Hudson Couple Share Passion For Green Living Through Environ/MENTAL

Gary Rule and Kristina Risola make a constant effort to be more environmentally conscious. They recycle, buy local produce, save food scraps for their compost, limit hot water use and turn off any unnecessary lights around their house.

And now the Hudson-based husband and wife hope to take it a step further with their new home business -- environ/MENTAL.

Its name stems from their shared love of the environment and mental health. Rule, 26, is an environmental science and policy major at the University of South Florida. Risola, 27, is a rehabilitation counselor in Hernando County.

The concept? Personalized accessories and everyday use items crafted from eye-popping fabrics and upcycled fixtures. Wallets. Purses sewn out of vintage upholstery samples and thrift store t-shirts. Custom iPad cases. Snack bags lined with polyurethane laminated fabric, or PUL, that keeps out water and cleans up with the wipe of a sponge. Sandwich wrappers that protect your lunch and unfold into a placemat. You name it, they'll try to make it.

"We want to use our business to not only produce stuff for people that they'll enjoy and will make their lives better, but to spread the message of healthy living," Risola says.

While the business name itself was something they tossed around for more than a year, it wasn't until Risola had a sudden influx of free time on her hands that the idea came to life.

In December 2011 she graduated with a masters degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling from USF and anxiously awaited her job placement from the state of Florida.

An avid crafter for years, she decided to finally teach herself how to sew.

Acquiring Skills, Supplies

She bought a Brother sewing machine from Amazon and studied sewing tips -- such as how to reinforce a stitch and make homemade items more professional -- on Pinterest.

She created her first small snack bag; it was good. The second was even better. After sharing pictures of her items on Facebook, friends suggested she open a shop with online marketplace Etsy.

The spark was lit and Rule came on board for their bustling business venture, which he's been approved to use as his internship during his final semester at USF.

"It just kind of fell into place," he says.

They began acquiring materials from local craft and thrift stores. The Pasco Animal Welfare Society in Port Richey is a favorite for their supply of zippers. They ditched vacation plans to Amelia Island when the rep for an estate sale in Clearwater answered their Craigslist ad seeking vintage fabrics.

"We drove to Clearwater that night," Risola says. "They had more than they thought."

What the sellers estimated to be three boxes of old sewing material turned out to be five large flat-rate and banana boxes packed solid with ties, crocheting tools, books and a plethora of fabric -- complete with the original receipts -- dating back to the 1950s.

It was a tremendous asset to their fledging home operation, but the couple admits that not every material used in their products can be upcycled. New fabrics, like PUL and nylon, are always used for food products.

Waste Not, Want Not

Eventually they hope to work exclusively with upcycled and recycled materials, according to Risola. But, in the meantime, the purchase of new items is counteracted by creating as little waste as possible.

Every piece of leftover thread and fabric is saved. They plan to use it in their artwork, along with the seemingly endless supply of junk mail that has flooded their mailbox since registering as a business.

"Even if the product isn't 100 percent eco-friendly, our process can be," Rule says.

They've also forgone the initial idea to open an online store, opting instead to be more involved in the Tampa Bay region. They sell items out of their home, at local arts and craft shows and at All Sports Arena in New Port Richey, where Risola organizes the women's hockey league.

"We like that people can come to the house and pick stuff up, rather than ship it off to someone we'll never see," she says.

It may be a small effort toward building a more informed community, but it's the little stuff that adds up.

"People think that being green is all or nothing," Rule says. "It's not. It's a lifestyle change and with your dollar you can make steps."

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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