Do It Gorgeously: An Interview with Sophie Uliano

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Can living green make you look gorgeous? Ask Gorgeously Green author Sophie Uliano, and she'll say yes -- and you'll save green too. The trim and energetic 45-year-old environmentalist is out with a new book -- Do It Gorgeously: How to Make Less Toxic, Less Expensive, and More Beautiful Products -- a can-do girly guide to green DIY tips that'll save you money and make you more self-sufficient -- all while looking good and doing good for the planet.

In this interview, Sophie shares why DIY-ing means upscale eco-beauty on the cheap, when upcycling can keep your chic boots looking new and how toilet fix-it skills can instill a sense of pride.

The Interview with Sophie Uliano

I have to say, you look healthy and vibrant, like a living model for your "gorgeous" books. Would you say there's a connection between living green and looking good?

I think there probably is. At a certain age, as a girl, you decide to go one of two ways. You either decide you're going to really do everything as naturally as you possibly can, or you're going to go down the route -- the full-on artificial route.

I've always been drawn towards a very holistic and very natural way of living and taking care of myself -- And that's pretty much what I've done for the last 20 years of my life. So everything that I do, whether it's the food that I eat, what I put on my skin, the air quality in my home -- pretty much every aspect of my life is geared towards a holistic understanding.

And I really believe that everything is interrelated and everything works together. So there's absolutely no point in me really taking care of one area of my life -- if it's diet for instance -- and then in another area of my life, I'm plastering potentially toxic chemicals on my skin or spraying fresheners in my home that are full of phthalates and other toxic chemicals. It just all works together. I don't think you can do the one without affecting the other.

Do It Gorgeously's full of DIY recipes for beauty products, from lotions to serums to makeup removers. Since you're able to make so many of these on the cheap yourself, are there any beauty products you still buy?

I make whatever I can make. So, for instance, I will make things that are really easy to make -- things like scrubs and exfoliators and alpha hydroxy masks and serums. There's an incredible amount of stuff that you can make very very easily -- and very very inexpensively. So you can make these tremendous serums that are very very powerful -- literally for pennies instead of dollars. I absolutely will not spend my hard-earned cash on something that I can make. I've taken a lot of those expensive products apart. I know exactly what's in them and I know that they are absolutely no more effective than what I can make myself.

What do I buy? Makeup. I could make my own makeup. I've tried to make some. It's actually very easy to make mineral makeup. But I draw the line, because I'm not one of these women who'll spend hours in my kitchen. I'm extremely busy. I'm a mother. I have a full time job, running a website and writing books and whatnot. So, cosmetics I buy. And then if I find the odd, sort of interesting, yummy, gorgeous potion, I may buy the odd thing. But for the most part, it's just cosmetics for me -- and sunscreen.

I know you did a lot of personal experimentation for this book, concocting and discovering new recipes and DIY techniques. Are there any specific discoveries you made during the book-writing process that have changed your life permanently?

There are two or three recipes I discovered in the process [of writing my book] that now, I absolutely can't live without, that I make weekly. I make my mouthwash weekly, because I used to buy the very expensive mouthwashes -- the eco, non-toxic ones. So $7 - $8 bucks for a very small bottle, between my husband and I, would last us a week. It was really pricey.

I always find with the green way of living, it's all abut the details. It's all about the little details of your everyday life that are life-changing so often, rather than the big broad strokes. So as insignificant as it may sound, making my own mouthwash, making my own Vitamin C serum -- they're two products that I use twice a day every single day. Both of those I now make for pennies, rather than dollars.

I make all my own cleaners, and again, have done for many years, but in the process of this book really wanted to spend some time fiddling around and researching and experimenting to get the perfect formulation. And I think the all-purpose cleaner, which I finally think I've got down as being something that's just marvelous. Now, every room I walk into in my day to day life is just full of my own products, and it gives me an enormous sense of smugness (laughs) to think of how much money I'm saving.

You say in your book that you weren't really a very crafty person -- but clearly, writing this book pushed your creative boundaries. What are the really challenging projects you tackled that you're especially proud of?

I figured out the complete ins and outs of how to fix a broken toilet, which is the most unglamorous thing in the world, but literally I'm so proud of that. Because every time in the past, I've got Mr. Roto or whoever the chap is, who by the way takes one look at me and basically doubles the price because I'm small and blond and could be construed as being not the most aggressive looking woman (laughs). Now I'm like, you're not pulling the wool over my eyes, mate. I know how to do these things myself!

The other thing's the sewing projects. I've never been taught properly or have official training in how to sew anything. But I also believe that you can pretty much do anything if you put your mind to it. And that's what I did. Just being green, I wanted to reuse as much stuff as I can in my home, so I found these old pillow cases made these absolutely gorgeous nightdresses for my daughter.

And I've made things like boot trees. I had all these boots and I never went out and bought those plastic boot trees because I hate buying plastic. So my boots were always flopping over. Then I actually saw some boot trees at Anthropologie that inspired me, but I decided I'm gonna make those from old T-shirts. So now all my boots have gorgeous boot trees in them from old shirts and pillow cases.

I even figured out how to make the most gorgeous pair of yoga pants -- one for me, and one for my daughter -- from my husband's old T-shirts! So those are the ones that I feel most proud of.

What inspired your environmentalism?

I think I was always raised with a great consciousness of taking care of the environment, and really everything. So my mom was very much that way inclined. Of course then it wasn't called being green. It was just called common sense and just doing what you did, what you had to do in terms of saving and conserving and just being mindful.

What message do you hope new DIYers will get from your book?

I think the sort of message that I really want to inspire readers with and women out there is that ... particularly because of the economy, I think green really truly is more about really hunkering down in your own home, making do with less, figuring out what you can do with old stuff so you're not buying more, and realizing less is more, basically. You can do a tremendous amount with what you already have in your home, and you'll be very surprised.

Making a lot of your own things, like cleaners and skin care products -- your really do not have to be Martha Stewart. you can be that crazy busy time-challenged person. I promise you, because I am. and you can really make those simple things that will be life-changing.
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Curious about Sophie Uliano's book? Get sneak peek recipes from Do It Gorgeously on Sophie's Gorgeously Green website, and follow Sophie's blog for more green DIY tips. If you're in the Los Angeles area, Sophie will give a presentation at the next Women of the Green Generation event on Thursday, July 29, starting at 7 pm at Evo, 1155 S. Grand, Los Angeles.

For reviews of Do It Gorgeously, visit:

  • Wenona Napolitano at Crafting a Green World: "I especially found the food canning advice useful because it is something I have been wanting to try but thought it was a daunting experience. I figured I would have to buy a lot of special equipment but she pointed me in the right direction for simplified canning."

  • Sandy at Modern*Simplicity: "This book is so much more than beauty care and home cleaning recipes!"

  • Kathy at SafeMama: "there are a million things in here that I never even considered doing myself like making my own shower curtain out of bed sheets or making my own Mint Zinger mouthwash."

Photos via Gorgeously Green
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BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel also blogs at greenLAgirl.com.

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