What Big Girls Do

What Big Girls Do: Veritey

October 16, 2013

Amy and Adrienne

Say hello to Adrienne Peres (right) and Amy Ziff (left), two women who saw a need and did something about it. In January, they launched Veritey, an online resource for people looking for the best “clean” products for themselves and their families. The site caught my attention because I’m always looking for the healthiest stuff I can find, which is much easier said than done. Whether it’s researching natural makeup, non-toxic cleaning products, gifts for my kids, or water filters, I want resources I can trust that will point me in the right direction — and Veritey looks to be one of those places. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Adrienne about her mission to help people like you and me find the best products out there!

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Zoe Saint-Paul: Adrienne, have you always been interested in health and wellness? Were you always diligent about the products you purchased?

Adrienne Peres: Yes, I have, although my interest has evolved over the years. Like many people, I spent a considerable amount of time incorporating a healthy diet and exercise routine into my life, as well as regular visits to the doctor. However, over the past few years, I’ve thought much more deeply about “product health” — what I use for me, my family, my home — and how it impacts our health and our environment. I try hard to be a conscientious consumer, but it’s so hard to understand what products are truly “good” versus just marketing hype (a.k.a. “greenwashing”).

Veritey’s mission is ambitious: You run a wide range of product reviews and are building a community on the site. What inspired you to launch Veritey, and what are your hopes for it?

Veritey was created because two moms couldn’t find easy, concise information about what products are good and effective. Amy and I worked together for 10 years, first at an e-commerce startup in New York and then at Travelocity. We would often talk about the issues we faced in researching products and how much time it took. In addition, my family has a long history of breast cancer, and I’m very interested in finding ways to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease. A healthy lifestyle — food, exercise, and smart product choices — all contribute to reducing risk. Our hope for Veritey is to build awareness that we are all responsible for being smart consumers and for what we allow into our homes and lives.

Veritey Founders

How does Veritey differ from other product review sites out there — such as Environmental Working Group (EWG), GoodGuide, Mighty Nest, etc.?

Great question! We look at ourselves as curators. Many of the sites out there are quite massive, and it’s difficult to find an answer to the question, “What should I buy?” Veritey does just that. We have a rigorous vetting process that involves researching, analyzing, and testing every product (we have 50 separate criteria, plus a Science and Expert Panel to inform our research), so that we can say with certainty that a product is not only good but effective.

What should I be most concerned about when I’m deciding on a product?

Be concerned about what’s not on the label! For example, cosmetics companies don’t have to tell us what all the ingredients are: flavor, fragrance, and “trade secret” ingredients are exempt. Even though the FDA does require certain facts and legal grounds for a company to have something considered a trade secret, the company can add “and other ingredients” at the end of the ingredient declaration. Ingredient disclosure laws don’t apply to products used at “professional establishments or samples distributed free of charge,” and companies don’t have to declare a “masking agent” (an ingredient used to cover up a nasty smell) if it is “in a product at an insignificant level” — although this level is not defined. (For additional clarification, see the FDA’s site.) We recommend looking for conscientious manufacturers that are very upfront about disclosing exactly what’s in a product, as well as their sourcing and production process.

Do you have a team of reviewers? How do you select the products you review?

Amy and I are the final reviewers and arbiters of what goes on the site. We do have a group of interns and volunteers who help us get through some of the vetting process, and we have a community of Veritey fans and followers who are always recommending new products that they love. We select products based on categories where we see a strong need. Veritey launched with product density in the categories of Baby & Kids, Bath & Body, Beauty, and Household Cleaners.

What goes into determining the rating a product receives?

We look at many different criteria, ranging from ingredients to sourcing to production process to labor practices to product efficacy. We’ve built a database of thousands of chemicals and ingredients, which helps us quickly verify whether an ingredient passes our screening. When we have questions about a particular factor, we contact the manufacturer. We also rely on our Science and Expert panel, which is composed of leading doctors, scientists, and researchers. This panel informs the way we think about some of the thornier questions that come up from our investigations.

Amy and Adrienne2

How long does it take between hearing about a product and getting a review up on the site?

It depends. Sometimes the process is very fast, such as when manufacturers are clear and upfront about their products and have been certified by upstanding entities (the Non-GMO Project is one example). Other times, it can take a while because we really dig in on ingredients and processes, and that research is time-consuming. It’s one of the reasons Veritey started in the first place: It’s challenging to do this research on your own.

Can you share some of your favorite products — the ones you think are the best of the best?

