We had the good fortune of connecting with Kayli Kunkel and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kayli, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
It was June 2020 and I was working a desk job as a Marketing Director adjacent to the tech industry. In my personal life, we were in the peak of the pandemic in New York City, and I was joining daily protests against the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Everything that was invigorating me in my personal life — social justice, supporting those who lived and worked and gathered around me — was strikingly absent in my career. And this really came to a head when I was let go from my job after a period of defending and advocating for my values.

I sat down and listed everything that mattered to me. I had a heightened awareness that summer of supporting small businesses and makers, many of whom were struggling in the pandemic, and also broadening where I put my money to intentionally support entrepreneurs of color and those who placed sustainability at the forefront of their brands. Both of my parents owned small businesses for most of my life, and I realized I had the opportunity to unite all of this into one big idea.

I set out to create the Etsy of small-batch, sustainable items. I wanted to give people in my community the peace of mind that they could buy necessities (and some fun things, too) while supporting individuals and small-batch businesses who genuinely cared about what went into their products, and what their lifecycle would become after use, while elevating people to become their own bosses in an increasingly oppressive economy. I started out with a dozen or so makers, reaching out on Etsy and Instagram, and that evolved into four-five dozen — a small store, which became a bigger store in 10 months — and a space that has become so much more than a retail store. We do education, advocacy, and provide opportunities for local gatherings and events to unite us and remind us of our collective power.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My mom, a former small business owner herself, has this saying – “When you own your own business, you get to decide which 20 hours a day you work.” It’s funny and it’s close to being true. I work nonstop, and the lines between my personal and professional life have absolutely dimmed. But that’s because I’m doing work so close to my heart and my calling in life. I truly believe the madness of 2020 set me on the path of what I’m supposed to be doing: Building my own intentional brand, learning how to do it well, and then using those tools to inspire and educate others to rethink capitalism and how businesses can serve their communities and their environment in a tangible, day-to-day way — not just something to share in a social media graphic once a year or tuck into some kind of committee. I am most proud of the way Earth & Me has occupied a space in my local community. We are a central point for all kinds of questions about reducing waste, taking action on climate change, learning more about supporting small makers + aspiring entrepreneurs. We have become an experimental place for small-scale circular economies, and we are doing everything we can to evaluate how businesses are typically run and push the envelope to truly value community over competition and people over profits. It is definitely not easy, but it feels like the natural thing to do. Once you are burned in a corporate 9-to-5 enough times, you learn all the ways that you can remake the script a different way. I have so many small lessons I’ve learned that I would love to share with others. But it all starts with being true to yourself, genuine and open with your community, and willing to learn and accept vulnerability for writing your own rulebook.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
(These questions are just so awesome!)

Well, Queens is the best place on Earth. So I would start with a nice walk through Astoria. I’d say get lunch at an excellent local establishment — pastries at Il Fornaio, falafel at King of Falafel , or some phenomenal Greek food. Swing by Astoria Park. Check out all the amazing, special, and passion-driven local businesses like In Casa, The Brass Owl, Fern Botanica, and Newton HQ (for home goods, quirky gifts, florals, and speciality comic-inspired items, respectively). End your day at QNS Collaborative, a new community makers’ market cooperatively run by local neighbors (including me!), which has art and creations from over 2 dozen Queens-based entrepreneurs and artists.

Head out to Jackson Heights for a walk down 34th Avenue Open Streets on a sunny fall day. Get some Nepalese momos, Bangladeshi fuchka from a street cart on 37th Avenue and 73rd Street, and Indian desserts at Raja Sweets. If you’re there on a Sunday, you can also check out our local Green Market.

Don’t forget to come by Earth & Me and spend some time in our backyard garden. 🙂

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to dedicate my answers to everyone on the frontlines of the climate emergency, from writers and advocates to educators, artists and more. Some favorite people who have educated and inspired me include Robin Wall Kimmerer, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and the various educators and leaders across social media and offline who tirelessly work every day.

Website: earthandme.co

Instagram: earthandme.nyc

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.