Irene M. Villaespin on Making the Eco Shift to Sustainable Living
As Founder and CEO of The Eco Shift, Irene M. Villaespin shares how she, as a single mom, raises her kids to join her on her journey to shift to more sustainable living.
Sustainable living is a buzzword that has been making its rounds, with people offering eco-friendly alternatives to everyday items, discouraging single-use plastic, and the like. But in reality, sustainability encompasses a way of living and the choices that are made, which put our environment first.
With that, families have this perception that sustainable living needs to be perfect, but Irene M. Villaespin, the Founder and CEO of The Eco Shift, says otherwise. “It can get overwhelming because there are so many things we want to change. Start with one thing at a time. Look around your house: find the one thing you can make more sustainable and then you move forward,” she explains.
Besides the demand for perfection, sustainable living—or doing The Eco Shift—becomes more difficult with the few options that adhere to the standards. “That’s why it gets so pricey,” she adds. “There is still a low demand, hence sustainable supplies are more expensive.”
“But that’s why I got into the business too: to offer more choices. I hope that other companies too are making plans and are trying to become more sustainable in their manufacturing practices. That way, more families can do the eco shift, too.”
Every Journey Starts With a Single Step
Although a strong advocate for sustainable living now, Irene admits that her eco shift was relatively recent. “It was my best friend who got me into it. I started around 2017, but she was the one who introduced me to skipping the straw,” Irene explains.
“And that was the first thing that we got rid of at home,” she adds. “We stopped buying commercial shampoo bottles. Then, whenever we go to the grocery, we bring our own eco-bags. It’s a step-by-step thing!”
These practices she does are also something she encourages in her store—offering a swap and refill for home care essentials instead of the typical bottled or packaged products. But like every transitioning journey, there’s a lot of trial and error involved, which Irene assures is okay if there are some methods that don’t work with our lifestyles.
“You can go vegan if you want to be more sustainable but for me, I couldn’t give up eating meat,” she admits with a laugh. “So, I compromised: I instead eat meat only once a week.”
She adds, “Sometimes, going sustainable helps you save money too. After looking at all the ingredients or materials that they put into certain things and knowing how they end up, it kind of stops me from buying those things. So not only do I remain sustainable; but, I save money too!”
“It’s also why when I started making my hair care products like our [the Eco Shift] conditioner bars: they’re silicone-free. It helps out girls with curly hair too!”
As a speaker in schools about the environment and sustainability, she reveals how heartwarming it is to see the kids instead encouraging their parents to become less wasteful in their practices. “I realized at one point that my message should have been more for the kids,” Irene adds. “So I also started creating products that I know would use on my kids.”
Raising Ladies for the Earth
As a single mom to two young ladies ages 21 and 18, Irene reveals that much of the difficulty of transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle can be because of fashion trends. “But my eldest daughter found a way to work around that: thrifting—or buying preloved clothes,” she beams, also admitting that she sometimes gets caught engaging in fast fashion.
“She’s kind of the savior in the family to slow us down in engaging in fast fashion. My younger one and I have the same style and also the same build so it’s easy for us to share clothes,” she explains.
One of the other trends that her daughters also follow and cause a lot of waste at home, she reveals, is personal care products. “There’s a trend called Clean Beauty that’s going around now. It means checking the products and their packaging, and seeing if the ingredients are truly sustainable in practice,” she explains.
“It’s why most of the Eco Shift’s skincare products are usually in glass bottles,” she adds. “That way, some people make money out of it when they recycle it for us or in bars [that] leave nothing behind.”
How Sustainability and Parenting Share the Same Goal
Although she’s still a long way from being zero-waste, Irene admits that getting there is what encourages her to keep going. Those small things can yield such big results, Irene says. “Even when we’re just segregating at home, composting our food waste, or giving our bottles and aluminum cans to scrap traders and sellers, we’re not just saving the earth, but helping families make a living too.”
What’s more, knowing how being sustainable can help other parents become better has led her to pay it forward with the very thing that started her sustainable journey. “For every shampoo bar you buy, the Eco Shift will be able to send kids to school. We do this through Awesome Humans Fund, and we’ve sent 10 scholars to school this year!”
Ultimately, she says the real key to getting families to be more sustainable is to show how well we [as parents] can cope with the eco shift. “The kids’ first and real influencers are the parents; so whatever they see—even if it’s their grandmother or whoever is in the house—they will emulate [them]. But going plastic-free isn’t just about us but them too. We want them to experience the same things we had before.”
“Becoming sustainable isn’t really for us [parents]: it’s more for our kids. We want to leave them a better world even though we’re no longer in it,” she ends.
Photos by Ed Simon of KLIQ, Inc.