To be honest, we love all of the products on our site! We’ve tested and tried and used these products over time, so we’re fans of whatever we feature. And you can read about “Why We Love It” with every single product.

Where do you see Veritey in five years?

We’d love to spark a movement that shifts market share to companies who are pioneering a purer path. By voting with our dollars, we can make manufacturers accountable for their products. And that level of accountability needs to extend to our government as well: We want to see laws enacted that provide transparency and accountability for products — laws that are often found in Canada and Europe but not here in our own country. We’re entrepreneurs, so we see this combination of capitalism and idealism (what we’ve termed “Capidealism”TM) as the best way to move the needle.

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Thank you, Adrienne, for not only telling us about Veritey, but for devoting your time and talents to helping us all find healthier products. Friends, I’ve signed up for Veritey’s newsletter and joined the site so I can ask questions and share information; check it out for yourself and keep Veritey in mind when you’re looking for the best stuff for you and your family!

By the way, this is the third installment of my “What Big Girls Do” series; you can read the other two here and here. The story behind this series is this: Whenever I’m about to do something that scares the pants off me, I whisper a prayer and say to myself, “Zoe, this is what big girls do.” And then I make the leap. It always helps! And that’s the spirit I hope to capture with this series. I interview women who are doing creative, courageous, inspiring things, and I hope their stories ignite your own dreams.

Images via Adrienne Peres

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Laura James Art

Before Christmas, I was lamenting how hard it is to find sacred art — or secular art, for that matter — that is both inclusive and tasteful. As parents to two Ethiopian girls, it’s especially important to my husband and me to surround our family with art that expresses diversity and inclusivity.

A SlowMama reader pointed me to artist Laura James’s work — and I’m so grateful she did. Laura is a Brooklyn-based artist using her talents, vision, and experience to create sacred and secular modern art that is both beautiful and inclusive. I’m so thrilled to be able to share some of Laura’s story and work here at SlowMama. Enjoy!

Laura James

Zoe Saint-Paul: It’s so interesting to me that you’ve chosen the Ethiopian Christian art style to express much of your religious work — and you are Antiguan, not Ethiopian. How did you decide on this style, and how did you learn it? 

Laura James: I have a Caribbean heritage and consider myself to be Caribbean; my parents raised us with the culture and customs, the food…growing up in Bed-Stuy, it was all there. But I’m definitely American — born and raised in Brooklyn. I’ve never been to Ethiopia, but I’m a child of the African diaspora and America, so it is all mine to play with.

When I was around 18 years old, I was walking in my neighborhood and came upon a book — Ethiopian Magic Scrolls in a botanica window. I was attracted to the faces — the eyes especially — and the red, gold, and green colors. The details and the simplicity of the art really stood out. I decided to make a painting of nine guardian angels using pieces of images I saw there, and this is the first painting I did in that style.  

Laura James

Guardian Angels by Laura James

I went in search of more Ethiopian Art, and there wasn’t much, but I came across an old catalog from an exhibit in Germany and a photography book called African Ark, where I got to see a wide range of the style.

When it comes to sacred art, I’m amazed — and frustrated — that inclusive images of saints and biblical figures are still so hard to find — especially given the multicultural landscape of our society. Why is this, do you think?  

Well, unfortunately, I think it’s the belief in white supremacy that some people of all races have — the idea that it’s just better to be white. It’s still prevalent, and kind of funny to say “still,” considering the history of caste and class systems, slavery, apartheid, etc., but the acceptance of these systems went on for so long that it’s naive for us to think that in 100 years (or less) those attitudes would completely disappear. It’s up to those of us who realize that white supremacy is not true to show other images and rally on the side of equality for all people.

In your secular art, are there themes you stick to, or you feel drawn to exploring? 

I enjoy making paintings that, on the surface, might not appear to have a deep meaning, like Mother and Daughter, where I just work with the design, color, and lines. But I also like to make paintings about race and class issues, slavery, nannies, and domestic workers — which is really part of my story growing up, since my mother was both of those latter things. We paint what we know about, right? Painting is a good way for an artist to resolve internal conflicts, to “get it out.”

Laura James Art

Mother and Daughter by Laura James

What do you hope your art will bring to those who encounter it?  

This is a hard question, because I work with different themes, but ultimately, I want people to see something beautiful, even if it’s a hard subject. Beyond that, I love when a viewer personally identifies with something they see in my work; human beings share so many of the same experiences, no matter the long list of “differences” we’re supposed to have.

