Greener Goods just recently moved to Champaign from their Mahomet location. Before sitting down with Tara Allen, the owner, I took stock of my own approach to sustainability. I’ve made a few kitchen swaps for things like plastic wrap and cleaners, I reuse jars, and my family has a little compost bin. But to be honest “going green” always seemed a little too hard. I thought it would be boring soaps and natural deodorants that never seem to work. And If you share that mindset, it can be hard to figure out where to start. Luckily for us, Allen makes things incredibly easy and approachable. As you’ll read in our interview, making small changes can add up and it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. I was honestly shocked by how much cute stuff I could (and did) buy. Allen does such an amazing job of representing the diverse world of eco-friendly products like kid toys, paints, and a chocolate bar I can’t stop thinking about. Greener Goods is full of beautiful and thoughtful products, that just happen to be really good for the environment.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Smile Politely: Who are you and what do you do?
Tara Allen: My name is Tara Allen. And I own greener goods, shop and refillery here in downtown Champaign. I’m so proud to be in downtown.
SP: You just recently moved your shop here from Mahomet. Did your family move here too?
Allen: We actually did the opposite. Years ago when my daughter was 10 months old, we moved from Champaign to Mahomet for the schools. And right before Covid I just felt like I needed my own space. My husband had open hours and so he was home a lot and he really likes working from our house and my daughter was home and so I just wanted my own space. I opened the shop, kind of accidentally. I had recently gotten started with Poshmark, it was something I could do that was just mine and I could do it out of the house. And it grew and I really liked it and so I needed space to store the clothing and photograph it and just have my own time and my own space. So I went and looked at a space in Mahomet and I was told that it needed to be retail to be in that specific location within the building. And so that’s how Greener Goods was born.
SP: So did you add a lot of products all at once?
Allen: Oh God no! I had no idea what I was doing. I had a month to remodel a classroom, it was yellow with the giant chalkboards and cork boards. So I used my Poshmark seed money, I had like $3,500 that I had saved from selling secondhand clothes and I used that to turn it into a space. I had no idea what the cost of inventory was going to be. Thank God for a friend of mine from across the street that owned a shop, she gave me some pieces that she had outgrown and I love hand-me-downs and I still have some of them in the shop. If it wasn’t for her, my space would not have looked like a retail space and it was bare bones but it got the job done, it was a good introduction. I had some very major low waste staples to get people started. And I had my refillery, I just had four detergents and soaps on the refillery but people got the idea. Then two and a half weeks later Covid happened and we had to shelter in place so I had a year to figure it out.
SP: Did you still operate?
Allen: I couldn’t, I had an online presence so people could order and I would porch drop. But the way I made it through was there was a drop bin in Mahomet and they were not collecting and so people would just take their garbage bags full of clothing and put it in the parking lot and so every day I would go by there and I would pick those bags up because they’re going to end up in the landfill. And I put it out there, if you’re purging I will pick up your clothes for free and nothing will end up in the landfill. So I sent pieces into thread up because they will recycle clothing they can’t use. If it was really good I would sell it on Poshmark and that’s how I got through Covid and could pay my rent.
SP: That’s very resourceful.
Allen: I love it, it’s like treasure hunting, I love going through people’s clothing.
SP: What drew you to sustainability?
Allen: It started with Poshmark. There is a whole subsection of resellers that do it for the sustainability aspect. I think people, myself included, figure it’s clothing, if it goes to the landfill, even though there are so many avenues to take so it doesn’t end up in the landfill people often just throw things away because it’s easier and way more convenient than giving it to salt and light or a charity shop. I didn’t realize that clothing, even natural fibers like cotton, take decades to break down. And artificial or synthetic fibers like polyester, that’s basically downcycled plastic, they don’t ever break down or they’ll break down into microplastics which we know isn’t awesome. Around the same time, I came across a green peace video and also a broken episode on Netflix called the recycling sham that was also a big catalyst.
SP: For a lot of people, going green can feel intimidating or out of reach. What would you tell someone who might be nervous or feel like they can’t afford to make these swaps?
Allen: One thing at a time. I understand looking in the bathroom and just seeing plastic everywhere, it’s overwhelming. Start with the question, “What are you out of?” When you’re out of cotton swabs or qtips. Just look for a sustainable replacement. Whether its bamboo swabs or a reusable swab ( i love a reusable). When you’re out of ziploc bags, find a reusable. When you’re out of trash bags, find a compostable one. There are lots of ways to do it for free if you just use what you have, that’s like one of the cardinal rules about going low waste. Sometimes with sustainable swaps the upfront cost is daunting. But buy well, and make it last.
