“Consciousness is contagious.”
That’s what actor and environmentalist Nikki Reed believes—because that’s exactly what happened to her.
Growing up with a single mom of two, Reed says her family didn’t have the type of income that allowed them to eat organic food and shop at health food stores. It was fast food or whatever they could get with the money they had.
It wasn’t until her early 20s that Reed’s journey toward understanding wellness and sustainability began. She was living in Greece with a family and was struck by the fact that they sourced their food from a local farm.
“Up until that moment, I lived a very different life,” Reed says. “I remember being there and feeling excited and thinking, ‘OK, this is important.’ And that small connection I made that day trickled into every decision I made thereafter.”
Reed, a California native, stopped eating meat, started doing yoga and became involved in animal activism—working with organizations such as the Humane Society and Heifer International.
In 2017, Reed founded BaYou with Love, an eco-friendly fine jewelry brand that uses recycled gold and solar-energy-grown diamonds to create luxury collections that don’t harm the planet.
Reed was pregnant with her daughter at the time and started researching all the things she was putting in her body. “I’m kind of a busy bee and don’t sit still easily,” Reed says (a fact made abundantly clear during the interview for this story as Reed, phone in hand, paced around her house and continuously interrupted herself to comment on the “beautiful day,” a pink rose bush or her horse grazing 40 feet away). “And the more I searched, the more I realized that even things labeled ‘vegan’ are made with PVCs and plastics that are so harmful to the planet. I just felt really overwhelmed.”
At this point, Reed was already a successful actor (most famously known for her roles in The Twilight Saga, Lords of Dogtown and Thirteen, which she co-wrote as a teenager), writer and producer, but suddenly she had the urge to pursue a new passion: “Creating products that didn’t exist in the marketplace that are not only good for you, good for your body and good for the planet, but also that are multipurpose.”
As a big candle lover, Reed decided to start there—crafting nontoxic candles that melt into body butter. But shortly after launch, an interesting thing happened. Reed was approached by Michael Dell, the founder of Dell (yes, the computer company).
“He said, ‘Hey, you seem to have a really prominent voice in the sustainability arena, and I’d love to talk to you about this idea we have,’” Reed explains. “They wanted to take the gold found in their computer motherboards and turn it into something new.”
Originally, they discussed using the upcycled gold for belt buckles or purse straps. But Reed knew exactly what she wanted to do. “My grandmother was a wonderful jewelry designer,” she says, “and I’ve always loved the idea of having things that connect to family and tell a story; that you can really wear something that is a reflection of your morals and ethos.”
A few months later, they released their first jewelry collection at CES, one of the biggest tech events in the world, and won the audience award.
“People had never seen tech, fashion and sustainability all collide before,” Reed says. “We sold out in 48 hours and that was the start of this beautiful, lifelong partnership.”
BaYou (thus named because Reed’s husband, Ian Somerhalder, the actor, activist and coveted vampire of our dreams, grew up on the bayou of Louisiana) swiftly transitioned from being in the apothecary space to the jewelry space and became the first company to produce pieces made out of recycled gold from e-waste that otherwise would have ended up in landfills.
“You know when there’s a certain kind of magic and everybody feels it?” Reed says. “That’s what happened when we realized what this collaboration would become.”
Reed now also sources diamonds for the brand from a California-based supplier that uses solar energy (even lab-grown diamonds, she argues, can be incredibly destructive to the planet), plants trees for every purchase and works with a factory that prioritizes sustainability with an amazing gray water system. Additionally, in 2021, she teamed up with L∅CI, a footwear company that uses recycled ocean plastics, to launch a line of vegan sneakers, L∅CI x Reed.
But she is quick to point out that no brand is fully “sustainable” and doesn’t want to attach a misleading label to her business. Instead, Reed has made it her mission to be as transparent as possible. “There are many challenges to doing things outside of the box,” she says, “so our job as business owners, our job as humans, is to just do the best we can and to look at everything from a macro level.”
This advice, Reed adds, is especially true for female entrepreneurs. She says that the key to a successful brand is to, first, believe in what you’re creating—“your passion for it has to almost blind you.” And second: to create products with meaning. “But as women in male-dominated industries, it’s also important to understand that people will try to take advantage of you and make you think that you’re not as smart or as capable as they are,” she adds.
Her best defense against this is to know how to do a little bit of everything. Reed, for her part, not only designs the jewelry and manages operations, shipping and accounting, but also updates the BaYou website, takes photos of the products, edits the videography, writes product descriptions and even knows how to create the shipping labels.
“More times than not, I’m walking into a room full of men,” Reed says, “but there’s not one thing we’re talking about that I’m not already either involved in or spearheading.”
Adding entrepreneur to her long list of roles hasn’t been easy, and Reed is the first to admit that “finding time for herself” isn’t a practice she’s very good at. “But when you find something you’re passionate about, it’s just really hard to stop. Consciousness is contagious.”
Emily Silber is Millie’s executive editor and an editor at Dotdash Meredith.
Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.