Laura James Art

Grandmother by Laura James

Do you have any personal favorites among your pieces, or paintings that hold special meaning for you? 

I have many pieces that are dear, but Grandmother definitely stands out. I saw a statuette in Puerto Rico of a very black woman with seven little girls clinging to her skirt, all identical, and they looked just like her. It occurred to me that you can find every race of people in the Caribbean, so I painted the grandmother with little girls representing different races. To me it shows that we’re all connected, and that it’s a natural thing — after all, mankind started in Africa, so we can assume that the first grandmother was African.

Laura James Art

Also, I just completed 18 paintings for my first children’s book, Anna Carries Water, written by Olive Senior and published by Tradewinds Books. It was a lot of work, but I’m so pleased with the way the pictures turned out. It will be released in September, so I haven’t seen the completed project yet, but I’m really looking forward to it! Olive Senior is a Jamaican-Canadian author, and the story is set in Jamaica.

Tell me a little bit about the Stations for Sassier Project in Haiti. 

A Haitian donor wanted to sponsor an art project in Haiti, so I was asked to come up with an idea. I thought a rendition of the 14 Stations of the Cross would have the most impact, as all Catholic churches are supposed to have the Stations, and they would be something all parishioners would have access to and be able to use. In Haiti (like many places in the world), black images of biblical figures are not popular, but the parishioners want to see something different, to be able to identify more closely with these religious figures, and I was happy to help.

Ultimately, the donor fell through, but since we already engaged the parishioners in Sassier and knew they were excited about it, my partner (Patricia Brintle of From Here to Haiti) suggested we do an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds necessary to complete the project. I resisted the idea for a while — I didn’t think fundraising would be fun — but we did it, and we raised over $13,000. I’m currently working on the 14 paintings, which we hope to have in Haiti this fall. The plan is to have the Stations paraded through the town. We still need money to have the work transported and installed in Haiti, so we’re still accepting donations!

How has your work as an artist changed over the years?

As far as the sacred work, I’ve started to paint images of stories from other religious traditions, like Buddhism and Islam. As the years roll on, more people see my work; it’s great when you don’t have to try quite as hard to be noticed!

Laura James Art

The Ascension of the Prophet Muhammed Into Heaven by Laura James 

What’s the bravest thing you’ve done as an artist?

The bravest thing is probably just being crazy enough to continue doing my art full-time all these years. It’s not an easy thing to do; the images you make are constantly judged by viewers and prospective collectors, and you can think, “Will people like this? Oh, I hope they like this!” — but at some point, usually midway through making the painting, you think, “I like it, so that will have to do!”

It’s brave to have the confidence to do your own thing, and go against the grain, and this is not something I say smugly. Many people have that confidence, and it’s the only thing that will keep the world alive!

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Thank you, Laura, for being brave enough to be who you are and to share it with the rest of us in your gorgeous art. Can’t wait for your children’s book to come out!

Friends, if you’re interested in viewing or buying any of Laura’s work, please visit her website and send her an email — she’ll forward a list of her available work. Her limited-edition prints are for sale at art.com.

Images supplied by Laura James; photo of Laura by Gordon Neville

Note from Zoe: In case you didn’t catch the first interview in my “What Big Girls Do” series, here’s the history behind it: Whenever I’m about to do something that scares the pants off me, I whisper a prayer and say to myself, “Zoe, this is what big girls do.” And then I step off the ledge. I don’t know why, but it always helps. That’s the spirit I hope to capture with this series. There are women out there doing creative, courageous, inspiring things, and  I hope their stories will ignite your own dreams and help you find greater meaning right where you are. 

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I’m excited to announce a new interview series today called “What Big Girls Do.” Whenever I’m about to do something that scares the pants off me — like getting on a jet to Ethiopia to adopt two orphans, or even just walking into an intimidating meeting — I whisper a prayer and say to myself, “Zoe, this is what big girls do.” And then I step off the ledge. I don’t know why, but the little pep talk always helps!

That’s the spirit I hope to capture with this series. There are women out there doing creative, courageous, inspiring things — making the world a better place while staying true to their values. I hope these interviews will inspire your own dreams and help you find greater meaning right where you are. 

LydaliJacarandaSpatulas

Sometimes you come across people doing things you’d love to do, if only you could be two people. I felt this way when I read about Lydali and the women behind it. In 2011, friends Ali Price and Lydia Harter brought their talents together to launch an online boutique of one-of-a-kind curated items from artisans in remote areas of the world. Read on to learn more — and be sure to visit their site. (I already have my eye on some bracelets and a bag!)

