Updated: May 25, 2021
Earth Sunflower - Making a global impact with plastic-free essentials
By: Krysta Kearney
For some, it takes a whole life’s journey to realize where their passions lie. Typically, in America, either later in one’s career or post-retirement, people take a reflection on their life’s work, finally understanding their worth, and then start doing something that they’re passionate about. People will call it their second career, a spiritual calling, or their encore career. Something that can supply a continual income, has a greater personal meaning and most likely a social impact. So why don’t most figure this out until later on, that there is value (and satisfaction) in doing what you love? Why not make your passions, your work? It takes belief in yourself to turn your hobbies into income and confidence to share and emanate your passions to others.
“It’s so funny how all of it’s true, it’s just like, do what you love! If you love to garden, make a badass blog, sell packets of seeds...start a killer Instagram page about your seed packets and your garden. Or, be a hairstylist. Whatever it is! People, they have their day job and then they have what they like to do. I think more and more people are starting to evolve where they are combining the two or just starting their own business. It’s so important, it’s the only thing that keeps me going every day, the fact that I love what I’m doing. Don’t wait until your 60 to do what you love.”
Fecteau is a woman of her own words. As a young entrepreneur, It hasn’t taken her a long life journey to understand what makes her happy, what she wants to do in life, and how to take that, to help better the world and the people who live in it. In a short amount of time, she has traveled and seen more of the world than most would see in their lifetime...or multiple lifetimes, at that! With her footprint having trekked all around the world, her life experiences combined with mental and spiritual awakenings have brought her to where she is today. Already, she has managed to make a large impact both on global and local levels.
Although the idea had been seeded sometime before, Earth Sunflower, a sustainable eco-business sprouted on August 1st, 2018. Earth Sunflower creates eco-friendly, non-toxic, sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics. They focus on responsibly sourcing products that are sustainable and ethically made primarily by locals in India and Southeast Asia.
Currently, she has about 13 products that can be found both through the Earth Sunflower website and Etsy as well as various retailers around the northeast, including co-ops, natural food stores, and gift shops. Her best-sellers are organic cotton produce and shopping bags. All products are reusable, sustainable, non-toxic and BPA-free. You can also find cutlery sets, both stainless steel and bamboo. The organic bamboo sets are made by both women and men in Bali, Indonesia. By shopping at Earth Sunflower, not only are you helping the environment but are also supporting communities that are trying to provide both for themselves and their families.
At 18, Fecteau left upstate NY to go to college at Arcadia University, in Philadelphia PA initially for photojournalism, as her goal was to become a photographer, taking photos of refugee camps. This requires a lot of traveling which led her to be interested in international studies, eventually receiving her bachelor’s degree. She knew early on, that she wanted to make an impact. During college, she was able to travel the world with other students, studying abroad, volunteering, and holding a variety of different internships, all of which were humanitarian work.
“I got to live in India for 6 months, Tanzania for 6 months, I got to go to Sierra Leone and Mexico. Some of these places that most middle-class Americans don’t go to. I had this interest that I wanted to see what those places were like.”
While visiting these countries she saw two very big extremes. One, being poverty, which was very hard to see firsthand, it’s a true crisis. Witnessing the disparity amongst the communities in these countries was incredibly eye opening. The second, seeing massive amounts of plastic pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and disease-ridden animals. These major issues and the absence of economic means often come hand in hand with each other. There are some countries that have been in a poverty trap for decades, if not centuries.
The work she did while studying abroad was very impactful. Such as in Tanzania, she worked at an orphanage. Fecteau said it was tough. These orphans were young kids that didn’t have anywhere to go and just a mere chance of being adopted. While in India, she had an internship in the red light district in Pune, at an organization that worked directly with sex workers. At the time, she was 19 and wanted to become a trauma counselor. She asked the program director if she could interview 12 sex workers to see their mental health states and if they would be interested in speaking to a trauma counselor. She had a translator and together, they would talk to sex workers. Some women wouldn’t want to talk to her whereas many opened right up. They had been trafficked, some even by their own immediate family members. This often led to them finding themselves stuck in brothels. In a way, they become prisoners owing to a never-ending debt that had been created by brothel owners, never having been true in the first place. Many have HIV/AIDS, and aren’t welcome home because they’ve lost their virginity before marriage. The organization helped women get medical ID cards and did regular HIV/AIDS testing. It was opportunities like these that set the tone for the rest of her career.
