Social media has reshaped activism. In this competitive marketplace of ideas and grievances, where there are many issues that matter most, the conversation too often lacks nuance, vulnerability, and uncertainty. Of course, a sense of urgency for implementing solutions are necessary in a crisis. However, so is providing a space for open conversation for all of those who would join if they were sure their imperfect allyship would be welcomed. Nikki Reed, an actress, producer, entrepreneur, and mom, has been an animal rights and eco-activist for most of her adult life and is the first to admit that the shape this takes, in her personal and professional life, is under constant revision.
After a day spent shooting in downtown Brooklyn, we discussed the birth of her sustainable jewelry brand, BaYou with Love, motherhood, why she eschews labels, and being okay with the quest for balance.
I grew up in Los Angeles. I lived with my mom and my brother, my parents were separated, but I had a really wonderful, present dad. We had kind of an unconventional family upbringing. My parents were divorced, but super kind and friendly with one another and close, so we spent holidays together.
I knew I wanted to be connected to animals somehow, and later on in my life, I spent a lot of time in the activism space surrounding animal welfare and animal rights. But I think like most little girls and boys who love animals, I thought I was going to be a farmer or veterinarian.
I grew up in a family and household that was all about making ends meet. As much as my mom loved to cook, we also ate a ton of fast food, and just did the best we could. My journey to health and wellness and conscious living and sustainable living is definitely something that developed in my adult years.
The Biggest Little Farm is a really beautiful film that talks about the importance of biodiversity and balance within traditional farming. Nature is constantly trying to balance and then rebalance, and if the pendulum swings too far with anything, something else gets thrown out of whack. If you have too many snails, then your trees and fruit die. If you have too many birds, they eat all of your peaches. So anytime we get involved as human beings, and try to balance that ourselves by doing something extreme we seem to make a mess of it. If everybody in the world stops eating meat and becomes vegan, of course that's going to be huge for carbon and environmental degradation. But can we actually expect the entire world to do the exact same thing and eat the same way? I don't know if that's realistic. Instead of saying, “I hate you if you eat meat,” I think we need to develop a more conscious approach to how farming is handled. I'm plant-based, so that's how I identify, but I don't like using labels because I feel like labels can exclude people. I choose to live my life a certain way, but I'm not passing judgment on how other people live their lives. I want to help find solutions that are good without saying everybody has to be one thing.
I think that where we get ourselves in trouble is when extremism takes over. Even though we're living in really extreme times, I think that extremism can feel really exclusive, whereas what's happening right now needs to be a conversation that's inclusive, and really invites people into the conversation. And part of that is knowing that, any little thing that you do makes a difference. However that is, like a Meatless Monday or deciding you're not using plastic straws or deciding that you're going to bring your reusable grocery bags to the store. All those things add up. It's about taking steps, whatever those steps may be, and holding yourself accountable for those things.
I'm still working on balance. I have a two year old, I have a company that's just two years old too. So in a sense, I have two babies. We also have a production company, and then I'm also an advisor, and I work on the marketing team and product development team for a company called Raised Real. I have a lot on my plate. It would be silly for me to pretend like I'm the expert at the balancing act. I have taken some time recently to really meditate on why I struggle with balance, and I think it comes down to this: First, I'm definitely fueled and energized by work. So, working is a type of fuel for me. But I also have a really hard time saying no, and so recently I've had a really difficult time, understanding that “no,” doesn't always have to come with a reason. “No,” is also a beautiful way of setting a boundary within yourself, and saying, I actually don't the energy or space to accommodate this. So, balance, for me, is about learning to say no, and then it's about seeking for myself without feeling guilty.
There's so many things I hope [for my daughter]. I hope that when she gets older instead of wondering why mommy worked so much, because that's what I think my greatest fear as a mom, that she looks at how I've juggled work and being a mom and says to herself, “Wow, my mom built something from the ground up and I can do that too.” I hope there are so many things that she finds in life that makes her feel excited and great. I hope she feels a strong connection to animals. And I hope she enjoys all the gardening that we do and all the farming that we do.
