Carmen Winter, founder
“I’m an artist. Doing funny things that make you feel silly is kinda normal for me.”
Sustainable Secrets founder Carmen Winter is not your typical businessperson. She is an artist, zero waste enthusiast, activist, entrepreneur, mystic, traveler, innovator, and maker. She turns the traditional idea of what a business does- a top down idea bending the world to its will till it makes a profit- on its head.
Instead, Carmen finds a location that needs an injection of innovation, takes stock of what its assets are, and comes up with a sustainable business model based on what’s useful and necessary. This leads to a recycled, eco-art, sustainable localized ethic.
Whether it’s eco-art jewelry made of found objects made of the “trash” of others, an organic farm that makes products from the crops that the land wants to grow, or a boutique of upcycled clothing that doubles as a community gathering space, Carmen has found success on all levels, and left each location better than when she found it.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, and home-schooled between Ohio and California, Carmen opened her first business, Back Alley Peddlers, in the Toledo area.The store both filled a need for those who needed a little style in Northern Ohio, and provided an anchor business for the community.
After three successful years, The now 18 year old Carmen decided it was time for new challenges. She transformed from having a Boutique in the suburbs to having a cultural center, the One World Center in the South End of Toledo. The center would eventually be rented out to a community organization, the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, for one dollar a year. The miniscule rent allowed the Sofia Center to expand, and indeed, it is still in place, making a difference every day for the people of Toledo.
Carmen spent the next years traveling in South America, learning and teaching, living among indigenous people in villages and rain forests. She learned how to sail, make jewelry, and how to live in harmony with the land. What followed were stints as a magician’s assistant, performance artist, homeless person, and professional activist.
All of this prepared Carmen for the next big adventure in her life: Akua Lani, a sustainable farm and rare Native Hawaiian Mesic forest sanctuary on the big island of Hawaii. There, Carmen communed with the old forest and it showed her the bounty it was ready to share with the world: an organic farm where only the finest of Organic Seeds, Fertilizers, and Pest Control are used; and a business selling extraordinary hot sauces and herb mixtures made of Native Hawaiian chili peppers and other local ingredients. The sanctuary, a model of sustainability and green, zero-waste living, runs off solar power, and rainwater catchment. Carmen believes in living in harmony with the land.
After 13 years of living off the grid, it was time for Carmen to bring her ideas and entrepreneurial creativity back to California, where Sustainable Secrets was born. With offerings of recycled pulped paper sculptures, crushed fused upcycled bottle lamps, found object jewelry, hand-woven baskets, to start with, Sustainable Secrets is moving to offer a full range of stable-state products made from one of the most abundant resources we have: our trash.
What innovations will Carmen’s remarkable mind come up with next? Watch this space.
“Where most see trash, I see potential.”