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In Store: Savage Instincts' eco-materialism

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The smell of patchouli and the sound of Parliament's "Aqua Boogie" greeted me as I stepped through the door into Savage Instincts. The walls were painted a deep blood red and were adorned with photographs of San Francisco street scenes. Near the back hung a four-by-five flamenco tapestry, and at a small counter sat Sue Savage, a petite woman with gray-streaked dark-brown hair. When she saw how I reacted to the Parliament tune, which was coming in over the radio, she broke out a Parliament CD and filled the place with it.

Savage, a 36-year-old MBA, opened the Bucktown shop last May to escape a 15-year career in software and high-tech marketing for such firms as J. Walter Thompson and Charles Schwab. Her last job, for a local consulting firm, pushed her over the brink into retailing. "It was just the most irrelevant thing I'd ever done in my life," she says. "I decided I gotta do something I want to do now."

What she wants to do at Savage Instincts is sell "cool stuff," which for her often means eco-friendly stuff like sweaters made from recycled cotton, a cardboard chair that you can actually sit in (you assemble it with chopsticks), toothbrushes made from buffalo bone and boar bristles, and a line of "leather" goods--handbags, briefcases, wallets, and the like--made not from dead animal skins but from recycled inner tubes. The inner-tube datebook is soft and supple, with black buttons adorning the perimeter and a black zipper to close it tight. "It's waterproof," Savage claims. "It'll last a lifetime."

Another of Savage's specialties is hemp. She's got hats, backpacks, and stationery made from hemp. She's got a black waist-length jacket, denim jeans, and finely woven khaki-colored mules made from hemp. She's even got lip balm made from hemp-seed oil. She's got a thing about hemp.

"Hemp has a higher yield and is longer, stronger, and more absorbent than cotton," she says. "It is friendlier to the environment than cutting down trees and planting cotton, which robs the soil."

Savage sells a booklet published by an outfit called Hemptech, the "Industrial Hemp Information Specialists," who explain that growing hemp, aka marijuana, was outlawed here in 1937, in a wave of antidrug hysteria. Even the industrial-grade stuff, which lacks the active ingredient THC, was banned. But Hemptech wants you to know that industrial hemp is about as American as apple pie. "America's founding fathers were strong advocates of a hemp-based economy for their new country," their booklet avers. The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were longtime hemp farmers, and "Hemp production was so important for commerce that in 1640 the governor of Connecticut declared that every citizen must grow the plant."

Sue Savage says, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it!"

Savage Instincts is at 2064 N. Damen. Hours are Tuesday-Friday noon-8, Saturday 11-8, and Sunday noon-6. Call 227-9391.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Cynthia Howe.

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