Meet Sylvia Parker of Magpie

Meet Sylvia Parker of Magpie |

While walking in my neighborhood a few months ago, I noticed a chalkboard outside a shop advertising local and sustainable goods. I popped inside and found a well-curated boutique run by Sylvia Parker, a long time Upper West Sider and the knowledgeable proprietor of Magpie. Sylvia was kind enough to answer a few questions and let me photograph all the goodies in her shop. I also got to see her in action—giving recommendations, sharing the stories of items, and chatting with customers. In fact, I witnessed a man come into Magpie for the first time to buy a card and stay to recommend options for another customer looking for a housewarming gift. It was a friendly and cooperative effort and at the conclusion, gifts in hand, the woman exclaimed, "I always find the most amazing things in this store!". The whole thing smacked of serendipity and all I can say is that if you need a special and sustainable gift, go to Magpie and you'll likely leave with the perfect thing.

Meet Sylvia Parker of Magpie |

Introduce yourself. Tell us a little about your background.

I’m a native New Yorker—I was born on the Upper West Side. I attended college at Barnard and have lived here for more than thirty years after growing up in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, upstate New York, Connecticut, and Tennessee.  

Before Magpie, I was a business and legal editor, but had always dreamed of having my own shop—work that would be more visually and creatively satisfying and also support artists, the community, and companies that were doing good work. No experience, though, which is what led me to apply for a position at the American Folk Art Museum (and their shop) which I had long admired. The director there, Marie DiManno, was a gifted retailer who became a mentor and was so generous in sharing her more than thirty years of buying and merchandising experience with me. Through four years of experience at AFAM, I learned enough to do a start-up gift shop for the South Street Seaport Museum and then opened Magpie in 2012. I wanted a location on the Upper West because I realized that so many small, independent shops were being forced out of business. I wanted to bring that back and also offer brands and products that customers couldn’t find elsewhere. It gives me great pleasure to support local artists and other small businesses.

We are both Upper West Siders. Yay! Where are your favorite places to eat / play / hang out in the ‘hood?

On Sundays, you’ll often find me at the local greenmarket and flea market at Columbus and 77th Street which allows me to indulge two loves: farm-fresh, local produce and vintage shopping. For walking and biking, I love the Hudson River bike path by Riverside Park and Central Park’s rustic mini-waterfall and bird feeders in the Rambles where you can talk to local birders about their favorite sightings. Also the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which runs interesting film festivals, including one now called Sound & Vision—can’t wait to see a movie about a Japanese trance didgeridoo player!

New food discovery: the outdoor backyard garden at Bustan is a peaceful, pretty spot for weekend lunch. Try the soft egg burek (poached egg with spinach and truffle oil). And I can’t wait to try the new UWS outpost of Xi’an Famous Foods.  

Although I’ve lived here for such a long time, there’s always something new to discover. People have told me that I need to visit The Lotus Garden, a hidden gem of a garden that’s only open on Sundays.

[Note: I WILL become a key-holder at The Lotus Garden!]

Have customers (or their inquiries) changed over the past two years with regards to sustainability?

Definitely more knowledgeable; more and more customers are familiar with the concept of fair trade, for example, and why it’s important to support the fair trade community. I believe that merchandise still has to have functional and aesthetic appeal for customers, but the knowledge that a product is made sustainably of organic or recycled ingredients definitely gives customers an added incentive to buy.

How do you choose which brands to carry in the store? How do you find new ones?

I look for the beautiful, the whimsical, and intriguing—something that customers won’t find anywhere else. I also look for locally made or designed brands, and products that are handmade or made of organic or repurposed materials. If imported, I try to support fair trade companies and artisans as much as possible. Stationery and paper goods tend to be letterpress, handcrafted, or made of recycled paper.

