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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Southwest Side Sisters Felt Existing Zero-Waste Stores Weren’t For Them — So They Launched Their Own

Latino families practice sustainable living but aren't always recognized for it, said Monica and Aidee San Miguel, the founders of VOLVERde.

Mónica and Aidee San Miguel, the founders of VOLVERde, in Pilsen Oct. 28, 2022.
Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Two sisters teamed up to create an online zero-waste market to make sustainability products more accessible and geared toward people of color.

Mónica and Aidee San Miguel’s shop, VOLVERde, sells products ranging from laundry detergent and shampoo to reusable kitchen napkins and tortillas warmers. It also offers refill packs so customers can stock up using their existing containers and send the refill package back to VOLVERde for reuse.

The San Miguels, originally from the south suburbs, launched VOLVERde in August after about a year of planning. 

The sisters said sustainability and eco-friendly living were ideals they grew up with and have been foundational to the business.

“We thought about our childhood and the practices that our mom, our grandma taught us — very sustainable, but it’s not being talked about enough,” said Mónica San Miguel, of Pilsen. “And that part of the story is missing in the sustainability narrative. There’s those memes of, like, ‘Every Latino has a drawer full of plastic bags.’ Or, you know, ‘Salsa in your yogurt container.’

“We never used that word ‘sustainability,’ but the spirit was there and the intention was there.”

The name of the online market draws on this fact that there are generations of families that have practiced sustainability, but they don’t necessarily get that recognition, the sisters said. The name VOLVERde combines the Spanish words “volver” and “verde,” which mean “return” and “green.” 

“We’re returning to tradition,” said Aidee San Miguel, who lives in Bridgeport and has a background in electrical engineering. “It’s not something new. We’ve been doing it for generations.”

The duo said they would frequently visit other zero-waste stores in Chicago, but they wanted an option outside the North Side with products better suited to people of color interested in sustainable living. 

For example, Aidee San Miguel said she can’t typically find zero-waste hygiene products for oily skin types or curly hair.

“So, that’s kinda where this thought started emanating — maybe, you know, we should open something up of our own? Where we’re going to cater to products that are made by us, for us,” Aidee San Miguel said.

Finding the right vendors and products for the market was crucial to the sisters, they said. Sometimes they’d find a good product, but the business didn’t align with their core values, they said.

About 90 percent of VOLVERde’s products come from women- or Black-, Indigenous- and people-of-color-owned vendors, according to their website. They have vendors from the United States, Mexico and Canada, including several from the Chicago area, they said.

The sisters wanted to create a business that made people feel welcome and included in the sustainability conversation, Mónica San Miguel said.

“When I would walk in [zero-waste stores], I just always have this feeling of like, ‘This place was not meant for me,'” Mónica San Miguel said. “This is a cool opportunity to create not just another zero-waste store, but a store for us, and a store for customers like us.”

Mónica and Aidee San Miguel also said the choice to be an online market was intentional, as they wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to buy products no matter where they are.

The reception has been great, and they’re focused on spreading word to more customers, wherever they are in their sustainability or zero-waste journey, the sisters said.

“I think people really connect with the authenticity and the thoughtfulness,” Mónica San Miguel said. “It’s not everything you need for your home, but it’s enough, and they’re very thoughtfully sourced.”

You can find all the products offered by VOLVERde through its website.

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