Written by: Spencer Cook
During my last quarter at UC Santa Barbara I took a class called Environmental Communications in which, unsurprisingly, I had to give a speech. Due to my general disdain for public speaking, I presented on the last day of class—which also happened to be my last day of college. I ended this speech with a plea to my peers that went something like this: “When we leave here, it will be easy to be swept up in the overwhelming current of life and abandon all we have learned about the environment and our impact on it. Please do not become jaded and allow yourself to fall into bad habits because it is our responsibility to use what we have learned here to make the world a better place, and to help others do the same.” Well guess what: I couldn’t heed my own warning. I allowed myself to get caught in the stresses of life and use disposable coffee cups, paper plates, and unconscionable amounts of single-use plastics. Once I realized the error in my ways, it was easy to say “well, it’s too late now.” Instead, 2020 made my wife, Kiabeth, and me look deeply into our lives and be radically honest with ourselves. This led us to realize the things that are truly important in life are exactly what growing up in Santa Cruz taught us: community, health, and living sustainably.
I was born and raised in Aptos, CA by parents who grew up in 1970s Santa Cruz, and as a result, I was exposed to the joys of nature at an early age. “Exposed” may even be inaccurate; I was raised by nature. From the time I could walk I was always exploring. My parents played with me outside daily, climbed trees with me, took me to swimming holes in Nisene Marks, taught me how to ride horses, and—most importantly—taught me that we are simply another animal inhabiting this planet. This lesson shaped my view of the world, and I have been lucky enough to build on its wisdom.
A childhood lesson can easily crumble if it is not reinforced and built upon; fortunately, growing up in Santa Cruz made it hard to forget that we are inextricably tied to nature. My dad showed me hidden campsites in the Sierras and my mom constantly updated her habits to become more sustainable. My mom was the first person to show me that once you get past the difficulty of change, sustainable practices were easy to enact in your everyday life. In middle school she stopped buying plastic water bottles and sent me to school with a refillable bottle. She used buckets to catch the water while waiting for a sink or shower to warm up then watered her yard with it. She got rid of dryer sheets in favor of reusable dryer balls, brought her own bags to stores (before it was cool), and she reused sliced bread bags to pack my dads lunch in. All of these subtle changes to her habits took some time to get used to, but she always embraced the necessity to be more sustainable, regardless of what she was used to or what was easy.
The lessons my family and my home taught me made picking a college and major simple. I chose to leave Santa Cruz for the first time and study Environmental Science at UC Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was also an easy choice because it reminded me of home with its natural beauty and access to the ocean and incredible mountain hikes. I really just couldn’t leave the ocean. During my time there, I learned more than I can describe from Nobel Laureates and professors distinguished in their field, but I learned far more outside of the classroom. Late in my second year, I met my incredible wife and business partner, Kiabeth. We enjoyed taking our new dog Hogan—you may have seen him if you have watched any of our Instagram stories—on long walks around Isla Vista and down to the beach. We only drove when we had to and we took great care to minimize our consumption—often bringing our own silverware and cups to restaurants. We only got a few weird looks. Most people just wanted to pet Hogan. When we moved back to Santa Cruz for good, we had a strong grasp on sustainable practices in our everyday life. However, when we waded into the river of real-life, we were quickly swept away by the current, almost entirely losing that grasp.
After 4 years together, Kiabeth and I were married on August 25, 2017. Hogan was the ring bearer of course. While on our honeymoon in the Maldives, we dreamt up Barretini: a clean, welcoming barre studio focused on community and self love. Kiabeth’s determination led us to make this dream a reality and in October of 2019 we offered our first class. Things progressed slowly and we worked every single day to build the business into a success, very much sacrificing our physical and mental health as well as our affinity for sustainability. We ate out at least once a day—using single use everything—shopped at the cheapest grocery and clothing stores, and threw away a lot of garbage that will now sit in the Buena Vista landfill for thousands of years. I knew better, but I didn’t think I had the time or energy to enact meaningful change that would reduce my footprint. In other words: I became exactly what I had warned my classmates of becoming, and I knew it. I really felt as if it was impossible to make this change, to live sustainably, and I largely gave up.
Then, COVID. Everything we had worked for was now in a state of limbo. Would we lose everything we had worked so hard for after just five months? We really had no idea. Months passed and nothing changed, and our mental health was suffering. Finally, one day Kiabeth and I were talking about the months that had passed and all that had happened in this country and we realized one truth was evident in our milieu: the things that are important in life are still love, community, health, and living sustainably. Barretini was working towards the first three, but it did not make an impact on the latter, so we decided it was time to make a change.
Kiabeth and I decided to open The Footprint Shop as a means for fulfilling our core beliefs and to help our community after all of the change that 2020 has presented. On top of the philosophical change it brings to the Santa Cruz community, it has brought real change to our own lives and improved our physical and mental health. We have benefited not only through the use of healthy cleaning products and higher quality home goods, but also as a result of the knowledge we have gained about living a lifestyle which reduces our footprint and allows us to make more mindful choices throughout our lives.
Finally breaking from single use plastic containers has been a goal of mine since I watched An Inconvenient Truth as a child, but the building of Barretini had taken us to a place that was so far from that goal that it seemed like an impossible task. However, as shelter-in-place rolled along, we found that we had time to avoid single-use plastics and replace plastic products in our home, so we did. Once we accomplished as much as we felt we could do in our own home with the products available to us, we realized the payoff was ease and comfort. Then we thought: how could we make this accessible for everyone? What does Santa Cruz need now, after a pandemic and deadly fires? The answer: a step in the right direction—The Footprint Shop.