You’d probably feel pretty safe claiming that eco-entrepreneurs want to make money by saving the planet… or, to quote Ray Anderson, to “do well by doing good.” As I’ve conducted these sustainablog Approved interviews, though, I’ve seen that such statements may be a bit a broad for defining the motivations of most green start-ups. Yes, they want to do both of these things, but they’re just as driven (or maybe even more so) by offering solutions to specific problems. So, Way Basics is focused on the environmental and health impacts of particle board; Practecol wants makes green living affordable (while keeping it meaningful).
Carolina Baker was even more focused than these other small companies: she simply wanted an eco-friendly sports bra with a pocket for her iPod. That desire led to the production of the mi-Bra, a 90% organic cotton garment that fit Carolina’s needs without extra frills.
I’ve been emailing back and forth with Carolina over the summer, and though we don’t have the mi-Bra listed in the Green Choices product comparison engine (yet), I thought she had a great story. I sent her some questions, and she had them back to me in hours…
The story behind an organic cotton sports bra… my conversation with Carolina Baker
Jeff McIntire-Strasburg: On your website, you discuss the motivations for designing the Mi-Bra. Can you tell us a little more about the design process itself? How’d you go about it? Why did you choose organic cotton over other potential materials (hemp and bamboo come to mind)?
Carolina Baker: The design process was a lot of fun. One day my husband saw me stick my iPod between my sports bra and my gym shirt before going out for a run. When I came back he asked me, “Why don’t you buy a sports bra with a pocket?” I immediately sat on the computer and searched for a sports bra with a pocket and didn’t find anything I would buy as a runner. So I cut some fabric off an old sport’s bra and sewed a pocket onto a newer one. I wasn’t an expert sewer, so my homemade bra wasn’t extremely useful.
The next day, I emailed a friend who is in manufacturing and he referred me to a colleague who could make my product. I sent him the idea that I had and a couple specs I created and a few weeks later I had a sample. We want back and forth a few times, creating a hole for the iPod wire and making the pocket more accessible.
I chose organic cotton because I love the feel of it. Having been used to thick materials that dug into my skin while exercising, I wanted something that felt good to run in, so I could treat my skin with the care it deserved. I don’t own any hemp or bamboo clothing, so I guess it was lack of knowledge that led me towards organic cotton above other potential materials.
JM-S: Designing this product seems to fit in with larger life goals and changes for you. Do you see green product design and sales as a career path? If so, what do you still have to learn?
CB: My current goal is to sell the inventory that I have on hand. I’d like to place another order of mi-Bras by the end of this year. I started this venture because it felt right and because I thought it’d be great to have some side income.
I still have so much to learn. Last week, I met with some charities I wanted to partner up with and they were throwing around some numbers that didn’t make sense financially. I nodded my head and went along with the plan because I’m very inexperienced when it comes to sales. Upon arriving home, I realized that I would benefit more from volunteering as a runner than partnering with them and donating some mi-Bras in exchange for publicity. Blowing my own horn is something I’m not used to, but I need to remind myself that this product will only sell if I make it sell. My goal for August is to challenge myself and make some cold calls for the mi-Bra.
JM-S: What kinds of green practices have you implemented in running the business?
CB: My business is online so I’ve generated zero paperwork. When I can, I deliver the bras to avoid costs associated with shipping. I keep my bras at home so I don’t pay for storage. I recently just ordered business cards. I use social media to advertise, so I don’t send out any mail.
JM-S: You created this product because what you wanted didn’t yet exist. Is women’s active wear just behind the curve in terms of developing green products? Or, are you seeing signs that they’re “getting it” in terms of responding to demand for more eco-friendly products?
CB: I saw a demand for a sports bra with a pocket and to differentiate my product even more, I chose to use organic cotton. I think many mom and pop shops are responding to demand for more eco-friendly products, while many established brands like Nike, Rebook, and Puma are not. It’ll be interesting to see the effect that having them come onboard has for the eco-friendly marketplace.
JM-S: You sell the mi-Bra through your GirlHabits web site. The site itself seems to represent something bigger than just selling organic cotton sports bras… can you tell us about your motivations and goals for GirlHabits?
CB: The site represents authenticity. It took me a few years to realize that making other people happy didn’t equate to me being happy. I stumbled until I learned to take decisions for myself and that’s what the mi-Bra and what GirlHabits represents. I believe if we all speak our truths – we are better versions of ourselves than if we don’t. I still have so much to learn and live, but so far, I’m really enjoying the ride.
This year, I gave up coffee and I’m in the process of giving up cheese. I also recently withdrew my acceptance from NYU’s Business and Economic reporting masters for the fall…even though I had a full scholarship. I want to make GirlHabits and the mi-Bra more successful and that’s not going to happen while I’m in class.
If you’d like to learn more about the mi-Bra, or Carolina herself, head over to GirlHabits… she’s created a really refreshing way of doing business.
We’re always looking for great stories of inspiring eco-entrepreneurs in the consumer products market… if you know of one, let us know about him/her…
Looking for organic women’s active and casual wear? We’ve got it… from t-shirts to jeans to shorts. And if you want even more choices, check out the selection of Life is Good t-shirts offered by our partner Appalachian Outdoors.