Just in time for the holiday gift-hunting season, nearly 10,000 green-minded shoppers brought their wallets to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Dec. 12-14 in search of the perfect eco-friendly present, and over 200 vendors of everything from cosmetics, candles, coffee and clothes to shoes and solar chargers were happy to oblige. Live music kept attendees entertained, chefs from M Café de Chaya, O! Burger and the Vegan Joint served up veggie fare and speakers offered insightful commentary on the state of the environmental movement, politics, and the world.

It was standing room only for the Saturday address and Q&A with author, political pundit and Huffington Post doyenne Arianna Huffington, who is passionate about environmental issues. Asked what she believes is the biggest eco problem of the moment and how we can fix it, Huffington started off by offering the statistic that there are more than nine million asthmatic children in this country, including the future first-daughter, Malia Obama.

“I think we need to realize that it starts with our own homes -- the products we bring into our homes, the carpet we have,” she says, noting that she recently greened her residence, removing carpeting and eliminating toxic products from the kitchen and laundry room, “very simple things you can do at a ground level that I suggest Michelle Obama do in the White House,” says Huffington. “I feel very strongly about all that, the food we eat, the pesticides in the food, all those environmental causes that are unequivocally affecting our health. That’s my priority when it comes to ecological problems.”

Huffington, who signed copies of her books after speaking, wasn’t the only recognizable personality at the festival. Brady Bunch vet Susan Olsen was there, representing Precious Paws animal rescue, and so were reps from Mayron’s Good Baby -- a salve developed by Thirtysomething actress Melanie Mayron and her chemist dad. Other celebs with products to promote included former X-Files actor Dean Haglund, inventor of a laptop-cooling pad called Chill Pak, Blake Mycoskie, a contestant on The Amazing Race whose company TOMS Shoes donates footwear to needy kids, and model Josie Maran, founder of an eponymous natural cosmetics line.

“I grew up in a very socially and environmentally conscious family,” begins Maran, formerly under contract to Maybelline. “I was always asking makeup artists for healthy products and they said no, they’d never be good enough for a shoot, they wouldn’t last.” Not one to take no for an answer, Maran brought samples of her favorite products and colors to different labs. “I knew exactly what I didn’t want in the products. It’s all healthy -- as natural and organic as possible, and the packaging is biodegradable. It’s made from corn,” she points out. “People are ready for healthy, high-end, cool makeup that’s good for you and is going to work.”

The line, sold at Sephora, Barney’s and josiemarancosmetics.com, includes Bear Naked Wipes makeup remover, a package of biodegradable pads. Maran donates 5% of the proceeds from its sales to saving polar bears via the National Resources Defense Council. She hopes to expand her line with hair and possibly children’s products, and as the mother of a two-year-old girl she has a built-in focus group at home -- one that has a unique way of trying things out. “She eats all the makeup,” says Maran.

Susan Olsen, best known for playing Cindy Brady on TV’s The Brady Bunch, devotes a lot of her time these days to fostering orphaned kittens and puppies for Precious Paws, bottle-feeding the animals until they’re weaned and placed in good homes. “I like to use organic pet foods and when I’m weaning the kittens I make my own baby food from ethical meats. I have to make sure that the environment is safe for them so we try to keep the chemicals down. I use green cleaning products -- I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s,” says Olsen, who keeps her home green in other ways as well.

“Everything that’s plastic has to have a second life, get reused,” Olsen declares. “There’s no Styrofoam allowed in the house. We recycle paper, and try not to use more than one paper towel at a time. My son is 12, and we’re definitely trying to make him more aware of being green. He knows the wrath of mom when you leave appliances and lights on.”

With attendance up in its second year, there are plans to expand Eco Gift to other cities, likely beginning with New York, in the future.


For more info: http://www.ecogift.com/

Notes from Santa Monica’s Eco Gift festival
Just in time for the holiday gift-hunting season, nearly 10,000 green-minded shoppers brought their wallets to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Dec. 12-14 i