As a first-generation American, Janette Spiezio, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, has always lived more sustainably than most people—growing up, her family grew their food, made clothing, and repurposed most of their day-to-day things. A maker since age 6 when she sewed her first set of cloth napkins, Janette was passionate about sewing and saving the planet, yet never considered it to be a career until she was laid off from her corporate one. In 2018, she began selling her upcycled household products at farmer’s markets, and two years later, she opened Sustainable Haus Mercantile, a zero-waste, plastic-free, package-free home goods shop in Summit. We caught up with this Westfield mom and step-mom about how living a more sustainable life has made her look at the world differently, the way the pandemic helped her business, and her go-to place for earth-friendly beauty products in Nutley.
Tell us a little about your family and career background.
My husband, Ethan, and I have been together for nine years and live in Westfield. I have two daughters, 20-year-old Alexandra and 24-year-old Amanda, and a step-daughter, Nicole, 31. I worked in corporate for 30 years as an anti-corruption officer at Prudential Financial, but when I got laid off due to downsizing, I looked at it as an opportunity to spread my wings and be more of who I was always meant to be. On my Instagram, I have a video of me at age six sewing napkins. I’d always been a “maker” but had never given much thought to trying to monetize it, and I feel so fortunate that I was able to figure out a way to get paid for what I’m passionate about. When I started Sustainable Haus Mercantile in 2018, I sold in farmers’ markets, and then I opened my brick-and-mortar shop in February of 2020, not an ideal time to open a business, but I was able to make it work.
Was there a particular moment that inspired you to live a more sustainable life?
As a first-generation American, I was wired to live a sustainable life. My mom grew up on a farm, and both of my parents were makers by necessity—they had to be resourceful. It wasn’t unusual for us to make whatever we needed from start to finish, whether it was a desk or a trunk or a potholder. I believe that making whatever you need builds confidence and gives you the strength to try new things. Later, after I read Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, I learned just how terrible plastic is, and I got hooked on being as plastic and package-free as possible. I believe we can all minimize our impact. The planet is our one and only, and I knew I wanted to do better for the sake of my children and all children.
What makes your business unique?
I think the difference between all the other zero-waste stores and me is that I make most of the products for our store. I also use upcycled cotton fabrics and fully compostable cotton thread in our brand so that all can be composted and eventually broken down by the environment at the end of the product’s life.
What have you discovered about yourself during the process of running a business?
I’ve learned that my love of making things runs deep, but I’m not too fond of paperwork. I would choose 10 hours of sewing over 2 hours of paperwork any day!
Has the pandemic affected your business? If so, what have you done to weather the storm?
Ethan had just come back from Italy, so we were much more pandemic-focused than others very early on. We knew about the importance of wearing masks before the CDC even recommended it. Because of this, I shifted from making upcycled cloth napkins to making masks. This pivot, along with online sales and curbside pickup sales, helped my business survive early days and enabled me to donate masks to the Summit School District’s Affordable Lunch Program and form a partnership with Grace, a local non-profit organization.
What are some things people can do to live a more sustainable life?
We all have this one shared home — our planet — so we must do as much as possible to protect it. You can look in your trashcan and recycling bin to see what your own biggest offenders are and start making your changes from there. You don’t need to worry about perfection—make one sustainable change, and then when you’re comfortable with that one, make another one. One small way to change is to switch from purchasing anything in plastic bottles to only things sold in glass. For me, when it comes to personal care products, the saying—it’s only one shampoo bottle, said 300 million people—really drives home the point. That’s why I sell more than 50 refillable cleaning, body care, and beauty products. I aim to make it easy for our eco-conscious customers to live a more sustainable life. They can purchase one of our containers or bring in any clean container (glass, metal, or even plastic), and we will fill it for them with whatever they need.
What are some of Sustainable Haus Mercantile’s fan favorites?
Laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner, and hand soap are all top sellers, as are some of the prettier handmade items like tea towels and mismatched napkins. For a baby gift, customers can’t get enough of the organic cotton hooded towels. And food storage items like the Vejibags are also top sellers since people are now “getting it” and moving away from plastic.
What are some of your favorite local go-to businesses?
The Summit Farmers Market is the absolute best. I have a booth there on Sundays, but you’ll also find excellent locally grown organic produce, specialty foods and items, honey, and a great curated collection of locally produced things. I’m also a big fan of Hyssop Beauty Apothecary in Nutley. It’s the cutest store and as sustainable as they come. I love the products so much that I also sell this brand in my shop.
Please share some of your favorite family spots in NJ.
We adore Avon by the Sea for its lovely town, exceptional beaches, boardwalk, and great restaurants. We like to hop on our bikes and ride them to nearby Asbury Park, another unique beach town with so much to see and do. We also bike Watchung Reservation as often as we can. The hills there are perfect. And, if you have not gone to Newark’s Branch Brook Park during Cherry Blossom season, you’re missing out. We go every year when they’re in bloom. It’s beyond beautiful and has more cherry blossom trees than Washington D.C.
What words of wisdom can you share with a mompreneur just starting?
Do something you’re passionate about. Someone else will eventually come out with a better idea, but if you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll always be motivated to improve your business.