When Najwa Womack visited Frederick Elementary School in West Baltimore on Earth Day last year, she brought some unconventional teaching tools: bags of compost, straw and food scraps. The school had booked her company, SiStained8, for five back-to-back lessons about composting, one for each grade.
But at the end of the day, the company founder was surprised to find that the young students were not the only ones walking away with a newfound appreciation for the Earth-friendly activity.
“The teachers were blown away,” Womack, 35, said. “It was handshaking, hugging like, ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ And I think it was at that moment, I was like, ‘Okay, now this—this is good.”
SiStained8 exists, in part, to create those kinds of interactions — the ‘aha’ moments that help people to understand how they can use their old banana peels and eggshells to connect with and care for the planet. The company also sells compost equipment, such as the “SiStainer Container,” a five-gallon compost bucket that comes complete with instructions printed on the side and starter materials included to help food scraps break down faster.
But SiStained8 is first and foremost a “creative compost education” company focused on engaging D.C.-area communities online and in-person.
“We want to equip people, your everyday people… with the simplicity of the art of renewal,” Womack said. “A lot of folks have told me, ‘well, you know, [composting] is too complex. I know it’s great for the planet, but it’s just too complicated.’ But if you book a lecture with SiStained8, and I come out and break it down for you, you’ll want to do it.”
SiStained8 is based in Ward 7, where Womack is from; the number in its name takes inspiration from the infinity sign. The company hosted more than a year of regular food-waste drop-offs for community members, collecting over 3000 pounds of food waste at Lederer Gardens in Northeast. The events are currently on hold as Womack searches for a new space, but she plans to start the drop-offs up again in the fall. Participants, she said, have told her that the drop-offs became a place of “genuine and safe” community for them.
“The vibe was very inviting, comforting,” Womack said of the events. “We were all connecting and gluing and just structuring around each other for the benefit of this massive behemoth of a planet. And it can be felt, just doing it on a small scale. So the vibe was very inviting, comforting.”
Womack got interested in composting almost a decade ago. It began with a love of traveling and food from around the world—she initially went to school for international studies, though in 2018 she earned a Master Urban Compost Certificate from DC’s Department of Parks & Recreation.
“Anywhere you travel, and I’ve traveled a few places, I’m always connecting to a person who grows their own food,” Womack said. “Seeing what people do with their food scraps was fascinating—how you can take it back and resuscitate and renew and then make it stronger.”
The company’s unique name honors Womack’s close relationship with her three sisters while highlighting the importance of environmental sustainability. Composting reduces waste and helps fight climate change by preventing the powerful greenhouse gasses that organic matter produces when left in landfills.
Running a business in the ‘green’ space can be challenging, but Womack said she sees opportunities growing as the impact of climate change becomes more apparent in people’s lives. She encourages other BIPOC entrepreneurs to find creative ways to incorporate sustainability into their operations, regardless of their business model.
“I have had people telling me like, ‘Wow, you could have chose anything else; I don’t know if that’s going to be profitable,’” Womack said. “It is a risk. But then I just feel like we need this. Humanity needs this, and our planet needs this.”
Learn more and find SiStained8 merchandise and composting equipment at sistained8.com or by following the company on Instagram @SIStained8.