Marci Zaroff believes that work is love in action.
As a teenager, the eco style pioneer stumbled upon her higher purpose: to affect positive change through health and environmental education. To that end, she studied macrobiotics and Eastern philosophy and earned a business degree from Berkeley, rebuffing pizza for brown rice.
After graduation, Zaroff co-founded holistic destination Gulliver’s Living & Learning Center, now known as The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. While teaching and consulting there, she noticed the dearth of great natural fashion lines and also the importance of dressing consciously, then trademarked the term “ECOfashion” and founded Under the Canopy, an eco-conscious contemporary apparel and home brand. She also cofounded I AM Enlightened Creations, a collection of liquid nutritional supplements and aromatherapy mists.
Here, Zaroff describes her quest to practice what she preaches, improving her own life and the lives of those around her each day
Live The Process: How has your background influenced your approach to health and environmental education?
Marci Zaroff: At the age of 15, my girlfriend Surya gave me the book, Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain, which triggered a deep awakening of my calling. I became a self-taught vegetarian and began to follow the newly discovered start-up brand Aveda, which inspired and activated the eco-preneur in me.
I was naturally drawn to California and, while receiving a business degree from UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School, I was immersed in studying macrobiotics, Buddhism, yoga and other Eastern philosophies. Although my friends in college were eating pizza and fries, I was eating tofu, brown rice and hiziki. I loved (and still do) to explore new communities, cultures, plants and natural food stores. The more consciously I ate and lived, the better I felt and looked and the more I found people commenting on my energy and presence.
Tapping into this new way of life felt like I had found home. I wanted to share this profound shift with others. As Jonathan Swift once said, “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” I am drawn to Swift’s writings and the way he saw the world, so—upon graduating from school—I moved to New York and was determined to open a health food store called “Gulliver’s Market.” There, like Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels, people could “journey to the lands of health, discovery and self-realization.”
While reviewing leases for the store, I met Joshua Rosenthal at a macrobiotic conference. Although he was living in Canada, we began to explore collaborating and, soon thereafter, we co-founded Gulliver’s Living & Learning Center with a logo designed by renowned artist, fellow environmentalist and friend, Peter Max.
The school included an extensive natural foods cooking curriculum, the first Aveda concept salon in New York City, an organic café, a nationally circulated magazine called Macrocosm and a professional training and certification program which was the springboard to The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. From taking people on walking tours of health food stores to catering gourmet macrobiotic meals and curating workshops by authors, chefs and leaders of the natural and organic food movement, I became an integral part of a rising tide that continues to gain exponential momentum to this day.
My drive for affecting positive change through health and environmental education has penetrated all facets of my life, including raising two kids, Jade (19) and Mason (16), on a foundation of health and universal consciousness, and meeting my organic beverage pioneer husband and twin flame soulmate Eric Schnell.
LTP: What revealed the “missing link” (as you put it) in the organic wellness market that inspired you to create Under the Canopy?
MZ: I have been an artist and fashion lover from the time I was very young. I practiced calligraphy, pottery and oil painting, worked in clothing stores, modeled a bit and was awarded best-dressed in high school. On a separate front, with my passion for personal and planetary wellness, I was consistently studying organic agriculture and other health and environmental modalities. I learned that there was a missing link in the agricultural equation and that fiber needed to be addressed, as cotton was a key part of the organic crop rotation methodology and 60 percent of the plant was going into our food stream. I discovered that—from growing to treatment and processing—cotton was a leading cause of air and water pollution and that, in the spirit of holistic health and wellness, we are not just what we eat, but also what we wear.
While consulting on organic and natural food and beauty at my school, I was working with several princesses of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family, who were avid shoppers on Fifth Avenue in New York City. One day, as we perused the racks at Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, they began asking me if organic and natural fashion existed. My heart and brain lit up: it was a life-changing epiphany. In 1995, I coined and trademarked the term “ECOfashion” to bridge ecology and wellness with modern fashion. I founded Under the Canopy, a lifestyle brand that would give people a way to buy stylish apparel and home textiles while making a difference to human health, the environment, farmer-worker welfare and future generations.
The notion of changing the world of style, while styling the world of change was incredibly invigorating, especially since ECOfashion represented the intersection of all of my interests. Inspired by the reflection and interconnection of humans, nature generated “under the canopy” of the world’s rainforests and the premise that we all live “under the canopy” of the planet’s ecosystem together, my mantra became to break the stigmas that sustainable fashion was crunchy, frumpy, boxy, beige, boring and overpriced. Under the Canopy and ECOfashion would offer no compromise on innovative design, color, comfort, quality, price and authenticity, and would inherently include both value and values.
LTP: You are preeminent in sustainable apparel and home fashion and have worked tirelessly for decades to establish guidelines for organic products. How do you find time to take care of yourself?
