Conversation with Emily on a Simple Life, Freely Chosen

Conversation with Emily on a Simple Life, Freely Chosen

Growing up in a climate-conscious household, 26 years old Emily Gray from Sheffield, the UK, usually known as Simple Life Freely Chosen, had started talking about her favorite sustainable brands online as a hobby. With zero affiliations with any of these brands, her detailed reviews and tutorials have always been completely genuine which has really helped her audience discover many awesome sustainable brands that they can put their trust in instead of investing their money in businesses that are hurting the planet.

Tell us your backstory.

I was raised by two very climate-conscious parents, really it’s them who gave me the fundamentals about living simply, living frugally – living sustainably in general, which are values that I have taken throughout my whole life. So, thanks to them!

But it was in 2020 when I really sort of nailed down on conscious consumerism and decided, “I just don’t want my money to be funding anything that doesn’t align with my values – I don’t want to be funding slavery, I don’t want to be funding deforestation, so why am I spending my money with these businesses that we know do all these horrible things? There are stories about them all over the place, yet I still spend my money there.” 

So in 2020, there was all this talk during the pandemic of, spending money locally to support local businesses, spending money on black-owned businesses because of the Black Lives Matter rallies going on at the time, and all that awareness that was churned up at that point, and it really hit home. I thought, that every time I spend money, I am investing in the kind of world and business model that I want to support, so, starting right now, I am going to make the choice to seek out sustainable, ethical businesses from now on, and find that real choice in the market so that I am actually supporting what I agree with and what my values agree with rather than big corporations that are just easy to buy from. So that’s I guess why I started my Instagram account.

Why do you create content for green brands for free?

When I started my search in 2020, for myself to find sustainable alternatives, I realized that they were really hard to find! But there are lots and lots of sustainable, ethical alternatives out there – they are just smaller, and they haven’t had the time to build up their space in the market yet, so, I wanted to share all these discoveries that I’d found with people who feel the same as me. 

I am sure there are – well, I KNOW there are so many of them because I have a few wonderful followers who tell me so! (Chuckles). But yeah, for people who, like me, wanted to spend their money in a way that was in line with their values. That’s the simplest way I can put it. 

I wanted to share all these discoveries so that other people didn’t have to search as hard. I’d already done the research for them, they didn’t have to spend time searching for it themselves. It’s really just to support people who want to invest or vote with their money that way, but also to support the businesses themselves, and hopefully, we can chuck out the horrible corporations or replace them with these wonderful sustainable businesses in the future. Fingers crossed!

How do you live sustainably in your own life beyond conscious consumerism?

Well, I mean there are a few ways. So I am vegetarian; I wouldn’t say I am vegan although I do make lots of vegan choices, but, yeah, vegetarian, which itself is an active form of conscious consumerism really if you think about it. Because I am not actively investing, not spending my money, in the meat industry. And that’s a choice, you know. That’s one of the reasons why people turn to vegetarianism and veganism. So yeah, I am vegetarian.

I also love shopping at my local refill store; if you have one near you that you haven’t quite explored yet, I very much encourage you to go check it out, because they will be a treasure trove of sustainable brands, and plastic-free items, they really have wonderful things and I hope they will become more prevalent in the future.

I guess those are the two big things. As a result of the refill shopping, I have a mostly plastic-free home, as much as can be – but I don’t think anybody is completely plastic-free. I guess that’s how I live sustainably, aside from conscious consumerism. 

What are the challenges that you face as a Greenfluencer and how do you try to overcome them?

I’d say the biggest challenge of being a “Greenfluencer”, thank you for that term, I’m not sure if I’d count myself as an influencer, but, yes, in terms of being on the social media scene, talking about green eco-related stuff, I’d say the biggest challenge is that social media is kind of incongruous with the ideals of just living a simple life which I think is what people who follow a sustainable life are mostly kind of after. They like that simplicity, just going outside, being in nature, or whatever it is, and at the same time, if you’re on the social media scene you have to think, “Oh, I need to capture this, to create content later,” which can be quite frustrating, and time-consuming. 

However, I am very much enjoying the creative process too, so it’s natural for nothing. I think the way I deal with that is just by making sure that I do take breaks and, just remembering at the end of the day that it’s just Instagram, I’m not going to get stressed by the numbers or the algorithm or anything like that. It is just Instagram and, at the end of the day, my real-life world is more important. So I don’t get too stressed about it. It is fun, as I say, the creative process as well, so it’s not a big problem (Chuckles). 

What are the best things that have happened to you since you started?

