In my earlier post on Archipod "garden offices," I experienced waves of nostalgia thinking about the unique-for-the-1980s-dad-works-from-home-scenario in the popular sitcom, Growing Pains. Now, here’s another blast from the past that may spark reminiscence for some: “party plan” multi-level marketing.

Conceived in the 1950s by saleswoman/hostess with the mostess Brownie Wise, the party plan revolves around heavily female fêtes where socializing merges with direct sales. It, of course, got its start with those indispensable plastic containers, Tupperware. Growing up, I don’t recall any raging Tupperware Parties being thrown in my neighborhood but I do remember Discovery Toys-hawking hostesses living among us.

The party plan functions best when niche, fun-to-demo items — toys (for both kids and consulting adults) cosmetics, lingerie, jewelry, food storage containers — are offered. This is what makes Zola Goods, a Georgia-based direct sales company following the home party model so interesting … all of the products sold by Zola “Coordinators” are eco-friendly in one way or another.

A recent Zola Goods press release reads:

Zola’s product line is carefully determined using the triple bottom line value system that focuses on People, Planet, and Profit. Featured are some of the best eco-friendly products on the market including, energy and water saving devices, reusable bags, recycled paper goods and soy candles. In addition to environmental benefits, many of these products will also save people money.
Let’s just hope Zola parties are thrown in LEED-certified houses where sustainable finger foods and fair trade coffee is served.

In addition to offering only planet-bettering products, Zola (which means “piece of Earth” in Italian) claims to differ from traditional direct sales outfits in other ways: there are no selling or recruiting requirements and the company is just as driven by grassroots environmental nonprofits as it is by supplemental money making opportunities. Basically, Zola Goods is direct selling with a purpose — a hybrid of eco-empowerment and education and old-fashioned entrepreneurship. And in a distinctly modern twist, Green America-approved Zola Goods references Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point, not the words of party plan pioneer Brownie Wise, on its website.

Says Zola Goods founder Beth Remmes:

People may be confused, suffer from green fatigue, or be under the impression that their contributions would be insignificant, so they do not act. By educating people about the green movement in a fun, non-political forum, Zola empowers people to realize that individual actions are imperative to the health of our environment, and lays the foundation for people to be more open to large scale change, such as alternative energy.
I suggest having a gander at the Zola website for more info on the company's mission and how exactly this eco-aware direct sales scheme operates. You can also peruse the actual goods sold by Zola “Coordinators.” Don’t expect to find anything mind-blowing but you will find home staples like compostable trash bags, water-saving showerheads, and energy-saving power strips. There are also several multi-item kits

Personally, any sort of social event where the bottom line is a commission — no matter how good the cause of delicious the hors d'œuvres — gives me pause. Whether hosting or attending, it's just not my proverbial cup of tea. The same goes with sales-based green consultation services like Green Irene. But the fact that such a throwback concept like the party plan has moved into eco-altruistic, Malcolm Gladwell-quoting territory is not such a bad thing. What do you think? If you were invited to a Zola Goods party would you consider attending? 

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Zola Goods: Sell green, make green
Like Tupperware parties of yore, Zola Goods follows a home party model of direct selling. However, Zola "Coordinators" peddle planet-bettering products, not pla