Throughout her expansive 17-year career, storytelling has always been at the forefront of Nikki Reed’s work—beginning at age 13 when she was tapped to co-write and star in the coming-of-age drama, Thirteen, and continuing on through her diverse acting roles and famous portrayal of vampire Rosalie Hale in the film adaptation of the wildly successful Twilight series. Now, Reed has transitioned her creative efforts into the world of conscious storytelling and environmentalism through her sustainable lifestyle brand, BaYou with Love.
BaYou with Love is rooted in the desire to “achieve the very balance we find in nature, in the fashion world.” Even in its earliest stages, Reed knew that she had discovered a niche market that would give her company the potential to evolve into something truly special.
In an effort to keep the business as small as possible, she opted out of reaching out to investors, and instead decided to recruit a six-person team to help manage the business alongside her when it launched in 2017. This small-business mindset carried over into production methods too, with the company making an early commitment to source items only from local manufacturers in Los Angeles, as a means to help reduce the brand’s carbon footprint.
In 2018, she was approached by an all-female team at Dell who were looking to repurpose their e-waste—the tech giant is known to use nearly 7,000 pounds of gold per year in its products. The pitch eventually evolved into a partnership which would help to recycle the company’s trashed tech, and inspire the One Earth Collection—Reed’s line of 14-18 karat gold jewelry made from extracted gold found in Dell’s old computer motherboards. The move eventually earned BaYou with Love a Fast Company nomination for innovation and design, and quickly put her eco-startup in the same category as brands like Nike and Apple.
We had the chance to connect with Nikki and ask her questions about the value of sustainable beauty, the challenges of ethical business management, and how motherhood has influenced her career as an entrepreneur. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sustainability often feels like a buzzword that’s thrown around in the business space, but rarely broken down. What does BaYou with Love do specifically to truly embody a sustainable company, and to leave the smallest footprint possible?
At BaYou, we create fine jewelry using recycled—as opposed to newly mined gold—and specifically recycled gold from used technology through our partnership with Dell. We currently produce everything in California at our downtown Los Angeles manufacture facility. We also offer all of our clients the option to choose a carbon-neutral grown diamond for their engagement or bespoke piece instead of a mined diamond. The cultivated diamonds we source are grown using solar energy in California, as well. Our goal is to go from being sustainable to regenerative in the next year or two.
The company name is so unique and beautiful. Where did the inspiration for it come from?
Thank you! My husband grew up on the Bayou waterfront in Louisiana, so I always thought I would name a child Bayou, but then I birthed a company before I had my daughter!
You’ve advocated for the importance of collaboration and “combining worlds” in business. Has your partnership with Dell inspired you to want to work within other facets of sustainability more, or to collaborate with other companies to expand the reach of BaYou With Love?
I have always approached business with the “together we are stronger” mentality, likely due to my background work in activism. I don’t think we will ever make true progress as activists if we don’t lean on each other, share and provide resources, partner, etc. If we act as islands, we can’t really move the needle. With BaYou, I try and approach business in the same way. We have a section of our website dedicated to sharing some of our vendors, and talk openly about how we produce. The goal is not for BaYou to be the only company doing this, but inspire others to join us!
How can the bioeconomy help us to find sustainable solutions for the future?
I think holding ourselves accountable and having reliable sources of information are crucial for real change. We need to incentivize companies to produce in a more conscious way, while educating consumers so they ask the right questions and put more pressure on businesses to change. The more information is readily available, the better!
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who want to run their business in an ethical way?
The truth is, running a sustainable/ethical/eco-conscious business has its challenges. It does! There are inevitably shortcuts that will pop up which could potentially make things easier, but you can’t take them, because shortcuts often mean less sustainable or ethical. The only path is the one you are on, and you have to commit. On a daily basis I’m presented with options to produce faster and cheaper which, technically speaking, is built into the DNA of most companies. But BaYou focuses on slow production, small batches, with sustainability at our core.
You’ve had such a successful acting career. Has it been challenging having to pivot away from Hollywood?
Moving away from acting was definitely a conscious choice that I made knowing there were other areas of passion I had to explore. I have always known I would do something outside of acting. I started my career as a writer, and always felt the desire to tell stories. Making jewelry is another aspect of storytelling. I think what we create, where we put our time, where we find inspiration are all parts of storytelling. I get to dive deeper into my creative self, while also sharpening tools as a business owner. We are a small company, so I still work in every single area of the company. I design, I create, but I also handle operations as well. Everything from building product pages, to web design, to accounting, to photography; I do it all. We also have an amazing BaYou team that continues to grow with a ton of passion, and I’m so grateful for their commitment to the brand and mission.
How do you practice mindfulness and sustainability in your own home?
The work/life balance is definitely tough right now. It’s hard to set boundaries with yourself when I can work remotely because I find myself working 16+ hours a day since there is always more to do. With BaYou being a small company, I am still catching up on things and to-do’s from a year ago. There’s always so much to manage! So my mindful practice has been reminding myself to slow down. As a household, we are very conscious of what we bring in, and where it goes when it leaves. We buy in bulk and rarely bring new plastic into the home. We make sure to recycle. We compost. We drink water from a well, we grow a lot of our own food or we buy from a nearby farm so we don’t have to go to the supermarket. We use hydroponic growing towers for veggies and herbs that reuse water to reduce water waste. My daughter pretty much only wears hand-me-downs, we don’t buy new clothes, we just pass around amongst neighbors. But still, there’s always more to do.
Has motherhood made the work that you do feel more important—knowing that you’re not just helping to create a more conscious world for future generations, but for your daughter, as well?
Absolutely. Every day I learn new things I want to incorporate into our life for her future and the future of our planet. She is my greatest source of inspiration and motivation to be a part of creating a life that is one which helps regenerate. I have always loved plants and animals, but my connection to the Earth definitely expanded after becoming a mom, and my passion only continues to grow.
BaYou With Love feels, in many ways, like it was your first baby before you actually had a baby. As the brand expands, does that make it harder to let go of some of the control?
I would like to always stay a small business, because I think the morals of the company mirror mine, and I don’t feel the need to grow to a point where we lose sight of who we are as a brand and what we stand for. We produce in a way that could so easily be replaced by a less sustainable model if another entity were to take over. We don’t cut corners, because I have made it clear that we will travel the harder road if it means better, more conscious production in the end, and I am not willing to let go if it means compromising!
What does the future look like for BaYou With Love?
Right now I am really focused on creating products that are versatile. One of the reasons I love working with gold is because it is a treasure, an heirloom, something people hold on to for a lifetime. It doesn’t often end up in landfills polluting our earth, and technically it came from the Earth, so working with the elements feels like the path we will stay on. But given the fact that I can’t change the cost of gold, and it is a luxury item, I want to create pieces that are multifunctional so those who can’t necessarily afford a ton of jewelry can still be a part of the BaYou story by purchasing one piece in their lifetime which can have many functions. Less is more. We have to buy less but buy better. I know this goes against the conventional business model handbook, but it’s who we are as a company and I know there is a way to succeed without abandoning our mission!
For more information on Nikki Reed and BaYou with Love, visit www.bayouwithlove.com.