Throw Me Somethin’ Green
A look at some of the big players in the movement toward local, eco-friendly throws.
Beads and other popular throws from China aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But from its very beginning, besides all the fun, Carnival was about bringing money to the city. The goal to push toward local throws will begin to put more and more money back into the pockets of our local artists and entrepreneurs.
“We have so much talent in Louisiana, and it’s essential that we nurture that talent by providing opportunities for it to grow,” says Aimee Smallwood, CEO of Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation, an organization that advocates for the state’s cultural workers.
“Imagine the millions of dollars spent on Carnival throws coming into our own economy versus China,” says Smallwood, “and you will see real impact on real people.”
I Heart Louisiana offers an array of medallions hand-crafted from paper clay, a substance made from pulp that has the density of wood. Her clients include Krewe du Vieux and Krewe of Zulu.
I Heart Louisiana
Founder of the Krewe of Kolossos and The Bearded Oysters Mardi Gras dance troupe, Katrina Brees has entrenched herself into the Mardi Gras scene. Her latest venture is I Heart Louisiana, a company she founded in 2012 with the goal of making more local Mardi Gras throws available and affordable to krewes and revelers.
“I was troubled by the trash and all the money going toward China,” she says. “I felt as though it was taking away from our culture and arts.”
Brees scours Louisiana to find locally produced throws from Louisiana artists, farms and factories. She also produces hand-crafted beads and medallions from paper clay, which is made from pulp and has the density of wood.
Brees uses iconic New Orleans symbols such as the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board logo to give her medallions a local flair. A minimum order of 50 necklaces sells for $150. Her clients include big names, including Krewe du Vieux and Krewe of Zulu, and she continues to see her business grow.
“Because we are local, we can respond faster to trends,” she says. “We can work in the krewe’s themes, and we get their inside jokes.”
I Heart Louisiana has one employee, but Brees hires more as needed during the height of the season. She says that her company provides more than $100,000 to artists to create and produce her company’s throws.
Brees fervently hopes that future Carnivals become much more local and artistic and much less dependent on plastic: “I want Mardi Gras to be more Cirque du Soleil and less Disney,” she says.
The Krewe of Freret
In late 2011, seven young Loyola graduates wanted to create a new kind of krewe. Their mission, “to create jobs, support our local artists, and shift away from petroleum-based beads that harm our citizens, our wildlife, and our environment.”
“We wanted to enjoy all the decadence and creative expression of Mardi Gras while assuming a role of stewardship for our culture, planet and people,” says Greg Rhoades, one of Freret’s founding members.
Because of that desire, the Krewe of Freret wanted a signature throw that wasn’t made of plastic and that had local input. To do this, each member is given 40 plain white papier-mâché masks to decorate.
Last year, the krewe also threw 60,000 doubloons from the New Orleans Mint, coloring books, magnets, medallions and necklaces made by I Heart Louisiana.
“We want to be a parade that is known for being environmentally conscious,” Rhoades says. “We want to recycle floats and costumes and throw local throws. I’ve made it my goal this year to throw all local items and I am hoping others in the krewe will follow my example. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you have to start somewhere.”
The krewe knows its environmentally friendly throws are catching on because parade-goers proudly share their catches on social media using the hashtag #BeMardiGras.
ZomBeads is a socially conscious, community-driven business that serves as a revenue stream for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental health and justice organization. Its throws have made appearances in numerous parades.
ZomBeads’ local line of products is made exclusively through partnerships with artists and manufacturers in the Gulf Coast region, and the company offers a wide variety of throws, including soda can bracelets and drink cozies made from recycled bras. The one product ZomBeads offers that isn’t local is the hand-rolled paper beads, which are made from recycled magazine pages and produced in Uganda through a partnership with an organization that provides impoverished women a path to financial security. The fashion-forward necklaces are roughly 30 inches long, and a gross of beads (144) sells for $2.25 per strand.
“It’s taken some time, but we now have a product line we are truly proud of,” says Anne Rolfes, founding director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “We feel like we are pioneers in the field of affordable, locally made specialty throws.”
Created by Patti Dunn, a 10-year veteran pack and luggage designer, Tchoup Industries creates backpacks, shoulder bags and accessories from repurposed materials from a 650-square-foot building and employs six part-time employees. The company’s sales in 2015 are estimated to hit $90,000.
Dunn also creates throws for ZomBeads out of real nutria fur and rice sacks.
“Our mission is to build eco-conscious, locally sourced bags and accessories that support a thriving local community,” Dunn says. “ZomBeads has a very similar mission, and we are honored to be a part of the green Mardi Gras movement.”