Giving Beyond the Box, founded by Professor Sandra Enos, organized a new launch this month called Hope Strikes Back. The box is focused on smaller businesses of color in our community. It’s important to acknowledge and support smaller, minority-owned businesses and we decide to shed light on these amazing vendors you should support months after the release of Hope Strikes Back.
Ana is the owner of Green Tenderfoot, a retailer committed to supplying zero-waste alternatives to your everyday staple items. She recognized a gap in the zero-waste, bulk shopping sphere outside of Los Angeles, and took action. We interviewed Ana to better understand her story and her purpose!
How did your business concept come to be? Was it a lifelong goal or a newer passion?
A zero waste refill shop was a newer passion for me. Living in California for two years really changed my mindset on the amount of trash we produce. This was something I never really thought about before. The organization I worked for really taught me about many social justice issues, and it grew a passion in me to want to learn more about other issues happening in our world. My initial goal was to learn how to recycle better but in the midst of my research I learned how our recycling system doesn’t work well and was introduced to a better way to live life-zero waste.
Were your loved ones supportive of your endeavor?
At first, I was very extreme with my new passion of being zero waste. It took a toll on me and my family’s relationship because I expected them to create no trash, I learned that it’s not about creating no trash but being mindful of the things we buy and cherishing as long as we can. When I started my business my family was confused by such concept of a “Refill station” and doing “pop-ups” but they were supportive nonetheless.
What were some of your challenges in your first few months of business? What do you wish you knew when you started?
The first biggest challenge for me was starting the business and not having anywhere to present it. I did not have a space and it seemed like no one wanted to host Green Tenderfoot (GTF) for a pop-up. It took a while until I found a spot to host my first pop-up and after that, it got the ball rolling for other places to host us. One thing I wish I knew when I got started is related to the financial side of things. I have no background in business and had zero guidance so I just did what I thought looked right, which leads me to my biggest regret- not actively searching for a financial advisor from the beginning. It would have saved me a lot of time and mistakes that I am paying for now.
What were some major accomplishments your business has achieved?
Two major accomplishments that we have recently achieved was reaching 1,000 refills. Every time a customer refills, they are saving a plastic bottle from ending up in our waterways, landfills or oceans. Another big accomplishment for us was being able to raise $410 in customer sales to donate to the oil spill in Mauritius and the wildfires in California.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of being a business owner is seeing how many people walk into our shop to try and make sustainable switches every day. It feels good to provide products where people can be conscious consumers and answer all the questions customers have in regards to why should (they) buy this item instead of the generic one. I just love educating people on sustainability and I get to do that every time I open the shop.
What is so important about supporting smaller, local, minority-owned businesses?
To me the most important part about shopping small is not supporting the huge corporations that are ruining our planet. Big businesses are actively causing environmental damage, and destroying marginalized communities in this country and around the globe. When you support small businesses, you are essentially boycotting these businesses, supporting the working class, supporting your local economy and instead of giving money to big corps that contribute to environmental racism, you are uplifting black and brown voices and dreams.
Can you recall an impactful story that shaped your business, the way you operate, your leadership style, etc.?
When I was living in Los Angeles, I went to a zero waste workshop. When I looked around me, I was the only person of color in this room. When I first started Green Tenderfoot as a blog, I followed many sustainability accounts and they all had one thing in common- it was ran by white folks. I think seeing how “gentrified” the space of sustainability truly was, even though black and brown folks are the most environmentally compromised race, really pushed me to want to be the person to start this business.
I could have sat around and waited for someone else to start a zero waste store in Rhode Island. All I wanted was to be able to locally shop zero waste, but I felt in me that it was MY duty as a Latina woman to bring color to this space, and invite folks that look like me into this space. I can proudly say it has turned out exactly how I pictured it. I welcome all races, colors and ethnicities but what makes me truly proud is when I see black and brown folks asking questions, being curious and purchasing these all natural and zero waste products. I know this is the case because the people I know want to support me, and in doing so they learn so much more than they were prepared too.
What advice would you give future entrepreneurs?
My advice to all entrepreneurs is to rip the Band-Aid and just go for it. That is exactly what I did! Things are not perfect. I am constantly learning new things, making mistakes and putting out fires, but even if it takes you 5 years to prepare, you are still going to have the same experience. So take time to plan, but don’t plan too much, because then you will never do it. So literally, just start!