MZ: I am appreciative that all of my efforts converge into one collective puzzle piece, driven by my favorite Kahlil Gibran quote, “Work is love made visible.” When you love your work, it’s not work; it’s love. I am an advocate of teaching by example and “walking the talk.” Thus, my lifestyle is who I am and the reality I create and this includes incorporating mindfulness into the choices I make.
At every opportunity, I try to eat, wear and use certified organic products in my daily rituals. I haven’t eaten red meat, poultry or dairy in 30 years, and I also avoid white and refined flours and sugars, gluten, processed and chemical-laden foods and other toxic ingredients. I have been practicing yoga for over 25 years; I follow my heart and I do my best to live in the now. I thoroughly enjoy swimming in warm oceans, stargazing, steam baths, watching documentaries, getting massages and frequenting spas—all of which nurture and help me to thrive, both inside and out.
Finally, I am deeply enriched as a mother and feel blessed to be sharing my time and life with my incredible children, family, husband, stepchildren, friends, partners, co-workers and the global community. I believe in giving back, so I dedicate a percentage of my work to “karma yoga”—mentoring, teaching and serving on a wide array of non-profit boards.
There is nothing more rewarding than watching my children and family flourish and to experience the ripple effect of my business efforts, such as when I meet people who tell me I’ve helped ignite their own personal journeys and changed their lives for the better in some way. Because we are all connected, I believe wholeheartedly that serving others is ultimately serving myself.
LTP: What advice can you offer to those who wish to become involved in holistic wellness?
MZ: The best advice I can give is in the spirit of Lao Tzu’s words: “The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.” Take one step at a time in the right direction. There are endless pathways to fuel one’s awakening to the interconnectedness of heart-body-soul and people-planet-universe. I have been traveling this road for over 30 years and I am still learning and growing each and every day.
Food is often an obvious entry point and conduit, since food is energy (as are we) and an understanding of the relationship to the greater good can often be sparked by the integration of looking good and feeling good. For deep study, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition certifies people to become health coaches and to use this skill set to enhance an existing profession, better one’s personal life and possibly serve as a catalyst to pursue a new career path. Food is very personal. Holistic health incorporates the discipline to navigate a mind-body balance. And, in the context of the greater whole, it also includes the wisdom to take responsibility and heal oneself in the process.
Just as the spirit and science worlds have finally fused in some important instances, yoga and meditation are also very powerful and empowering practices that function as reflective mirrors of our own divine selves. Connecting the dots from the spiritual and emotional to the physical ensures deeper-rooted and more sustainable mind-body wellness.
Every choice we make constitutes an energetic reinforcement of holistic health—or a step away from it. Even with Under the Canopy, my vision has always been that our products would be vehicles for transformation, bridging the tribe with the boardroom and the fashionistas with the free spirits. Human beings are all that is, so a collective shift starts at the individual level.
The I AM movement embodies this philosophy as well: “I think, therefore I AM.” If we set an intention for a healthier, just and more sustainable world, we can manifest that vision through shared desires, belief systems, acceptance, action and allowance. What we put out, we get back. And the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
MZ: I am happy when my heart is smiling and the energy in and around me is fueled by positivity and purpose. I am a creator, as are we all, so it is within our reach to co-create a reality of unity consciousness. Just as when birds fly together and fish swim in sync, when I feel tapped in to my sixth sense, I know I am part of a bigger picture, an infinite field of pure love and light.
To feel long-lasting happiness, we need to merge with love. Don’t just see love. Be love. It is when we drop in, surrender and know that everything happens for a reason, that we can genuinely let go and be free to fly.
The more that people wake up to this vibration, the more they will recognize that magic is the true nature of our cosmic human existence. Each of us has the power to live an extraordinary life by acting on our deepest desires. Happiness is being tuned in, tapped in and turned on.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that everyday?
MZ: In the words of Gandhi, we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.” I do feel strongly that when we have found truth—the lifeline to our gut, our seed of consciousness, the source of our heartbeat, our light—that we are able to live in balance, harmony and resonance with our inner souls.
I endeavor to wake up every day connecting to the bliss of heaven on earth, experiencing a profound sense of appreciation and oneness. For me, eating, living and working mindfully—taking yoga off the mat, with professional and personal values that are in sync with its teachings—is the key to unlocking the door to flow and manifestation. I strive to proactively identify win-win solutions, whereby one plus one equals eleven.
To “Live The Process” means to live every day authentically and transparently. Challenges are opportunities to learn and grow—to get smarter, stronger and clearer. As Buddhist philosophy states, “You cannot truly know joy without pain.”
In finding my husband, I am now vibrating in a symphony of synchronicity that I attribute to the alchemy of our mutual devotion and unifying love. I believe that at our core, human beings long for an inherent sense of trust, respect and safety, so—to live effortlessly—we must rid ourselves of fear or negativity in the way we see the world and others, and instead, embrace an attitude of gratitude at every level of our lives.