got to reconnect in this small world of eco warrior stuff. So thank you so much for taking the time out of your day and sharing your story with us. And I'm sure we'll catch up soon, maybe on clubhouse. Yes.