Carolina Zuniga-Aisa is a clothing designer based in NYC and a longtime friend of Seek. A few years back, she became passionate about beekeeping and the crucial roles that bees play in our ecosystem and in our lives. That passion quickly became a full-fledged hobby, and in 2016, she co-founded the Island Bee Project, an urban farm bee sanctuary and educational center on Governors Island. Her optimistic spirit, brilliant mind, and lust for life are just a few of the many things about Carolina that we find so inspiring.
1. What’s your most valued travel advice you’ve been given or have to give?
My best advice to give is to let the journey unfold before you. When you over plan, you miss the moments that are the true essences of the place you are visiting. What you take from those moments will be yours to have always.
2. What do you wear to feel the most free and confident?
I go for comfort and familiarity. When I look back at my childhood pictures, I feel like my style has never changed. Throughout my teens and twenties, I’ve always tried to follow the latest trends but now, it’s about valuing what you already own and feeling your best self in your favorite pieces.
3. What article of clothing or outfit do you wear most often?
Last year, I wore a vintage sweatshirt (almost everyday) that I found for $10 at the East Village Vintage Collective. It has a sun with a smiley face that says “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” This was the positive message I wanted to enter a room or walk down the street with. :)
4. How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
I incorporate sustainability by cutting down waste as much as possible. I carry my own water bottle, coffee mug, and bamboo utensils everyday and my packable shopping bag. Also, as a fashion designer, I’ve had to change my shopping behavior and started to shop consciously and buy items that most represent my values. I love to support companies that are women-owned, ethical, and fair-trade which is why I love SEEK so much!
5. What do you do or where do you go when you need to be inspired?
I used to walk around the city for hours - feeding my curiosity. Now I walk around lush urban gardens and parks any chance I get just to be outside and be in my element. My favorite thing to do is jump on a ferry to Governors Island and see NYC from different perspectives and meditate on how grateful I am to live here. Governors Island is filled with native wildflowers and it attracts the most spectacular native bees! I never get tired chasing little bees bouncing from flower to flower.
6. What is the best advice you’ve received so far and who did it come from?
Best advice I’ve received recently was on a sign posted up at Domino Park in Brooklyn. It said EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY in bold lettering next to a table with a jar of $1’s. This vignette spoke volumes! Not only in the irony, but also in that specific location. My godfather used to work at the now historic Domino Sugar Factory in the early 90s and I never forgot the endless 5 lb bags of Domino Lemonade and Pink Lemonade he brought home for me and my god sisters to make for our lemonade stand. That was almost 30 years ago and now looking back to those memories and encountering this sign rang so true.
Another great piece of advice came from a Yogi tea bag that read, “An attitude of gratitude brings opportunity.”
7. How can women seek a sense of support and collective-ness for each other in the future?
I believe women can seek a sense of support for each other by listening to each others point of view and to find it within ourselves to accept each other and find a common ground. In today’s political climate, we have let ourselves be solely identified by our views and not by what we all have most in common; the ability to hold space, nurture, love, and lead. This is also very important to let those who identify as women into the circle, as well.
8. Journey note: what are you seeking more of this year (2019)?
Laughter. There is no better remedy for sadness or sense of connection than laughter. This breaks so many misconceptions and judgements if we just let our guard down and savor a joyful moment of belly aching giggles.
9. Out of all the places you’ve traveled to, which have you connected most to? Which felt most foreign?
As a first generation New Yorker of Chilean descent, naturally I would call Chile my second home. I am still getting to know a country with the flavors and natural settings I have grown up with. The smell of eucalyptus forests, salty marine air, and the sweetness of Chirimoya and Lucuma fruits in the summer. I have felt most connected to Patagonia and its people from a recent trip south. Never have I felt so small and alone than during a 4 day hike through the Torres del Paine National Park. Here I felt free to let my mind run wild and drink in the landscape with my eyes. When I am back home in NYC, sometimes to my surprise I will still find things that are completely foreign to me. I have yet to explore the Sri Lanken community in Staten Island which I hear has some of the best restaurants!
10. You’re a clothing designer by trade, but your latest venture is beekeeping for the Island Bee Project, which you recently co-founded. How did you get into beekeeping, and what motivated you to start your own beekeeping project?
My beginnings with beekeeping started when my mother, who likes to keep me informed at the worst times, told me that the bees were in trouble during a quick phone conversation while I was hastily working to meet major deadlines. At that moment, something about that statement had me thinking about how I wasn’t paying attention to the things that were really happening in the world, especially to our environment. I found a beekeeping apprenticeship program with Brooklyn Grange that started within a week of my search and decided to pick up the new hobby. This is one that changed my life. I felt so connected with nature for the first time in my career and deeply fell in love with the bees. I looked forward to each class and to inspect the hive with a new friend I could nerd out with, Stacey Vazquez. When we finished the class, all we could think about next was how to keep going. The word got out and our friend Liz connected us to Earth Matter Compost Learning Center on Governors Island and the rest is history. We have been keeping bees and educating the public on Governors Island for 3 years now! What is most special are the times we have around the honeybees and the beekeeping community. We can always count on a wild adventure and so many crazy stories!
11. The Island Bee Project is as much about education and spreading knowledge about honeybees as it is about caring for the bees themselves. What kind of educational initiatives have you developed, and why are they so important?
After meeting visitors during Governors Island Urban Farm’s open hours, we have been inspired by the feedback we received and sought out more ways to do outreach. We met Guillermo of the Honeybee Conservancy when he was tabling for Sustainability Week at my old school, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and quickly became friends. HBC has a wonderful program in place for bee education and advocacy. As bee ambassadors ourselves, we've collaborated in many events and this season we partnered in creating the first Bee Sanctuary on Governors Island.
12. What kinds of life lessons can beekeeping teach us?
The power of presence, teamwork, and perseverance. And giving bees a chance, gives us all a chance.
13. What is something surprising that most people don’t know about honeybees?
Honeybees are the most remarkable communicators. They use pheromones, like one to communicate threats that is similar to the smell of bananas, and one that helps the colony locate their home that smells like lemongrass. The queen bee has her own pheromone to maintain social behaviors, such as to suppress worker bees (females) from laying eggs. Only the queen bee can lay fertilized eggs which then develop into female worker bees. Unfertilized eggs develop into drones, the male bees. The list goes on but one major tip here is to avoid bananas near a beehive!
14. Are there any common threads or connections between your passion for beekeeping and your work designing clothing?
Absolutely! Other than sometimes we may feel like we are working in a hive itself, a major connection is the pollination of flowers and plants we use for natural dyes such as dahlias, elderberry, goldenrod, and coneflowers. Let's not forget that they are also vital to organic cotton production. Natural pollination of cotton increases yield, quality of seed, and fibre quality.
15. It’s very brave to pick up a new hobby and start your own business in a field so different from the one you know well. What advice do you have for others who might like to make a change or try something new in the middle of their career?
My advice is to keep feeding your curiosity. View each opportunity you come across and ask yourself, “What is the lesson in this moment/situation?” Doing this trained my mind to not be afraid and that there is no such thing as wasted time if you can learn from it. I’ve also taken advantage of free business class opportunities and joining groups such as the NYC Fair Trade Coalition and Be Social Change to connect with people with different perspectives and approaches towards good business.
Shop Carolina's Seek Collective looks:
Photos by Max Mikulecky