The biggest reward that comes from being on the social media scene is definitely the community that you find out there. It’s so wonderful getting messages from people saying, “Oh my goodness, I have discovered this amazing brand because of you, thank you, I can now buy this thing… guilt-free,” or people saying, “I’ve been looking for something like this but I don’t want to spend my money at big businesses who don’t practice sustainability for real”— and I can give them suggestions and it would turn, I can ask people questions. It’s so collaborative, there’s no sense of competition, between eco-accounts or “Oh my goodness I can’t tell you that tip because you’ll steal my followers or whatever”, it’s so, so collaborative and it’s just wonderful to see.

What do you think the future looks like for sustainable businesses? 

The future of sustainable business, I think is really really quite exciting because there are so many innovations that are coming out. You know, we got top scientists all over the world trying to find solutions, and they are finding some really wonderful solutions that I hope will become more and more accessible to businesses.

But I suppose the biggest trend, I mean for one is definitely plastic-free, people are becoming more and more aware of the issues of plastic and, the long-term concerns around it just being there forever and not going on anywhere, clogging up our world, our oceans, and also the chemicals that leach from them. So yeah, I definitely think we’ll see a shift to more plastic-free, not using plastic unnecessarily, I guess, is where I am coming from – more conscious use of plastic.

Also, circularity is a big thing, I think that is going to become more and more popular in businesses. The idea of making sure it’s not a linear pathway from production to use to landfill, that it can wrap around, be reused, refilled, or, if it can’t be refilled, then it can at least be composted, so it’s not adding waste to the problem. So, yeah, a lot of the businesses that I share in my account have some sort of refill program, which is really really, really exciting to see – that becoming large-scale. 

I think there’s still talk – talk about it becoming more popular in supermarkets as well. Can you imagine? If that happened – all the packaging from supermarkets, if we could actually return and refill that? That would be incredible! So, I really hope to see that.

Also, another trend that is sort of connected to circularity, that I would like to see more of at least, is the idea of taking waste from another industry and turning it into something useful in a different industry completely. You know, the idea of not letting anything go to waste; even if you can’t personally use it, someone else can. So, we need to make those connections between industries so that everything can get used to its fullest potential, and, whenever I see a business doing that, oh, it’s so exciting!

Tell us about your top five favorite sustainable brands and why they’re so awesome.

My top five sustainable brands; I would try to do this quickly, but they are so exciting, I could talk about them forever. 

Number one has to be UpCircle which is a beauty skincare company. They are a UK company, and they take waste from other industries and turn them into ingredients within their own products so that nothing goes to waste. It’s so so exciting. Other than using coffee grounds to make scrubs, there are so many other amazing things they are doing too. You should go to their website and check it out. 

They also have a refill and return system, so that their packaging doesn’t go to waste. The packaging is not plastic – it’s glass, one of the most recyclable materials out there. So, definitely UpCircle up there.

I would also like to mention All Earth Mineral Cosmetics, which is another UK company. These guys make make-up products. Buying locally is another very important aspect of conscious consumerism. So All Earth Mineral Cosmetics is toxic-free – they are using natural ingredients completely. They are also mostly plastic-free, although they do use plastic that’s made using ocean plastics. So they recover ocean plastic and turn it into something useful, something which you can then refill because they have a refill program too. So it’s not just gonna get tossed away as soon as you’re finished with it. 

Then there’s Flux Undies. So, if you don’t know, they create period pants, and the product itself is a very sustainable concept because there’s so much disposable waste when it comes to period-care products. If you think about sanitary towels and tampons, there’s so much waste. But period pants can be washed and reused. So, again, huge – huge minimizing of the waste in that problem. But the reason I would say Flux Undies in particular is ‘cause there are a few brands out there who do that, but I couldn’t find a company that didn’t produce their underwear anywhere other than India or China. And we know that there are human rights concerns about production in those countries, but Flux Undies are incredibly transparent. If you look on their website, they tell you exactly the working conditions of their manufacturers and factory workers; including their hours – how many hours they work. So I have felt much more comfortable buying from Flux Undies. Also, they use Tencel, which is a sustainable material, instead of just any raw material; they thought about that aspect too. And they are also trans-inclusive. If you look at their advertising, they are accepting of the fact that trans men also have periods, and I think that’s a pretty important issue to cover for a period-related company, so Flux Undies will get my vote every time. 