She recalls one experience of visiting a brothel with the director. It was a very small room with two benches where the ladies sat. “They were teasing me, for my hair and stuff...saying things like, ‘Oh, I like your skin...but it was all in Hindi.” Behind the benches were what looked like a few run-down bathroom stalls. This is where the women did their work. “That was shocking to me because I had this vision of where there are private rooms, it’s not like that!” Then the brothel owner came out and started talking in Hindi with the Director, which eventually led to him screaming and the director pulling Fecteau out of the brothel. Turns out, the brothel owner was inquiring about how much she cost and that he wanted to buy her. The director felt horrible about her being put in that position. There is only so much she could really do to help them, which is hard on her sometimes, even today. To see life like this and wanting to help, being there to help... but only being able to do so much without jeopardizing her own life.
After college, she decided to stay in Pittsburgh, PA and worked mainly with Refugees and Asylum Seekers, primarily from West Africa and the Middle East. Here, she would help them get ID cards, social security and personally bring them to various places, such as the DMV. She would show them simple tasks, like how to ride a bus and go through the grocery line. Basically, she was a primary resource in helping them get acclimated to being in the united states. Then, she decided to get a certificate to teach English as a second language in foreign countries. She moved to places like Prague, Germany and Brussels. This job allowed her to travel Europe and have an income while helping others, teaching the next generation. After about a year and a half, she decided it was time to move back to the states for various personal reasons. As rewarding as the experience was, it was hard on her own and she knew it was time to make a career move and possibly settle somewhere.
“I wanted to do something that served the planet and humanity. I wanted to use this incarnation to further...just do something good, do something that makes my time here worth being here. I always knew that was the mission but I never knew how to fleet that mission, how to accomplish that. So I thought it was humanitarian work, I thought it was gonna be working with refugees, then I thought it was teaching English…I just could never get a job.”
Fecteau moved back to her hometown, of Saratoga Springs, NY. She was thankful for this time, as it gave her a chance to be closer to her family again. Just after moving back to the states, her father got cancer and later passed. Being home allowed her to not only work on herself personally but her career as well. Thankful, she was able to find a management position at a local metaphysical store, called ‘Tushita Heaven’, where they sell crystals, incense, Buddhas, tapestries, and more. She managed this store for four years, up until 2019. While she was here, she was still teaching English and managing full-time. As much as she loved the job, it wasn’t fulfilling her at a higher level, in a way where she felt like she was giving back. One day she was out to dinner and had an epiphany.
At dinner she continued to go on and on about how annoying it is, that the straws aren’t recyclable, that they are made from fossil fuel, and that no one should be drinking out of such things, it didn’t make any sense! This moment in a way changed the course of her life. The person she was with was basically like, ‘Well if you have such a passion for it, why don’t you do something about it?’ He was right, she has always had a drive towards environmental issues and the anti-plastic movement, so why not do something about it?
Thus began her first sustainable venture, Earth’s Last Straw. It’s where the foundation of Earth Sunflower started. Earth’s Last Straw was a campaign where the mission was to reduce plastic straw use. Facteau went on foot to local restaurants, advocating for the environment, for them to switch from plastic to paper or stainless steel straws. In 2017, when she first started, there was only one place in Saratoga that offered paper straws, a local natural food store. As one could imagine, it was very challenging. Not everyone grasped the concept, especially when it came to the price. Plastic straws are so much cheaper, which made it hard for restaurant owners and managers to see the value. Initially, it was a slow start, then people started to understand the ethics and support the mission. Earth’s Last straw got a ton of media coverage which helped spread the message. Finally, she felt like she was doing something that she loved and that a difference was being made.
