The ABC’s of Sustainable Style: An Interview with Paulette Cole

“What I did was start investing in what I love and what I believed in”

Paulette Cole is CEO and creative director of the trendsetting Manhattan furnishing store ABC Home. But she’s more than an entrepreneur, she’s also a visionary. Her company lives and breathes the mission statement of using beauty, art, and wellness as powerful tools. Her aim is to heal the planet by transforming shopping into responsible retail.

Beyond furnishings and decor, ABC Home stores offer an oasis of all things bed, bath, baby, and beauty & wellness. ABC is also home one of the hottest NYC restaurants, offering an array of  fine dining experiences.  Her business model teaches consumers about the art of making their homes both a refuge and a creative, sacred space. To Paulette, shopping responsibly is a form connectivity: it brings together people, purpose, and planet. She’s the ultimate pioneer in eco-chic.

How did one woman build an empire inspired by eco-friendly shopping and indigenous design in a world that revolves around the bottom line?

“This is a story of beauty, wellness, wisdom, and love”

It all began in the 1980’s when Paulette set out to expand her family’s carpet business from an upscale design store into a mission driven business.  From its inception, ABC Home followed the belief that every product sold should resonate with the heart. During the early days Paulette said, “I didn’t really have a template to follow, so I trusted my intuition.”

In 2003, ABC Home made the decision to sustainably source all of their furniture and introduced the concept of “Good Wood”– products made from trees that have been harvested from responsibly managed forests. Later, that idea would manifest into the Goodwood Plant a Tree project. For each Goodwood furniture purchase, a tree is planted through the Climate Poverty Reduction Program, an effort led by Professor Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement.  

By 2004, ABC Home was entirely dedicated to selling sustainable products like reclaimed salvaged goods, organic upholstery, fabrics, and vintage and antique pieces.

Beyond selling goods, Paulette wanted the company to do good.  The goal was to keep world’s wellbeing in mind with every decision the company made. That meant only sourcing from businesses that were chemical-free, used wildcrafting, and were in alignment with organic principles. They went so far as to drop all chemical cleansers from the store and use only recycled paper, soy based ink, and biodegradable packaging (all while saving money along the way.)

Ultimately, these strategies resulted in a business that today educates, heals, and inspires consumers. Not only has ABC Home created a community and sanctuary for beautiful products brimming with integrity, but it has curated a living theater for art and wellness. As often as possible, Paulette wants the store to be a source of “connectivity to a healthier place of wellness and prosperity.”

“I don’t think the world needs ABC to be another Billion dollar brand”

Like many large businesses, ABC Home was urged to “grow big”. Paulette was not swayed by the prospects of scaling. She remained steadfast to the original business strategy and protected the uniqueness of the brand. Her tenacity defines her strength as a woman and CEO.  The brand she built was not solely driven by the bottom line.

Today, sustainable stores face many challenges.  More than ever, Paulette sees capital wanting to invest in vision, but also demanding a “sure thing” that will bring competitive returns.  Remaining dedicated to the brand’s mission while making profits is a delicate balance and not for the faint of heart.  Building a business with ethics in mind means looking beyond profit and towards environmental and social responsibility.  Paulette advises entrepreneurs, “you’ll have to be willing to invest in the sustainability of that mission even if sales are swaying.”

“It’s the butterfly effect”

With ABC Home, Paulette wanted to give people the opportunity to connect with sources that they didn’t know were available.  For instance, women seeking a pink sari at her store wouldn’t have to worry, “whether that pink dye was low impact color or vegetable dyed, or whether the women who were weaving it are weaving it under fair trade circumstances.”  Curating positive change in commerce starts with aligning your own vision and values with your daily choices.  The food we put in our mouths, the clothes we wear, and the products we apply impact not only our own personal health, but the health our planet and communities, too.  

Entrepreneurs, business owners, and people everywhere can begin the journey of building a healthier economy for the planet. Creating both a strong business and fruitful life hold the same principles: it’s all about combined efforts. Paulette sees an opportunity to redefine the concept of design and integrate it into a brand that helps people and planet.  She urges consumers everywhere to step up and align their beliefs with what they purchase.  If we do this consistently, it changes the way the world does business. Paulette already sees a Green Industrial Revolution in the works as more people opt for sustainable shopping and business.  This process is a group effort though, one where the consumer’s voice is only heard when amplified by many.  

How do we accomplish this task and what is her advice to accelerate conscious capitalism? According to her,

“Speak loudly even if your voice shakes…The consumer has to demand more.”

In the end, Paulette Cole transformed a mere family owned business into a revered sustainable shopping empire, one that millions of people admire.  Her work is a living masterpiece and clearly defines a new era of design. ABC Home is the ultimate shift in paradigm and a business that continues to inspire truth seekers and entrepreneurs everywhere to voice their desires and vote with their dollars.


Check out more great interviews and videos from leaders in conscious capitalism, in the new feature film Prosperity

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