Explore San Francisco

Zem Joaquin Tells Us How to be Ecofabulous

The Ecofabulous founder dishes on her favorite Bay Area shopping, artisans and restaurants.

Zem Joaquin started covering the intersection of style and sustainability on her lifestyle website Ecofabulous eight years ago. “I wanted to show how being more conscious of the environment doesn’t have to compromise your sense of beauty or luxury,” says the strategy and design advisor, TED host and co-founder of the annual hit Gorgeous & Green Gala. Last fall, Ecofabulous relocated its content to an environmental super page on the Huffington Post, and the news site named Joaquin an editor-at-large of home and lifestyle. “We had really penetrated the world of those who prioritized eco fashion and design,” Joaquin says, “and the merger was an opportunity for it to become a more mainstream site with a much larger audience.”


How did you come to be so passionate about sustainable living?

I grew up in a commune in Palo Alto where we had limited resources and everybody understood that we had to be conscious of all of our actions because we were a community. I’ve never seen my mother take a non-reusable bag from a store—environmentalism was kind of burned into my DNA. I believe everything should be designed with a future generation in mind—not in a vacuum.


How did Ecofabulous come about?

Both of my children had severe asthma, and after trying everything I realized that their environment was contributing to their bad health. I wanted to design a healthy home for them without negatively contributing to the environment at large, and I decided to share all of the research that I was doing with families that were having same challenge.


Where are your favorite places to shop in the Bay Area?

Convert in Berkeley has a really good mix, and I also go to Azalea in Hayes Valley for eco-apparel. Icebreaker in Union Square carries the highest quality, traceable-to-the-individual-sheep merino wool everything. HD Buttercup in SoMA has amazing organic mattresses. West Elm has great furniture, and Cisco Home in Hayes Valley is another wonderful resource for all-sustainable furniture. There’s Battersea and Coup d’Etat in the design district for vintage furniture. I also go to Paxton Gate on Valencia. Their sister store Curiosities for Kids has awesome natural products and so many creative things. And the pirate store, called 826 Valencia, is especially fun with kids.


Who are some of your favorite local earth-minded artisans?

Amour Vert is a very well priced line with super cute designs made from organic cottons and other natural fibers. The designer is Parisian, and everything is made here. I wear their stuff all the time. There’s also Sara Shepherd and Mina + Olya for clothing. Jennifer Montana has a super cool line of necklaces made of recycled keys, and almost all proceeds go to charity. All the designs at Manika Jewelry downtown are sustainable. Jewelry designer Jennifer Dawes of Dawes Designs creates high-end pieces from recycled gold and vintage or conflict-free gems. I use Lifefactory and BKR glass reusable water bottles.


What are some of your favorite local beauty products?

Tatcha is based here in San Francisco and made in Japan. The ingredients and packaging are super luxurious. For me it’s the gold standard, or I say purple standard because of the purple packaging. And Juice Beauty is fantastic, and we have MVO and its new Pacific line, which I love. On the affordable end, Yes to Blueberries is my favorite from the local brand Yes To. I have sensitive skin, and it’s the best. I love EO, a Mill Valley Company. I always use their soap and body products.


What are some of your favorite places to eat in the city?

My husband and I always go to Yuzu on Fillmore for sushi—it’s always easy to get in. I think it’s underrated. For casual food, I like Plant Cafe, where everything is organic. On Pacific Avenue, there’s Cotogna. Roka Akor is right there too. And I still love Quince.


You’ve lived in London, Milan and Paris. How does the Bay Area lifestyle compare?

The Bay Area is my favorite place to live by far. It’s incredibly stimulating intellectually and creatively here. The art and tech communities make it so diverse. ­­­The food is incredible, and the Ferry Building is really a standout— a special place with all these purveyors of beautiful, organic local foods and artisan gifts. And taking the ferry across the bay to work in the city is really special. Plus we’re close to Sonoma and Napa and Carmel.


Where do you take visitors to show off the city?   

Crissy Field. The Presidio is another exceptional gem. I also like taking people to Fillmore Street. It’s a fun walking street, and people always enjoy Hayes Valley and the great restaurants and stores.


Tell us about your Gorgeous and Green charity gala for Global Green.

This year will be my 10th anniversary of doing this event. Every year we have a theme and sustainable, local food from a celebrity chef—Michael Mina has been a huge supporter. The fashion show is a big draw, and each year it’s grown and has gotten better and better. It indicates the direction of eco fashion world.


Are you working on any exciting new projects?

I’m working with a company called ieCrowd and am excited about some of their new technologies. One called the Kite Patch makes you invisible to mosquitoes by blocking the insects’ c02 receptors.


Joaquin’s Green Living Tips

  • I installed a foot pedal on my sink so I can control the water flow with my foot. It saves a tremendous amount of water.
  • People are starting to bring their own bags to the grocery store, but they still take shopping bags from other stores. Commit to never take a bag.
  • Eating less meat has an even bigger impact on your environmental footprint than not driving a car. Try meatless Mondays. Or go veg just on the weekdays.


A Perfect Day in San Francisco: Zem's Itinerary


Japanese Tea Garden
Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco (©Parks & Recreation)

7 am - Morning Zen

I take classes at Yoga Tree, my favorite yoga studio. They have locations all over the Bay Area.

9:30 am - Sausalito Retreat

I love Cavallo Point. It’s barely over the bridge and is truly the perfect start to the day for me. I’d begin with breakfast. Theirs is fantastic, and everything is organic and local. Then I’d have a spa treatment. The spa there is one of my favorite spas anywhere.

Noon - Afternoon in the Park

I’d go into the city and have lunch at Burma Superstar. It’s a little hole in the wall that’s close to Golden Gate Park, which is a really nice place to spend the day. I love the Japanese Tea Garden. I have what I call low-tea there—green tea and little cookies—and walk around. Then I’ll go to the California Academy of Sciences, one of best science museums in the world. It was my favorite place on earth when I was a child. 

7 pm - Swanky Dinner Plans

I’d go to Michael Chiarello’s restaurant Coqueta for drinks—the view is insane. Then dinner at Atelier Crenn