Zoe Saint-Paul: What inspired you and Lydia to launch Lydali? 

Ali Price: Lydia is a dear friend, and for years we talked about starting a business together. About a year ago, I visited Indonesia with my old job, and while I was in Bali, I came across some artisans a friend was working with who were making beautiful products — but they were having trouble selling them outside of local markets. My background is in microfinance and microenterprise, and as I thought about it, I realized this group in Bali was experiencing the same challenges of getting their products and story out there as other groups I’d worked with or heard about in the past.

On the long flight back from Jakarta to San Francisco, I started drawing out a plan for a store that brought together beautiful products from around the world with incredible stories behind them, and as soon as I got home, Lydia and I met up to talk about it. Her background is in merchandising and buying home furnishings, so it felt like a great fit for both of us. Lydia signed on right away, and we started getting to work.

LydaliAdiaArtisans4

Where did the name come from?

It’s actually a combination of our names — Lydia and Ali — and pronounced “Li-dolly.” We had such a hard time naming our business! We had a big party at my apartment and invited a bunch of friends over to contribute ideas to a pot throughout the night. In the end, all the names we liked were already taken by other businesses, or else the URLs were owned and being sold at crazy prices. If we wanted to have something totally unique and not add “shop” or “design” to the end of our name, we had to make up a word — so we did. It sounds like it could have a meaning in another language, which we like.

Can you tell us how you find your producers? And how you choose your countries? 

So far, we’ve been working like crazy to make connections with anyone and everyone associated with artisans. When we first started, I was on the phone all the time with people in Asia and Africa, trying to get a sense of the artisan landscape and the products available. Before leaving to focus fully on Lydali, I worked at Kiva for several years, so I have a lot of great connections around the world, which has been awesome. Now we have a team of three volunteers focused on different regions who are working with us to find artisans who make great products.

LydaliShupacaArtisans4

Our main stipulation (aside from good design) is that the artisans we work with are well-paid and even offered additional services like child care, continuing education, savings accounts, health care, etc. Up to this point, we’ve only worked with producers in developing countries and emerging markets. We love great stories, so if we hear about how a certain artisan learned to weave from her grandmother, or a craftsman is teaching his son woodworking so they can work together, we’re more inclined to work with them.

Lydia and I have done some travel to meet with artisans: She went to Turkey last fall, I went to Jordan over Christmas, and I’m going to Guatemala soon. We’re also planning a big trip to India this summer (fingers crossed that we can make it work!).

Your shop items are carefully curated. What criteria do you use to select them? 

We look for high-quality design, and everything we sell is something that we’d love to wear or use or have in our homes. We’re also focused solely on women’s accessories and home furnishings right now, so that allows us to focus on finding beautiful items in a few specific categories.

Lydali Goods

How would you describe your own personal style? 

I’d describe it as “eclectic global chic.” I love things that are clean and crisp, but I also love bright pops of color and unexpected, unique shapes and designs. Before starting Lydali, I enjoyed picking up products when I traveled and finding places for them in my home or my wardrobe. Now I’m doing that on a larger scale, and I love it!

What are the biggest challenges to running this kind of business?

Ali+Lydia

When we started the business, both Lydia and I were already working full-time jobs, which meant that we worked a lot of long hours on nights and weekends. Another big challenge is that many artisan groups we want to work with are small and remote, so we’re not always able to place orders and count on their being made and shipped right away. We’re actually waiting on one order now from South Africa that we’ve been trying to get sent to us for the last 3 months! It’s been such an interesting learning experience, and there are new challenges to tackle every day.

What’s next for Lydali? What are some of your hopes and dreams for it?

In the longer term, we would love to help Lydali grow to be a large retailer, working with thousands of small artisan producers around the world and allowing them to access a larger market for their products. My biggest dream is that, as we seek to tell the stories of the people behind each product we sell, people will start training themselves to think more and more about the humans behind the products they buy, no matter where they’re shopping. If Lydali can help to make consumers more mindful of how their spending affects others, that will feel like a great success to me!

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Thanks so much to Ali for talking with me! Lydali’s focus on quality craftsmanship, beauty, and working with local artisans is inspiring for those of us trying to live slower lives in whatever way we can. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for Lydali — and I’m sure I won’t be the only keeping up with their gorgeous products!

Images: Ali Price (Ali is on left in the photo above; her partner, Lydia, is on the right.)

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