For sourcing, I attend trade and craft shows, including a giant week-long outdoor flea market in Brimfield in Massachusetts and the Renegade Crafts Fair in Brooklyn. In the shop, we have our own in-house designer, Laura Rodriguez, who has her own company and is designing stylish products for kids and the home. Local artists will approach me, which is how I’ve found some of our most popular artists, including Jennifer Elling who makes beautiful origami-like sculptures out of vintage books. My newest designer is a woodworker from North Carolina named Buzz Coren who makes amazing earrings and pins out of intricately handcrafted hardwood. 

What’s your favorite item in the store right now?  

Teenie sterling silver and gold fill rings for $22 from Lio & Linn, two young Japanese designers from Brooklyn. The rings are handmade, can be mixed and matched, and worn either above or below the knuckle. We literally can’t keep them in stock! 

I rush into Magpie with a hostess gift emergency. Quick! What do you recommend I buy?  

Meow Meow Tweet’s Tangerine Basil and Grapefruit Mint soaps are organic, handmade in Brooklyn, and adorably packaged in labels they design themselves. Also Sobremesa’s hand-embroidered towels from a four-brother fair trade workshop in El Tun, Guatemala.  

You are the elusive New York City native! Is there any other place you wouldn’t mind living? Like, under duress?

If put to the test, I wish I could revisit New Zealand. They have incredible natural scenery, including volcanic lakes and bubbling geysers; down-to-earth, welcoming people; and delicious wine and locally sourced food.  

Where do you see Magpie and the sustainability movement going in the next few years?

I hope that people will have the foresight to realize that the sustainability movement is essential if we have any intention of preserving what’s left of the world for future generations. The impulse to buy gifts, for oneself or loved ones, won’t go away; but I hope that people will come to do so in a more thoughtful way and realize that supporting a shop like Magpie can help them to buy something that is both beautiful and sustainably made.

Magpie NY |

Find Sylvia at Magpie on the Upper West Side (488 Amsterdam Avenue) or online:



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Sustainable Summer Fest Recap

Sustainable Summer Fest Recap |

The first event given by the NYC arm of the Ethical Writers Coalition, Sustainable Summer Fest, took place at Beef Cut Studios last weekend. The hosts were me, Emma Grady, Juliette Donatelli, and Alden Wicker. If you weren't able to attend, I'm sorry and we missed you. If you were in NYC and you didn't attend, get ready to be eco-green with envy. Here's a recap of what happened at Sustainable Summer Fest:

Reclaimed Wood DJ Booth

A generous discount from Build It Green! NYC helped us build a DJ booth and dance floor out of reclaimed wood. And from that DJ booth came sweet sweet electronic beats by Illich Mujica (Mothlab Recordings), Sophia Valence, and Jasper Stapleton (PART) that kept us moving all night. Get a little taste of it on SoundCloud.

Braid Bar by James Corbett Studio

The braid bar was one of the most popular areas at the party! Attendees lined up to get intricate braids created by Danielle from James Corbett Studio. Could there be a more stylish way to keep your hair up at an outdoor dance party? If you're in the Union Square area, stop by and shop their well-stocked organic boutique.

Cupcakes by Little Cupcake Bakeshop

These mini cupcakes provided by Little Cupcake Bakeshop were a hot commodity. When partygoers learned they were free, I could see them mentally wrestling their willpower. After one, they'd move on, only to return in a few moments. "Okay, just one more," they'd say as they helped themselves to another.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop uses only the freshest, sustainable ingredients, predominantly sourcing locally from farms in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, Vermont, and New Jersey. They do all of their baking on-site in small batches, everyday. A complementary partner to the Ethical Writers Co., their shops utilize salvaged materials, energy-efficient practices, and low-impact supplies. If you didn't make the party, taste what you missed while you check out one of their locations in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Coconut Cracking Courtesy of The Coco Jack

Have you ever had fresh coconut water? Have you ever tried to open a coconut without the proper tools? The Coco Jack had our backs by providing us with their clever tools so we could enjoy the hydrating benefits of coconut water without injuring ourselves. If you like fresh coco water (FYI, waaaayyy better than the boxed kind), you must get yourself one of these kits.

