When it comes to running an environmentally-conscious business, there’s one shop in Terrace that’s been ahead of the trend for decades.
Sidewalkers, owned by Lori Merrill, is being recognized by Plastic Free Terrace as a guide to local businesses on how to become eco-friendly.
“It’s in my bones to just be aware of my footprint and how you use the land, and how you operate in your community,” says Merrill. “I am your absolute local-vore.”
From eliminating plastic, selling Canadian-made brands to recycling materials whenever possible, she wants to show everybody it’s possible to do the same to help our planet. The “utilitarian” clothing she sells is either made from rayon, cotton, bamboo, linen and other natural fibres.
“When I buy, I have people in mind, I have the community in mind, I have a lifestyle in mind… I’m self-taught, I just know it feels good on me and I know it looks good on someone else,” she says. “I follow some classic styling [at Sidewalkers] so it stays longer in our closet because if you go for the top fashion choices that don’t last, it’s just for that season.”
She says she received a “lukewarm response” from shoppers when she first began her business venture to pay a little more for locally-sourced or eco-conscious items, but decided to pursue it regardless.
“I think people know they have a choice, it’s just if it’s part of their psyche to think about that. Once you start down that path, it grows [and] you start to think about all the different things that you’re consuming,” she says. “Consumers have choices, we can determine economics, we can determine how things are done.”
And in the last few years, she’s noticed a difference in awareness and efforts from her customers. Merrill says local grassroots movements like Plastic Free Terrace, founded by advocate Leticia Kistamas, are changing the way people shop.
Plastic Free Terrace was created after Kistamas made a public plead to the City of Terrace and the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine to phase out single-use plastics in the area. Since then, she’s taken it upon herself to approach local businesses and work with them on how they can reduce their plastic consumption.
“The whole plastic-free thing that is going on in Terrace right now, and globally, is about consumption that’s out of control,” says Merrill. “[Leticia] has really brought forward those questions for us, and she’s also offering us to look at and to discuss alternatives. She understands, she’s passionate about it and I’m blown away by what she’s accomplished so far.”
Throughout the years, Merrill has been a part of a few committees to introduce more ethical initiatives. She helped bring the Skeena Valley Farmers Market to Terrace and was a member of the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area (TDIA) society to encourage more people to recycle, along with hosting clean-up events.
Merrill says she believes in the possibility of becoming a zero-waste city as it’s something for the community to take pride in and could also help create jobs. She adds educating youth in schools is also a great way to start.
“I grew up in a time where you didn’t want to be a litterbug, it was put into us. There was a little song that we would sing and we’d never drop any garbage as kids,” she says. “That’s untapped yet. Let’s really put that into the schools and bring that back.”
On a white wall parallelling Sidewalkers, a painted mural of a forest can be seen through the windows of the store. On the business’ 20th anniversary, Merrill contracted local artist Noreen Spence to commemorate the trees that stood for many centuries before humans took their place. Now, only the “mother tree” remains in the yard.
“I was inspired by these shadows that would come on the wall [from the mother tree],” says Merrill. “Nature means everything to me. That’s why I live here. It’s where I go, it’s where I live and I created that… I believe in this so strongly and I just hope there are others.”