My next favorite brand is All Green. So these guys make lots of stuff actually for your home and for your garden right in the home as well. But I wanna focus specifically on their compost bin range ‘cause when I realized that I needed to start composting, I thought, “Oh, gosh, I need to get a compost bin bag,” and I didn’t wanna buy just any and all plastic bin. These guys create compost caddies out of the best sustainable materials that they can. So they’ve got ceramic ones, metal ones — metal is much easier to recycle, and they do have recycled plastic too – which makes it a little bit cheaper and accessible for people, which is what I went for. So, again, it’s taking waste out of the system, turning it into something useful. And composting is really something that everybody needs to be doing. So, yes, I will mention All Green for that reason as well. 

Finally, my fifth favorite sustainable brand would be Rubies in the Rubble, which is a similar concept to UpCircle in terms of taking waste and turning it into something useful. Rubies in the Rubble create condiments and sauces – stuff like ketchup and mayo, and others that I can’t remember right now. But they take excess fruit and veg, that wouldn’t get used otherwise and they use those as their ingredients rather than letting them go to waste. 

So there you have my top five sustainable brands!

How do you keep yourself motivated and keep doing what you do?

How I stay motivated, I think, is mostly down to the fact that when I start to feel down and I start to say, “Ugh, what’s the point? There’s so much effort, why? It’s all the companies that need to change anyway,” I just think like if everybody thought like that, nothing would happen. We have to – we have to work as individuals to change society, to bring about societal change, which will hopefully bring about governmental change, and policy change. I just think that’s the one thing that gets me up, it’s just the idea that if everybody thinks like this, we’ve lost. So, I have to get up and do something. 

And also, I find that action is the best way to combat eco-anxiety; which I am sure is something that a lot of people reading this will experience as well. If you take action, you’re taking control over the situation a bit more, which I think is the best way, for me anyway, to combat eco-anxiety. So, every time I feel down, I try to take action. Actually doing something about it, however small, however, drop-in-the-ocean my individual actions are, makes me feel better. So, I do it. 

We’ve noticed that you’re into music. Is it a passion? What else do you do for fun?

Well, aside from sustainability, yeah, I have other interests. Music is one of them that you guys have picked up on. I’m a big musical theatre fan and part of a singing group with my friends. We’ve done a couple of concerts. So yeah, music is definitely an interest of mine, and crafting as well. Crafting helps sustainability, because well, it means that I’ve made a couple of my own clothes, I can repair clothes, but also just in terms of repurposing anything around, having that sort of creative sense is really quite useful. So, yeah, that’s another interest of mine, which helps with sustainability. (Smiles rhetorically) No? 

We’ve also noticed that you’re into many kinds of volunteering and social work too. Tell us about your most recent one.

I do volunteer actually, that is something I’m doing quite a lot because I’m sort of taking a break from work at the moment. I’m taking a gap year – a belated gap year. So I’m filling up a lot of that time with volunteering and trying to fit in some community work. 

The main place I volunteer is a non-profit called Food Works, and they help people who need help accessing healthy meals. They take a lot of excess food from neighboring farms and places like that so that they can turn it into meals for people. And they also have their own farm, which is where I volunteer, twice a week. I’m just growing food. 

It’s really really nice to get outside and learn how to grow food so that hopefully one day I can grow my own. And yeah, just giving back to the community is a really really nice feeling. This idea of working together, I think, community gardening, community farming, is going to be a big part of the future. Just any kind of community work, getting the community back together is, I think, really important for the sustainability fight. I think community action definitely needs to be at the forefront there. 

I’ve also done some tree-planting; again, it’s about getting out there and helping, which makes you feel like you are actually doing something. Talking back to the eco-anxiety side of things, if you’re doing something, if you’re actually getting involved, you know that, you can see that you’re making a difference. And that helps, that helps a lot. 

What’s your mantra for life?

My mantra for life. Well, I have a few mantras for life, because I quite like a good mantra (Chuckles), but the one I’ll talk about now is the one that inspired the name for my Instagram account in the first place, so, that is a Quaker proverb, and it goes, “A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength.” And to me, that means the ability to say no, to say, “I am okay, actually, I don’t need all that fuss, I don’t need the latest fashions, I don’t need whatever society’s peer pressure is pushing us towards at the moment, I’m okay, thanks”. I think that’s really empowering, to be able to do that. I think we’ve all felt pressure, from society, to pick up the latest thing. And that ability to say, “I am good, thanks,” is really quite powerful. 

So, that’s my mantra for life, to remind myself of that simplicity. And, as I say, it inspired the name for my account, I know it’s a mouthful but it means a lot to me, so “Simple life, freely chosen” is where that all came from. 

Learn more about Emily through Simple Life, freely chosen.

This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

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