SP: What does your eco-friendly morning routine look like?
Allen: I’m so glad you asked. When I shower. I wash my hair with a bar shampoo and a bar conditioner that I carry so it’s completely plastic free. I use bar soap. So there’s no plastic bottles for shampoo, conditioner, or body wash. I use a plant based soap saver exfoliating cloth so there’s no plastic loofa. I brush my teeth with toothpaste tablets so there’s no plastic there. I still use a plastic toothbrush, because I can’t find a bamboo one that I love. To me, I come from a place of saving plastic tubes from going into the landfill instead of being being critical that you are still using a plastic toothbrush. Skin care is really hard. I bought an aveda face wash, years ago, from the salon and it lasted a really long time and now I’m out so I realized I have to find a sustainable alternative because it’s in a plastic bottle. So I now have facewash on the refillery because I needed it. And now I can bring that bottle in and just refill it. And that is the same thing for makeup remover, I needed a sustainable makeup remover. Makeup is a little more challenging. Bare minerals is a great line because they do a take back program of their containers for free so when I need a new make up I tend to go for bare minerals, I also carry a makeup line in here that does the same.
SP: Why do you think it’s important to incorporate sustainability into our everyday lives?
Allen: Because we all live here. Whatever you believe, we are altering the environment. So we are emitting things into the air that were not there 100 or 150 years ago. We all share one planet. We all produce waste. I believe in the power of one. And I think that if everyone got on the same page and we all made a little effort to reduce the amount of waste that we produce the world would be a better place, and maybe that’s super idealistic but that’s where I come from.
SP: There are so many labels nowadays (organic, cruelty free, carbon neural, ect). What qualifies an item for your shop?
Allen: There is so much greenwashing, which is so irritating. Greenwashing is when a company spends more time talking about how eco friendly they are than actually being eco friendly. I do look for certifications — cruelty free, leaping bunny certified — I love a company that is made in the USA or made in Europe because they seem to have a higher sustainable standards. Fair wage is important to me, Certified B corporations are one I look for, because those companies have had to prove that they do right by their people and do right by their environment to earn that label. I do have a lot of things that do come from Asia because bamboo is produced there. But I will reach out to companies to ask if their manufacturer is certified in any way to make sure that the people and the environment get a fair shake. They assure me they do, I choose to believe them. I’ve learned this from being in business for 3 years, I’ll ask “where are your products made” and if they just say China and that’s it then I know they aren’t paying attention to what is happening, and it could be fine but they don’t really care if it’s fine, so I’m gonna go somewhere else.
SP: Do you have any favorite items in your shop?
Allen: I do. I love a shampoo bar. I was terrified of switching, which is so stupid, because you can always go back. I have a liquid on the refillery, so if the bar is not for you, that’s okay. It was so weird to switch to a bar, but I love it and I’ve never gone back. I love my reusable swab for my ears and that one’s polarizing, but you just wash it between uses, it’s not any grosser than a toothbrush. You just use it and wash it and its there for you the next time. Oh and laundry sheets those are like the low waste gateway drug. I’m lazy low-waster so laundry sheets are great because you just throw them in there, you don’t have to measure, and you can also throw them in your suitcase.
SP: How can we teach our kids to be more sustainable?
Allen: It’s so easy. Two things I’m raising my daughter to do which I’m so proud of, is shop locally, support small businesses. And two, be more sustainable. Something we can teach them to do is use a refillable container. [My daughter] uses a refillable plastic container and we’ve been refilling it for years, so when it’s out, we don’t go buy a new one she just says it’s time for a refill. If we can just raise our kids to focus more on reducing, reusing, and refilling vs don’t litter and recycle, the next generation could really change the world.
SP: If you had a free day to yourself in Champaign-Urbana, how would you spend it?
Allen: I would go to all the little local shops that I haven’t been able to go to yet. I’ve been so embraced here, it’s been so nice. All of the shopkeepers have been coming, they’ve been buying things, they’ve been dropping off gifts, and delivering flowers, it’s been so sweet. ‘I would go to the Jane Addams book store, that has been on my list for a long time.
SP: Do you have a favorite place in Champaign?
Allen: It’s hard to go wrong with Fire Doll where you get a handmade candle, it’s hard to go wrong with Golden Weather Goods, and my daughter and husband are obsessed with Live Action games.
110 S Neil.
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Su noon to 5 p.m.