People who know Zem Joaquin often describe her as a "force of nature" an apt title for someone who has thrown her prodigious energy toward protecting the environment. A magnetic presence with an eye for fashion, she has charmed everyone from Silicon Valley CEOs to Hollywood celebrities with her passion for the planet. "It's in my DNA," says Joaquin of her drive to act on her beliefs. After all, her parents didn't just talk about living closer to nature and protesting the Vietnam War, they did it.
As a young girl, Joaquin lived on a commune in the Palo Alto hills in a house built by her father that she says was full of love but free of running water and indoor toilets. "Let's just say we didn't have recycled toilet paper, we had leaves," she says. "We went to the creek to get water. My mom was focused on getting rid of everything and I really appreciate that now, but at the time, I wanted Jordache jeans. I rebelled," she says.
Joaquin left the commune, known as The Land, with her mother when she was 6. She spent her teens and 20s eager to leave the simpler life behind. After college at Pepperdine University, she left for Europe to live with her affluent godparents. Over the next few years, she lived in London and Milan, where she wrote for style publications and managed models, among other things. Eventually she returned to the Bay Area and delved deeper into the green movement.Taking the Plunge
But it wasn't until she and her husband, tech-mogul James Joaquin, decided to move their two kids to a home in Marin that things started to come full circle. Determined to go green, she took a hands-on approach to the remodel of the new house, which she finished about two and a half years ago. "I even designed some of the [green] furniture myself because it didn't exist yet," she says.
That experience inspired her to start her Web site, EcoFabulous, which touts all things
One of her more recent design projects transformed a local medical spa into a green haven with antique furniture, Eurostone counters, filtered water, energy-saving appliances and non-toxic cleaning supplies. A graduate of the Environmental Forum of Marin's intensive training course, she sits on the board of Global Green with techies such as Andrew Beebe, president of Energy Innovations (the company that took Google solar), and counts enviroluminaries such as William McDonough among her friends.
"I think she's making green sexy and that's fantastic and the world needs more of it," says Beebe. Her friend, heiress Anna Getty, says she admires Joaquin's integrity and passion. "She is working with me on an eco-retreat I will be opening in Tuscany in the future," says Getty, an actress, yoga teacher and writer who has two books in the works one on organic cooking and another on green entertainment for the holidays. "She has a very sophisticated eye and will never ever sacrifice form and function for fashion. She is a true networker and everybody I know who knows her admires her."
Green and glamorous
Despite her earthy-crunchy roots, or perhaps because of them, Joaquin remains focused on the glamorous side of the green movement. Unlike her parents, who took the back-to-nature call literally, she doesn't think people should shun modern amenities just find hipper, greener ones. Her parents eventually made their way back to the mainstream her mother in the computer industry and her father in the movie business. As for Joaquin, she feels that she's found a happy medium between her "nature girl" and "material girl" sides. And she says the public's growing fascination with innovative, green design bodes well for the future.
"When Vanity Fair does a green issue, what's celebrated is the appreciation for good design," she says. And she adds that trendsetters are looking for more than just "bling" these days. "It's not enough to buy a Louis Vuitton bag, now you also have to be able to say 'I'm smart enough to buy this,'" she says. "Driving a Tesla [electric sports car] is a good example. It's about looking good, driving fast and not emitting a bunch of fumes. It's not good enough just to be a high-end product anymore."