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Meet Maria Valeria “Val” Timin and Nelene Deguzman of Cero in Tucson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maria Valeria Timin and Nelene Deguzman.

Maria and Nelene, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Nelene: Cero started as a daydream: a zero-waste store and community center where you could do all your home and personal care shopping but with none of the trash. We wanted it to have deep roots in the Tucson community, keeping us connected and allowing us to fill gaps in the needs for sustainability specific to our area. We wanted to be able to provide not just sustainable products but also workshops and resources for making sustainable changes on any budget.

I had made the switch to cruelty-free and vegan products and was really motivated by the frustration of not being able to find products that met those standards that were also sustainably packaged and able to be purchased locally. Val had had the idea of opening a zero-waste store. I kept checking in with her, asking when are you opening that store because there are products I want to find sustainable replacements for. Finally, we decided to partner on the idea in May of 2019. Things started moving really fast after that. The 5 Points Farmers Market was our first home and we’ve been there almost every Sunday since our opening. We are now in the process of opening our first brick and mortar location, opening slated for April.

Val: Nelene said this beautifully. The other fun, true fact I’ll add, is that this idea has really been brewing since my senior year at Tucson High in 2009 before I knew what “zero waste” was. It started with the question, “What if we had grocery stores, without all the trash/packaging?” We were learning about the Great Pacific garbage patch, and it really started to click for me just how damaging humans are to the planet and how the little things people do every day, everything that’s “normal” is really really bad. Within a year or two, the opening of Unverpackt in Germany started to spread. Then very quickly, it seemed like zero waste was becoming a trend internationally, with plastic-free / zero waste stores opening up around the globe. We really aspire to not be jumping in on this “trend” and instead creating a business that can be meaningful, educational, and impactful. We want to work closely with Tucsonans and the City of Tucson to make long-lasting difference here.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Nelene: Honestly, I feel like we’ve been incredibly lucky. We’ve gotten such an incredibly supportive and warm reception since our opening last May. Overall it’s been a much less rocky road than I would have assumed it would be, especially since this is all new for both of us. Neither of us has ever opened a small business, we’ve been navigating this road one step at a time and have just had to figure it out as we go. Incredibly, the Tucson community has really just embraced us and helped us grow and learn with each step of the process.

Val: Yeah, I feel like the last year has basically been a cycle of “oh dang, how will we do this.”… “OK, we’re doing it! Yay!”…”Wow! I feel like we can do anything!”… and repeat. We basically take each challenge one at a time and seek out help when we need it. We both have unique accumulations of knowledge and skills that have been helpful in different ways. I think some of the hardest parts are the business-y and financial things, so those are some of the primary places we’ve seeked outside help with.

Please tell us about Cero.
Nelene: We are a zero waste shop meaning that we provide products and resources for reducing or eliminating waste from single-use plastics and unsustainably packaged products. We have refillable home and body care products as well as unpackaged bar products (shampoo bars, conditioner bars, soap bars, dishwashing blocks, etc.) and other plastic-free alternatives. We are trying to make sustainable shopping easy and accessible for the Tucson community.

We have really centered this business around our moral commitments. Everything we sell is zero waste packaged, vegan and cruelty-free. We try to source our products from other like-minded small businesses and local makers whenever we can.

Val: Apart from the zero waste products, we are also excited to grow our programming and activities. We are looking forward to hosting frequent trash, cleanups, talks, workshops, and gatherings. We plan to go beyond zero waste and provide well-rounded sustainability programming that also shares information and guidance on topics like transportation/commuting, diet, beauty, gardening, and more. We also want to show folks of any age how to get involved locally with the city itself and with other organizations. We certainly don’t know everything, so this will be a very collaborative effort and we’re excited to curate all the special guests, speakers, and workshop leaders.

Who else deserves credit – have you had mentors, supporters, cheerleaders, advocates, clients or teammates that have played a big role in your success or the success of the business? If so –who are they and what role did they plan / how did they help.
Val: Without the support of some special people, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are now. I think for both Nelene and I, our partners, friends, and family are a major source of support and encouragement – they believe in us! Our partners have been physically helping us and lending their talents to newer, bigger projects which really means a lot.

Other major supporters, we want to highlight… 5 Points Farmers Market for giving us our first permanent pop up shop spot where we made our first sales. I have to thank my creative teammates and the leadership at my day job, Hydrant for support throughout the process of growing the side hustle. Also – our dear landlords at Saint Cecilia Recording Studio for giving us our brick & mortar home. The last few years, I’ve also been fortunate to be around other passionate people and entrepreneurs through my involvement with Tucson Young Professionals through which I’ve learned a lot!

There are so many other friends and supporters we could mention… the other few, I want to make sure I plugin are: My dad, who has provided support during transition to brick & mortar. Plus our inspiring and supportive friends at YWCA Women’s Business Center, PopCycle, Exo Roast Co., Local First AZ, Sonoran Rosie, and more 🙂

I personally owe endless gratitude to Nelene for partnering up and diving into this adventure together!

Update: Cero’s grand opening is postponed until at least May due to COVID-19. They have recently launched their online store and look forward to being able to host everyone in the near future. Good news for the Greater Phoenix area: Cero is working on their launch of virtual programming with online discussions and workshops available soon.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Image credits mostly noted in file names. Photographers include Sprytime Photography, Lea Ortiz, and Chelsea Whitaker

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