Honestly, my biggest hope is that, she's just whoever she wants to be and feels really supported and nurtured in that.
The launch of BaYou with Love was my journey with figuring out how to create, and curate things that I had been finding, or the things I couldn't find in the marketplace. When Bayou launched, I was pregnant, and I had taken a break from acting, and I don't sit still very easily. The company launched with, a really cool partnership with Anthropologie where we made organic, sustainable products, in the skin care space and then we really quickly moved into apparel and jewelry.
Jewelry came from a phone call that I got from Dell [the computer technology company], who felt I was a voice in this sustainable arena, and wanted to talk about this idea they didn't really know what to do with: They had recycled gold that had been extracted from their motherboards, and they asked me if I knew what to do with it. Funny enough, I just launched an entire company based on sustainable products and I think I could come up with a couple of ideas. This wasn't my first rendezvous with jewelry. I come from a family of jewelry designers, and I launched my first jewelry line when I was like 21 or something like that.
We launched the collection four or five months later and we sold out in 48 hours, and I was like wow. And then we won the audience award at CES, the largest tech convention in the world.
I feel really excited about this because I feel like I'm challenged on a daily basis. BaYou has reconnected me with art in a way that maybe I never had with acting. Because I'm able to wear so many hats within the business that all feels so creative. I shoot all product photography, web photography. I write all the copy. I manage and write or put together our blog, so I'm wearing multiple creative hats.
We've chosen to work with a manufacturing facility in Los Angeles that prioritizes sustainability in the factory itself, which is incredibly rare. If you think about it when you're heating and cooling metals, what do you use? Water. So instead of wasting that water, all of that water is recycled back and reused every single day. [It’s] really exciting to be a part of that kind of innovation. All of our pieces, including the new brass [collection we] launched, are all made from scrap brass, recycled brass, discarded brass. All of the stones that we source, I hand select, and that's been something that's really exciting for me because it's important to work from regions that prioritize the environment and sustainable production and ethical production. That is one area [that is] difficult to trace and track the individual stone, you have to rely on the region and just make sure that you're sourcing from a region that are aligned with you as a company.
The men's pieces that we launched a few months ago are all made with pollution that's been extracted from the air in India. Dell actually uses sequestered carbon, it's distilled down into an ink, and they use that ink. They use that ink on their recycled packaging, and then they sent that ink to me and we use that ink in all of our men’s pieces. So just finding ways to kind of sweep conventional luxury on its head for a second and taking what most people would consider waste and turning it into luxury is something that's really exciting for me.
I think the most important lesson I've learned and advice that I would give any business starting out, is understanding the finances and budget. Really understanding how and where money is spent, how it's lost, how it's tracked. It's really important to of course manage the creative, but also manage the operational side as well. And I think one thing that you know, really keeps me going is just like the inspiration that I find from the people, I'm creating based on demand because I have such a direct relationship with our customers, which is the coolest thing about the way we started the company.
My personal style is ever evolving. I have such a love of fashion that it as a way of playing different characters, and dressing up for different things or feelings that I'm having internally. I think fashion is the easiest way or the quickest way to tell somebody to who you are. I think that using to use fashion as a form of expression, that's your first way of introducing yourself to somebody. As I grow, as BaYou grows and as I get older, I actually find myself loving fashion and using [it] as a form of expression and introduction even more.
One of the beautiful things about being a human being is that we're so conscious of our ability to have an impact. Wherever that impact may be, and wherever you choose to put your energy. Clearly we've been able to do some pretty miraculous things, and now I think we're on our way, not to sound like naively hopeful, but I think we are on our way to fixing a lot of the destruction that we've caused because the world is starting to wake up. And one thing that I like to remind myself, and my virtual audience, who are involved in conscious living or, they're curious about it is that, it's really important to applaud incremental change, and to celebrate incremental change in the same way that we celebrate all change.
Photographer: Renee Bevan
Stylist: Laura Jones
Hair: Kyle Malone
Make Up: Sam Addington
Interview by: Laura Jones
Photo Assistant : Charles Ludeke