Drinks Courtesy of Prairie Organic Spirits

Prairie Organic Spirits provided vodka and gin for all of the cocktails. Prairie spirits are made from vintage organic corn, grown by just three family farms and handcrafted in small batches, making it smooth and enjoyable to drink. While all of the drinks were delicious, the best was a concoction called Bahamian Sky Juice. Sorry if you missed it! I'll be nice and provide the recipe here so you can mix some up at home. 

Sustainable Summer Fest Recap |

Or sometimes we just added it straight in to make a boozy coconut! Highly recommended.

Sustainable Summer Fest Recap |

Seltzer & Mixers by SodaStream

SodaStream provided a row of machines to keep us fully stocked with seltzer. You can add one of their syrups to make tonic water, cola, or any number of flavored sodas. Whatever partygoers chose to drink, it was served up in a BPA-free, reusable Beef Cuts cup they got to keep. If you see someone with one, give them a high-five for being waste-free!

Cool People & Sustainability Leaders

As an introvert, I don't always enjoy myself at parties. But everyone I met was really friendly and happy to be in the fresh air, with braids up, double fisting cupcakes and coconuts (actually, who wouldn't be?). Being new to the sustainability community, it was fun to meet some of its leaders in such a relaxed setting. Notable attendees included Lisa Elaine Held of Well + GoodYuka Yoneda of Inhabitat, Kristen Arnett of Green Beauty TeamMara Schiavetti of A Green Beauty, Lisa Mechanic of Echoes of Cultureand Massimo Lobuglio of Little Cupcake Bakeshop. Thanks to everyone who came out!

Riding in Style with GoGreenRide

If you actually left before it became Sunday, GoGreenRide was on hand to transport you home safely and sustainably in one of their hybrid cars with a discount to boot! Get their app or book online the next time you need a car service.

Photo credit: Emma Grady

Photo credit: Emma Grady

Oh, and Alden was right about the chill atmosphere the music would provide. So in conclusion, ain't no party like a sustainable party 'cause a sustainable party is GOOD FOR YOU!

Keep following for our next event! 

Photos by Hans Eric Olson

Sustainable Summer Fest Recap |

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Sustainable Summer Fest

Sustainable Summer Fest was a success! We proved that sustainability can party and we have the photos to prove it. Watch for a recap coming very soon!

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The Shirt on Your Back Interactive

This came out back in April, but I had saved it away and just took the time to go through it. It's an excellent example of how design, technology, and education can make a subject more immersive. 

This interactive documentary will take you to the heart of this story. It will take you where millions make our clothes. While you're with us, and them, we'll keep track of how much they earn making our clothes and how much we spend buying them. via The Guardian

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The Most Water-Stressed Cities in the World

Water shortages are becoming a scary reality in many parts of the world, most notably in urban areas and developing countries:

To gauge the scale of the problem, the Nature Conservancy recently published a first global database of urban water sources and stress for more than 500 cities. The results surprised even the authors of the report. via Fast Company

The Mayday PAC

More than 90% of Americans agree that our government is broken because of the money in politics. Members of Congress waste their time raising money instead of working for the people they are supposed to represent. The Mayday PAC, formed by law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig and others, aims to elect a Congress committed to fundamental reform in the way political campaigns are funded by 2016. The PAC will operate in both the 2014 and 2016 election cycles and wants to eventually secure constitutional reform. If you'd like to be a part of this movement, donate and 100% of you money will be devoted to campaigns. 

We want to use big money (collected from the many) to fight big money (collected from the few). Ironic, we understand. But embrace the irony. If we can pull together a large enough pool of money through this campaign, we can convince Americans that they can change the way money matters in politics. We can create a system in which it isn’t the influence of a few that matters. Instead, as any democracy should, it would be the influence of a majority that matters. via 

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Biodegradable Urns Will Turn You Into A Tree After You Die

Sustainability, even in death. 

A nonprofit organization in Toronto, Canada ( is now offering the Bios Urn, a funerary urn made from biodegradable materials that will turn you into a tree after you die. via Good News Network


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