Jun. 17 2020
All that glitters is not gold—but a lot of your computer hardware is. That’s one thing Nikki Reed (yes, that Nikki Reed) discovered when creating BaYou With Love, a jewelry company that aims to have “the smallest footprint possible” while making a huge impact with style and sustainability. To help recycle trashed tech, Nikki formed a partnership with Dell to recycle the precious metals from electronic circuit boards, earning a Fast Company nomination for innovation and design (which put her small eco-startup on par with brands like Dyson, Apple, and Nike).
Two years later, BaYou With Love is still creating fine jewelry that’s truly sustainable… and actually chic. The brand has also launched sleepwear and yoga lines, from home, during a pandemic.
Nikki called us from home in Los Angeles to talk about living with a lower eco-impact, shooting her own campaigns, and the joy of DIY wrapping paper. (Which actually sounds really fun…)
What’s something nobody told you about starting an eco-friendly company?
That slow growth is a really important aspect of sustainability! When you’re starting a brand, people seem to think success equals getting bigger, faster. And maybe it seems really counterintuitive to say this, but I don’t want BaYou With Love to grow into some massive, mega company… I believe there’s a way to achieve success without having to follow what I think has been drilled into all business owners, which is, “more, more, more, faster, faster, faster!”
What kind of magic happens when you decide to keep it small?
So many things, but as an example, right now, we produce locally in the US. That’s a really important aspect of the business for me. If we grew too fast, I would not be able to keep the integrity and moral compass within the company. Producing locally means I get to drive to the factory. I know everyone working on the line. I know the factory prioritizes reusing water, which is so important with jewelry.
I know denim production can use a ton of water. I never knew that about jewelry!
There’s so much water waste in normal jewelry production, especially with precious metals.
Tell me everything.
If you think about it, we heat and cool metal all day long. That’s how gold becomes malleable. You use water to heat and cool it. But most of that water? It gets thrown out immediately, and with the factory we use, we can prioritize the water system to make sure we’re not just dumping it out. And that’s a real credit to this small, local, California factory. I can’t tell you how many times I walk in there with an idea, and the owner says, “We’ve never done this but we’re willing to try.”
How has running your business changed since COVID-19?
That’s the other great thing about being a small business… I think our business model hasn’t changed since the pandemic. It’s been really important to make sure I pay our employees. We have a team of hardworking, wonderful women. I want to make sure they can all remain on board. We’ve been able to stay on course with sales.
What’s one misconception about “sustainability”?
I think now, sustainability is a thing of the past. Now it’s not enough to be sustainable; it’s about being regenerative. And I don’t have the solution right now. I can’t snap my fingers and say, “How do we not just reuse but regenerate our world for the better?” I’m taking this time to get creative and brainstorm what that means. It’s no longer enough to sustain the fashion world. We have to make it better on all fronts. We have to realize the future of fashion is the now of fashion.
You’re famous for living extremely mindfully. Does that mean you reuse everything that comes into your house?
We try! Jewelry, clothing, household items, décor, rugs… if I don’t give it a second life, I know it goes into a landfill. That seems extreme, but I try my absolute best to think about that! The mindset of human beings that things are disposable, like the paper around your plastic straw or your to-go container… Do you know they’re being recycled? Can you find out? I repurpose a lot. I’m really conscious of saying “no” to things coming into my house if I know we can’t reuse or dispose of them responsibly.
How do extended family dinners go?
I think we’re pretty aligned, which is great! My whole family functions like this. My uncle has been like a raw vegan yogi who teaches gardening for my whole life. My dad was an architect and for my birthday last year, he brought me rain barrels! Everyone’s on board with that way of living. Sometimes I understand, you don’t want to take the joy out of life or be sanctimonious. That’s counterproductive to the mission of living as well as you can. But for example, for Christmas, my mother-in-law hand-sewed wrapping paper using scrap burlap. Now when people wrap their gifts, I’m like, “Give back the ‘paper’ so I can use it again! Or you use it again!” It gets everybody thinking really creatively.
You’ve been a movie star since you were 15. Has it been hard to pivot away from Hollywood?
I think the ultimate goal of human existence is, as you get older, let’s hope your work inspires you to become a better person. The work I’m doing now gets me out of bed the way nothing else has. I’m not closing the door on acting; I had a wonderful time and I loved my career. But once, I feared I wouldn’t be creative, and I’m more creatively fulfilled now than I’ve ever been. I manage, oversee, and spearhead every division of BaYou With Love. I shoot all the product photography; I build the pages; I design each piece. I feel fulfilled because I know different sides of myself. Now I’m writing again, because I do all the copy on our site! I’m learning photography, and I had no idea I would feel so deeply connected to it! I feel more connected to my camera than I ever imagined, even though I’m on the other side of it. I also suddenly became a hand model, which is really interesting. It’s much harder than anyone knows! Plus, I learn new tech and apps for designing; I’m learning programming, which to me is insane. Who knew I could do that?! I spend my nights taking courses on Google and Facebook ads. My whole brain is on fire right now. I love that.