One day, her husband said, ‘Why don’t you just sell straws. You’re doing free work for these other companies, why don’t you just sell your own straws?’ She had experience managing retail, so why not? Fecteau decided to go all in, hence Earth Sunflower was born. It became more and more apparent that it’s where her passions were, so in 2019 she stopped fully working in the store. She knew she had to, every time she was at the store she was daydreaming about Earth Sunflower.
Now, she says she finally feels like she is in the groove. The amount that she has grown her business in such a short time is truly remarkable. With Earth Sunflower approaching its two-year mark, she has high hopes for a bright future ahead. While staying true to her mission, it is important to uphold the quality of the product and also educate the consumers on sustainable living practices. Now, with 13 products she plans to focus on what is doing well, rather than expanding into more products. Yes, many people may use reusable straws but a small portion of Americans are using reusable grocery bags, cotton makeup rounds, and soap saver bags.
“In terms of the future, I just recently decided I’m going to focus on wholesale because e-commerce, it’s a hard game to play. Like Amazon, it’s no joke. The prices you can’t beat, the two-day shipping you can’t beat, the free shipping, you can’t do. I was putting so much money into Facebook ads, and google ads and it was just not working.”
Her primary focus is getting Earth Sunflower into various retail outlets. Now, you can find her products outside of New York borders and across the northeast. What started as wanting a career in photojournalism has come full circle. Now, by producing and selling sustainable everyday goods, she is fulfilling her passion to help the environment and humanity.
My mom says I was always very vocal. I’m the youngest of 5, so I always felt like I had to fight to be heard or fight to have attention, or I always wanted to hang out with the boys. I always felt the need to be more mature than I was and I always had an opinion. I am someone that has an opinion and is going to share their opinion! I got beat up a lot and teased a lot, it gives you thick skin.”
Fecteau has always been a bit of a fierce female, with spunk and gumption. With all her life experiences, an abundance of travel, and a pathway of multiple careers, Fecteau has found herself centered, and in harmony with Earth Sunflower. Always having been on a pursuit to help others, she is now able to help artisans support their families and contribute to creating a more sustainable future. Without having gone to over 25 countries, she wouldn’t have known this is part of her purpose in life. We salute Fecteau for taking the leap in her efforts to help our world. We are truly in an environmental crisis and everyone can make small changes to do their part to not only help the present but to make a livable future for generations to come.
Q + A
Q: What helps you push through life’s ventures?
“I’m always just up for the adventure. I never have to give myself pep talks, I just do it. I guess it’s something I’ve always been blessed to have as a character trait. I’ve always had really strong friendships, I think having those bonds with people really helps keep you going.”
Q: What calms you?
“For me, the purest way to connect is just a walk in the woods. It’s just the happiest I’ve ever felt, this feeling of total connection, mind, body, spirit, really it’s walking mediation.” That’s my medication.
Q: Any advice or words of wisdom?
“Just do it. Put the shame and the nervousness in the back of your mind and realize everyone is thinking about themselves. People worry so much about what other people think about themselves, it’s like, just screw it, just do it…and it will probably work out. My dad always said the worst they’re gonna say is no.”
Q: Any advice for women?
“Just don’t let it eat you up, you have your skin and you’re gonna be in it till you die so you might as well love it, you might as well rock it and you might as well be confident and you might as well offer something good to the world because half the time no one is thinking about you, you’re in your own head, I call it, (In Buddhism I loved the term), “The monkey mind”. Its this monkey in your head, its talking to you over and over...its all in your head! Id say to women, love yourself, love your skin because your rocking it you know, and just be empowered in that because that's’ all you got. All you got is yourself so you might as well work with it.”
“So many people in my life have called me bossy, it drives me insane and I think to myself, would you EVER say that to a man?”
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