When you first meet Rachel Gordon, she doesn't strike you as the sort to be knee deep in buckets of smelly old oyster shells. However, looks can be deceiving.
Best known for her One Love clothing line, Rachel has long been a fixture on Charleston's fashion scene, and her stunning, ethereal gowns are regularly spotted on the pages of bridal magazines or Lowcountry catwalks.
But there's so much more to Rachel than her incredible talents as a designer, and that's where Grit and Grace Studio comes into play. You may have seen beautifully painted oyster dishes and holiday ornaments popping up in Charleston's established boutiques, gift shops, and spas lately. They're gorgeous and simple, hard to miss, and even harder to forget.
The varied and ruffled, irregular shape of the sun-bleached oysters is perfectly accentuated by gold lacquer, and you could not ask for a prettier salt, jewelry, or soap dish, although I keep my air plants in mine!
"Grit and Grace was born from my mom's mantra about getting through the peaks and valleys of life," Rachel says. "When I decided to go for it with this concept I couldn’t think of a more perfect name for these little gifts. The oyster dishes and ornaments are naturally beautiful but they are also supposed to be little reminder to live life to the fullest, and with grit and grace in the good and challenging times."
But what do Grit and Grace and gold oyster shell gifts have to do with saving the planet?
A lot. There is a critical oyster shell shortage in South Carolina.
I had no idea there even was a such thing as an oyster shell shortage prior to talking with Rachel at a dinner party. Why is there a shortage? And why is that so bad?
Think about how many oyster bars have popped up around Charleston in the last several years, and then think about how many other places have oysters on the menu, and think about how many people and organizations host oyster roasts around the Lowcountry. That's a lot of oysters, right? Well, unfortunately a lot of those oyster shells end up in the landfill instead of back in the water, where they will sit forever, failing to biodegrade alongside normal household garbage instead of going back into our ecosystem. While the will to recycle is usually there, our demand for oysters as consumers has outstripped the current availability of oyster shell recycling pick ups.
Here's why that's bad, aside from generating massive quantities of unnecessary waste. Oyster reefs help prevent erosion and provide a natural breakwater against waves and storms for our shorelines, and they're also a habitat for other marine animals. Additionally, oyster spat (juvenile oysters) like to attach to other oyster shells, and oysters are superheroes when it comes to filtering water. A single adult oyster can filter up to 2.5 gallons of water PER HOUR, meaning up to 60 gallons per day.
And this is how fashion maven Rachel Gordon wound up knee deep in buckets of stinky, slimy old oysters from some of Charleston's hottest restaurants. The One Love designer has partnered with some local area restaurants to courier their discarded shells to the DNR drop off sites, which is a win for everyone involved, from Grit and Grace, to the local restaurants, to SCDNR.
"It’s been a true joy working on this project and making naturally beautiful dishes and ornaments out of oyster shells. However, I quickly realized that if I was going to be taking oyster shells from the ecosystem that I would need to work hard to grow this company in a way that was environmentally sustainable," Rachel explains. "From day one I decided that for every oyster shell Grit and Grace sold the company would recycle 10 shells to DNR oyster recycling program! The partnership that I have created with DNR and the volunteer work that we have started to do has been the most rewarding part of this project."
And so, the sight of one of our city's most accomplished clothing designers schlepping giant, gritty buckets of ripe oyster shells is about to be come a lot more common, based on the blossoming success of Grit and Grace.
A special thank you to Rachel Gordon and Grit and Grace for spreading love, awareness, and showing me the power of one individual to make a difference.