John Cole, EcoXOXO
John Cole, owner of the new EcoXOXO store, represents a new breed of entrepreneur, the social entrepreneur. He lives what he sells and what he sells is only sustainable merchandise, repurposed into designer made goods, much of it from developing countries imported under fair trade international agreements. His American made merchandise is from a collection of designers as dedicated as he to the repurposing concept.
The store is believed to be the first of its kind in LA and possibly in the US. Born in Manhattan, John grew up in Los Angeles, but returned to New York City after getting his art history degree at Cal-State Northridge. Once there he worked as a designer for a number of companies before opening his own stores in the fashionable Tribeca area of Manhattan and in Chicagoís Lincoln Park. Committed to sustainable living, he lives near Farmers Market and is determined to live without a car and use public transit.
We stopped by shortly after Johnís store opened and had a chat with him:
I was very confident this idea would work here at the Original Farmers Market. Iíd tested it in New York where, in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, we had these cool, independent markets with a mixture of food and merchandise stalls. Itís an alternative way to shop. It gets people away from the large malls into more personal way of shopping.
I pick the store merchandise very carefully. I ask myself ďwhat wasnít here last year,Ē thatís fashion. Fashion means change, so I look for fresh, new items. I go to trade shows all over the country, walk through like a robot. After 30 years in this business, I just know what will work, I canít explain it, I just know.
I grew up in Brentwood before it was a wealthy suburb. It was so incredible, we lived on Sky Lane atop Tigertail Road with a 180 degree view of LA. After I graduated from Cal State, I moved to Manhattan. I wanted to be a designer and I did a bunch of career, corporate jobs. One of the most notable was when the late Warner LeRoy, owner of the Tavern on the Green (a very posh, well known Manhattan restaurant), wanted to create a catalog of merchandise for his clientele. I was in charge of product development. The job I enjoyed the most, though, was in New Jersey for a motorcycle jacket factory as VP of sales and merchandising. I reinvented the MC jacket in bright colors, fake furs, and silk screened tattoo designs on leather long before it was so popular.
I got tired of that work and decided to open my own luxury bag and accessories store in Tribeca. I did very well, introducing the new international designers. I expanded to Lincoln Park in Chicago but a convergence of a weakening economy and in the aftermath of 9/11 pretty much sent the stores into a slide. I tried saving them, but it didnít work out. I spent some time figuring out the kind of store I wanted next and EcoXOXO was the new concept.
As a customer and as a retailer, I always purchased repurposed, sustainable merchandise, so when the luxury level collapsed, I knew it was time for a store that reflects peopleís desire to be economical and socially conscious. As far as I know, Iím among the first fashion stores to embrace this as a full merchandising concept -- a store with only repurposed items and sustainable materials.
I have found wonderful, visionary artists. Itís a new industry, made of young entrepreneurial designers from all over the world. Many of them live in developing countries where they think ďHow can I make money from the trash on the street?Ē Thatís where much of this trend originated because what else are you going to do with a pile of tires at the end of your street?
My favorite items, for now, are the baskets created by Mexican prisoners, made from electrical wire. Whatís wonderful about these items is that the prisonersí compensation goes directly to their wives and children, taking the burden off of the local government. Itís a full cycle of social good, itís sustainable and itís helping people. You canít ask for more than that. Other items I really like are our bowls made from old, colored vinyl records.
And the best selling items are wine glasses made from old Coke bottles. Theyíve been cut in half and even though the brand name is gone, people know what they are. Everyone who comes in gets what the store is about, they get that the mats are made from leftover flip flops, the totes are repurposed from seat belts, the little photobook covers are made out of California license plates. Even though times are tough, even if they donít buy for themselves, they still want to give a well designed, unique gift and when they give something from this store, theyíre helping to save the Earth. Thatís a pretty wonderful gift.
EcoXOXO stall # 328, is open Monday Through Friday, 9am-9pm, Saturday, 9am-8pm and Sunday, 10am-7pm. Phone number: 323-333-4583