Green Lady of New York City

Green Lady of New York City

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)

Ask anyone in Brooklyn, NYC about Elizabeth Sweetheart, and their eyes will light up. Elizabeth, known commonly as the Green Lady, has been green from head to toe for more than twenty years. She has green hair that she keeps styled in double buns and green glitter, and she carries a green stuffed frog in her green backpack.

My son had been curious about her for quite some time, and some years ago, he finally pushed me in front of her at our neighborhood organic grocery store and demanded me to ask her the question: why are you Green?

She answered, “because green makes people happy!”

My little boy lit up. “I wonder what her house looks like,” he told me. “I want to visit her place!”

Recently, I got the pleasure of visiting her in her Brooklyn home for an interview to find out more about her, and to find out why it is that just thinking of her makes people happy!

Green Lady Door
Green Lady, Green Door
Green Lady, Green Thumb
Green Lady, Green Thumb
“When you’re an artist, you can do anything.”

Q: How long have you been a New Yorker?

Sweetheart: I hitchhiked down here in 1964. There was nothing where I was I from and I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t know anybody, I just hitched from Canada. I stayed in a YMCA for maybe a week. My poor Mom & Dad didn’t know what I was doing most of the time. So I came to live in NY in my early 20s.

I looked for a place to stay and they said I need a job!
I didn’t know anybody, so I just asked the people on the street. “How do I do this? and how do I do that?” So I asked another person on the street “How do I get a job?” And a very nice person said, go to NY State Employment agency. They don’t have it anymore now, but so I did.

All I had with me were my sketchbook I brought with me, and my ice skates, and what I wore. No change of clothes, just what I wore. No bag, just a sketchbook in my hand. I don’t remember ever having a bag. Now I carry everything!

Q: Did you get a job right away?

Sweetheart: So I went to the NY State Employment agency and the woman said to me, “well, what can you do?” and I said, “Nothing really.” But I had my sketchbook, and so she looked at it and said, “oh, I’m going to send you for an interview right now.” And I went and I got the job as an artist in a textile studio in a converter. And I’ve been doing this ever since. I had no training but when you’re an artist, you can do anything.

Q: How did Sweetheart become your name?

Sweetheart: It was the name of my studio. I’ve been Sweetheart for close to 25 years maybe. People would call and say, “can Sweetheart please come over?” So I’m Sweetheart! My business now is Elizabeth Sweetheart Designs.

Q: You had a design studio in Manhattan, right?

Sweetheart: Yes, for about 40 years. First it was “Sweet Pea” (before “Sweetheart”) on 7th Avenue, for about 15 years right near Macy’s on 35th St. And then I got rid of that studio and moved to 40th St between Broadway and 6th Ave, right by Bryant Park. So it was good for all the designers to come to the studio because I had a collection of vintage fabric prints and they could look at the prints and get ideas. I have fabrics from the 1800s to the 1960s. All vintage fabrics.

Q: You were collecting fabric while also working as a designer?

Sweetheart: For ideas and inspiration, and if designers wanted to buy them, they could. They would come and look and say, “oh, I like that! Could your artist change it a little?”

I worked with Ralph Lauren for years, freelancing and doing commission work like painting all his scarves and doing all his horses. In fact, they’re not buying any new designs, they use the old ones and just put them on the computer and color them.

Q: So you were working as a designer for people like…?

Sweetheart: All the big manufacturers, yeah—like Ralph Lauren, Liz Claiborne, American Eagle Outfitters, and Jones New York. I am still really good friends with the designer at Jones New York. She lives in upstate New York. We’re older people now, so…(giggles).

Green Lady Kitchen

Q: You’ve always dressed in green. Why green? How did green grab your heart?

Sweetheart: I’ve been lots of colors. I’ve been multi-colors and I’ve been individual colors. But when I hit green, everybody just loved it. It makes everybody happy when I see them. Especially the children! So I just keep it.

Q: So when did you start wearing only green?

Sweetheart: Quite a while ago. Over 20 years.
I always used to think it should only be in the garden! (giggles)
With my design studio, I tried everything. I would wear all prints. All different ones and make a hat to go with it, and paint my shoes to go with it. The colors were always important, especially in design. So I just became an artwork.

Q: So after exploring many colors, you settled on your ultimate color.

Sweetheart: I think so. It wasn’t ever thought about, and it wasn’t deliberate. It just happened.

Green Lady Closet
"Which overalls should I wear today?"
Green Lady Designs
Sweetheart's design for Bath & Body Works

Q: Why do you think this shade of green has such an impact on people?

Sweetheart: There’s history behind every color. It comes from different areas and different times, and how people used it from way back when. Colors—at different times they mean different things in people’s culture, and how they were made, where they came from. And I think green might be positive in one culture and not as much in another.
And it’s a soft color. It doesn’t have any negativity really. And it works for me. (giggles) It’s easy on the eyes. My eyes are sensitive to color and light. And I like things bright and happy kind of.

Q: You have a way of spreading happiness. How do you do that?

Sweetheart: It’s in my nature. It just happened. I giggle all the time. (giggles)

Q: Are you okay with how people recognize you and come up to you? Any weird experiences because of the way you dress?

Sweetheart: I don’t think anything was weird. Everything was so positive and happy. And they are all different kinds of people, and I always loved people, so it doesn’t matter. I meet such amazing people.

So now I try to get a selfie with them. They like a selfie and I don’t get anything. So now I say, “well, you can have a picture, but I can too.” So I have an Instagram account for selfies @GreenLadyOfBrooklyn.

Q: What are your future plans? What do you look forward to happening?

Sweetheart: Oh, every moment, in every next moment, just to try to make it happy and to be there.

My good friend just broke her arm. Every moment she is so worried about…what happens when I go to the doctor and he says it’s worse, or that I have to do something else, or…

You can’t think that way. You have to be in the moment. Otherwise, you constantly have a lot of pressure on you. So, if you let that go, it will be better.

Q: Your way of living in the moment is by wearing green, right?

Sweetheart: Yes, yes, I think so. It’s easy in this day and age to be green. I don’t buy anything, I just change it.

Green Lady Painting
Elizabeth Sweetheart’s watercolor artwork

*All Photos by Yuka Azuma

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)

Yuka Azuma

Self-proclaimed ambassador of LOVE, Japanese green tea drinker living in NYC. Yuka is an entertainment journalist working for Japanese magazines & TV with over 30 years of experiences in interviewing Hollywood stars.