At Bas Bleu, while books are our passion, the pages of our catalog also are sprinkled with reading accessories, paper products, and whatever other bookish gifts tickle our bluestockinged fancy. Recently, we’ve added several cozy items from Green 3, a Midwestern apparel and home goods company whose sustainable products are conceived, designed, and manufactured entirely in the United States. Their scarves, blankets, and tees have become fast favorites with Bas Bleu’s customers, so this week we sat down with Green 3 co-owner Jim Martin to learn more about this unique company.
Bas Bleu: You and your wife, Sandy, Green 3’s founder and president, both spent a good portion of your career in the corporate world. What inspired you to make such a drastic change?
Jim Martin: Sandy had “retired” from the corporate world just shy of forty years old to move to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and marry me! She had an amazing job and it was a big decision, but she chose to be with me and make the move. Once settled, she decided that she missed working and wanted to start her own company built on her own principles. With that thought, Green 3 was born. My story isn’t quite so heartwarming! I also had an amazing job with a wonderful company that was acquired by a larger company from another area of the country. Shortly after acquisition it became clear that my view of the brand would not fit their vision, and after one year we parted ways. I joined Sandy at Green 3 with the intent of “helping her” until we decided what we would do next. Well, eight years later I am still helping her, and now we are fully committed to being entrepreneurs and small business owners.
BB: Most people probably can guess at the downsides of shifting from working for a large, well-funded global brand to a small, family-owned startup. But what are the upsides?
JM: There are many upsides. Probably the biggest is the amount of time it takes to make decisions. Rather than multiple meetings, conference calls, board presentations, focus groups, and chain-of-command signoffs, we just meet, make the decision, and implement the strategy. In addition, the sense of connection you have with your team, your customers, and your consumers is far more direct. Information doesn’t get filtered or sanitized. It’s very refreshing. Also, the ability to be completely transparent is very inspiring. Larger corporations have no choice but to build a veil and not allow people to peek behind it. Smaller companies like ours are proud of what they are doing and encourage everyone to come take a look. We like who we are and what we do, and we want people to know about it.
BB: In recent years, a number of companies have cashed in on the “made in the USA” label, even when that phrase applies to only a fraction of their operation. Why was it so important to you for your products to be 100% American-made?
JM: This was a core tenet of Sandy’s original business plan. It stemmed from her traveling all over the world and being in factories in India, Africa, Asia, and beyond. She believed that products made in the USA could be competitive and superior. It was never a marketing strategy. It is something we believe in, and have proven to be true. Beyond that it turned out to be true competitive advantage as our lead times are measured in weeks, not months or years.
BB: What exactly qualifies as a “reengineered product?” And where do you source your reclaimed apparel from?
JM: For us it simply means taking something and turning it into something else. For example, we will use post-consumer men’s suit coats and turn them into women’s tote bags, or post-consumer wool sweaters and turn them into oven mitts. When using post-consumer goods we turn to vintage wholesale companies who can ship large quantities of donor goods. When using pre-consumer goods we look to companies who have waste, salvage, or discontinued products that are a result of their manufacturing process. At the end of the day the goal is to take what would be waste and make it productive.
BB: You seem to utilize some pretty fancy cotton! Define for us “recycled cotton” and “organic cotton.”
JM: Organic cotton is simply cotton grown without the use of harmful chemicals or pesticides. The purpose of growing organic crops is simply to eliminate harmful chemicals from leaching into the eco-system. Recycled cotton actually comes from waste that occurs doing the manufacturing process. Rather than just disposing of these scraps, they are collected and repurposed into new yarn that then can be used to knit new, useable fabric.
JM: A lot depends on the customer and what type of consumer they service, but we do extremely well with our organic cotton tees, our recycled cotton sweater knits, and our re-engineered skirts.
BB: How long have you been selling to Bas Bleu? How was that relationship born?
JM: It has only been a few seasons now, but we have grown very quickly with Bas Bleu. We met the Bas Bleu team at a wholesale tradeshow and the two teams clicked. We share similar values, business styles, and end consumers. From there the two teams worked collaboratively to develop some really fun products.
BB: Green 3 is based in Wisconsin—rural Wisconsin at that. How does living in the Midwest inform your company’s identity versus living in a major apparel market like New York or Los Angeles?
JM: I think there is a sense of honesty in our brand that you find inherent in locations like rural Wisconsin. The major metropolitan cities force you to focus on what is hot at the moment or the flavor of the day. We don’t feel encumbered by those things. We have a sense of our brand and can stay true to it without worrying about what the pundits might think.
BB: Green 3 prides itself not just on environmental responsibility but also social responsibility. Why?
JM: We think it’s just the right thing to do. Sandy and I have worked hard, but we’ve also been surrounded by great people who have guided our lives and careers. Not everyone is so fortunate. Sometimes you have to give something back to folks who need it. It doesn’t always have to be writing a check. Sometimes it’s just meeting with a Girl Scout troop and encouraging kids to pursue their dreams, or working with the Boys and Girls Club to talk to teens about school and why it’s important. Simple things like that can have an impact.
BB: Many people would like to live more eco-conscious lives, but the methods for doing so can seem overwhelming, complicated, or expensive. In your opinion, what is a manageable yet effective starting point for those folks who wish to be better stewards of the environment?
JM: I have to smile because Sandy and I are not “tree huggers!” We have a long way to go to becoming as “green” as we should be. But Sandy wanted to start a company that tried to do things as correctly and honestly as it could. For her that meant creating jobs, at home, and doing the least amount of damage to the environment as possible. Pretty simple things but in reality kind of a big deal. So my recommendation is to take a look at the things you do on a daily basis and just ask yourself if there is anything you could do just a little bit greener. Maybe it’s carpooling, or using a glass and the tap for your water instead of a plastic bottle. If everybody made a really small environmentally conscious change it would add up very quickly.
BB: Our thanks to Jim for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us. Be sure to check out Green 3’s products on our website and in our Autumn and brand-new Holiday catalogs!