Author Profile: Ashlee Piper, Author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. - Chicago
Hi Ashlee! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! I’m Ashlee Piper. By day, I’m a creative at Walgreens Corp. and by…well, the rest of the time, I’m an eco-lifestyle expert, journalist, TV personality, and author of the new book, Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
My background has been…varied. I went to graduate school abroad for social work, came back to the US and worked in government as a cabinet-level advisor for two Governors in Massachusetts, and was a political strategist for nearly a decade. In my personal life during that time, I became interested in animal protection, veganism, and sustainability and made a total career 180 to explore parlaying my skills in those areas. I had a blog to keep me busy, but found that too navel gazey for me and wanted to bring the message of stylish sustainability to the mainstream, so without any contacts, I began pitching print, digital, and TV outlets. I’ve been writing for and appearing in those regularly for about four years.
What is an eco-lifestyle expert and what roles/jobs does that entail?
I’m really not sure because there weren’t any folks by that title when I got started! And since this is my very beloved side hustle, basically every day is different depending upon what I can fit in/have the energy to do after my 9-to-5 gig lets out. Very recently, it’s been a lot of book writing, editing, and promotion, organizing of a few pop-ups, a few TV appearances, writing pieces for BuzzFeed and Allure, doing some IG story takeovers, and speaking on how little sustainable shifts make a big difference at various conferences and events. Now that I write that all out, it sounds like a lot! I don’t have any PR help, so most of my spare time is pitching pieces to media outlets or writing and making appearances. It’s certainly fun, but it’s also a TON of work.
Were you brought up in a household that was conscious about the environment and sustainability or was there a turning point in your life where you knew it was something you had to be more mindful of?
Not really. My parents are great people, but at most, we recycled when that became the rage and we’d always adopted companion animals (anyone who knows me or has read my book knows that I consider animal adoption (versus buying from a breeder or pet shop) to be a part of living sustainably). I had a few turning points that I outline in the book. The first was when I was 11 years old and I found a flyer on animal testing at my local grocery store. Learning about how terribly we exploit animals for beauty and personal care products shook me, and I haven’t knowingly used an animal-tested product since. I had my vegan awakening when I adopted my pup, Banjo, about 10 years ago. She’s so bright and empathic and overall amazing, not to mention my best pal, and I began to see her in every single animal I encountered. That was a compelling enough reason for me to stop eating animal products, which led me deeper into other things I could do to help the planet.
What do you wish more people would know/understand about being eco friendly/sustainable/mindful about their ways of living? Do you have any tips or resources to start changing the mindset people have of convenience and "normalcy"?
That living sustainably doesn’t have to be 1) difficult or inconvenient, 2) expensive, 3) isolating, or 4) crunchy. At its core, living more thoughtfully is the new chic and it’s easier and cooler than ever. And while there are lots of resources out there around how to ace living with less waste or eating more plant-based, I wrote my book because it’s what I was looking for when I was embarking on this journey – a non-judgmental, works-with-your-life, fun and warm companion bursting with well-researched information and actionable steps that fit with your life and make a difference. So, I hate to sound pimpy, but even Moby (who was kind enough to read the book and offer a quote of praise) said it was one of the easiest and enjoyable places for anyone, at any level, to start their sustainability journey.
You have a new book! How did it come to be? Was it a plan to write a book or did a publisher come to you?
I do! Tee hee. See above on that, but as far as the publisher situation goes, I secured a literary agent, together we honed the concept and proposal, and it went out for publishers to bid on. From what I hear, it’s pretty rare that large, mainstream publishers approach someone to write a book.
What have you learned in the process of writing a book?
That it’s really fucking difficult, especially if you work full-time. That said, it’s also incredibly rewarding to stretch yourself in that way and see the fruits of your labor. While it’s incredibly personal to me (I call it my “paper-based baby”), writing a book via traditional publishing is also an incredible exercise in ceding control to other people. There were countless editors, designers, proofreaders, printers, marketers, fact checkers, etc who touched this book, and many times, their suggestions were against my own desires and I had to chill the heck out and roll with it. And like any collaboration, that made the product better. And it made me better. So, all-in-all, it’s been a blast.
Often times, ethical/clean products are priced higher because of their creation process or ingredients. Do you think there is a way (or there will be a way in the future) to get these items into the hands of the vast majority of people so that everyone has the ability to shop more mindfully?
I think there are ways now that folks of all incomes can get their hands on these types of products. Trader Joe’s, for instance, won’t sell any home care, personal care, or beauty products that have been tested on animals and their price points are better than those of traditional grocery stores. And for those of us who can afford the slightly more expensive, but better-for-the-planet products, we have to keep that up. Voting with our dollars is powerful and we’re now seeing large, traditionally very toxic and crummy companies, developing ‘green’ lines because they want in on that market share.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
We get one of these planets (as far as we know) and one of these lives (also as far as we know). I want to do as much good as I can while I’m here and bringing about eco-awareness is an exciting, joyful calling for me, as much as it is my own personal lifestyle. So, I love sharing what’s worked for me and knowing that it can have a small impact on one or a few people and a giant collective impact on the planet.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
As mentioned before, I don’t have PR, so I pitch myself pretty regularly. Pitching is grueling and while there are awesome producers and editors out there, there are also plenty of stinkers who will give you radio silence, or worse, be real dicks when they reject you. Rejection is a normal part of life, but when you pitch yourself, especially for TV, you’re not just pitching your expertise, you’re inadvertently pitching your looks, presentation, connections, etc. When I first started this, I would have TV producers tell me I didn’t “have the look for” their show or that I was “too husky” or “too old.” These are like ridiculous little morning shows and things (and I wasn’t trying to be a swimsuit model – just come on and talk sustainability). It was devastating to me. Now, I don’t receive that kind of stuff, and if I did, it would bother me, but I’d be much better equipped to say screw it and move on. The challenge of dealing with and positively processing rejection is probably one of the most important things I’ve tackled and worked hard to master. It’s made me stronger and better and really strengthened my belief in myself.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
And bless you for that and all the amazing and inspiring work you do! It’s so important to support and work together because when we do, we’re really unstoppable. There’s something so magical that happens when women help one another get to where they want to go.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Seriously, too many to list!
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
I love Late Bar in Avondale on Saturday nights (all the synth pop), The Brown Elephant on Lincoln for awesome secondhand finds, and Victory’s Banner in Roscoe Village for vegan brunch and Alice and Friends Vegan Kitchen for tasty, healthy meals.