January 8, 2010
By Jen Graves
You might think an environmentally conscious retail store called Nube Green in a hipster neighborhood and located next to a fancy baby clothier would deserve an egging. But then there is Ruth True.
True is the owner of Nube Green. She also happens to be a great collector of contemporary art, and half of the couple (Bill's the other half) behind the great SODO exhibition venue Western Bridge, which showcases their collection. But that also makes her sound like a fancy freak. In fact, she is a delightful human, and Nube Green is a cool little shop, unassuming and involving, for True, a serious learning curve. I talked to her about it yesterday.
Why did you start the store?
I went on a trip to China with Seattle Art Museum—with Mimi Gates, whose PhD is in Chinese art history; I mean, it was amazing—and it was what I didn't see. People in China have gone from starvation to now they can't breathe. They don't see blue sky, ever. And then I got back and saw our unemployment rates in this country. It's this mindlessness of Wal-Mart and lots of stuff cheap, and out of sight, out of mind.
So what are the rules for what you'll stock?
Made in the U.S., if it's fabric it's organic, or all recycled, upcycled, or if it's wood, it's sustainable, or from Urban Hardwoods—they get the wood from storms or construction sites in the city. I don't want to promote any manufacturing of new paper, new anything. Some things are like 50-percent post-consumer but they're 100-percent recyclable. That's as big as a cheat as I have. The other name for the store should have been 'A Grain of Salt.' We've already had one person come in bitching about our lighting, that we're not green and how can we green if we leave our lights on. I'm not pretending to be perfect. Lighting is a huge can of worms. But all our lights in here are either fluorescent or recycled from an old construction project so they were already existing. So it didn't promote more manufacturing of lights but they're not all of them the lowest energy available. One of the reasons I love the name is because I am a newbie and I am learning, and we all are to a certain degree. Some people are so judgmental and critical that it prevents other people from entering. What I'm trying to do is just make it fun and easy. The other thing is I'm not just reselling furniture or vintage stuff. I want whatever I sell somebody had to restore or recreate it, that it created work for somebody.
What have you learned so far?
Sometimes people have something good-looking and recycled—but on top of new plywood, and the plywood industry is pretty toxic. Somebody once brought in a table made of new black walnut, he said, 'It's sustainable, it's wood,' so I did the research on black walnut, and it's like, no, black walnut takes forever to grow. Now, I do have black walnut candleholders from people like Urban Hardwoods, where if a black walnut has come down...apparently there is a big disease attacking black walnuts in Eastern Washington, so there is a bunch of reclaimed black walnut there. I found a guy in California who works with organic cotton farmers, and there was a gal at Urban Craft Uprising who told me you can't find fabric made and milled in the U.S. Now, she's going to make a line for us using that fabric, so what that one little connection did is it supported the growers in the U.S. It's on a small scale, but you gotta start somewhere, I guess. So the networking part of it has been one of my favorite parts. It is like a scavenger hunt to find products we like that are a hundred percent made in the U.S. We do have vintage watches that weren't made in the U.S., but they've been in the U.S. a long time, and a person here has restored them, so...
Can anybody come in and show you their stuff?
Absolutely. They do it all day long. Makers, get in touch with this woman.
Nube Green is open now, but it is having its grand opening celebration during Blitz, the Capitol Hill arts walk, on the second Thursday of February. The store is in the Oddfellows building; True noticed that the walls of the halls are empty—she'll be curating art shows there starting then.