Real Readers is an Earth911.com series featuring the stories of real people making a difference in the world. Are you or someone you know going above and beyond to do something for the Earth? Tell us about it!
Reusable bags are a booming trend in the green scene. Everyday grocers, high-end produce purveyors and haute couture designers typically featured on the Paris runway are all sporting this eco-friendly accessory.
But the more we use them, the more we’ve come to find their flaws. Ever left a bag at home after emptying out your groceries? Wanted to take one in a department store, but it wouldn’t fit in your purse or wallet?
Kit Parks had these same concerns over her reusable bags and wished she could find ones that fit her needs. However, she never anticipated starting Ecoroot to help remedy these design flaws all the way from her small town in North Carolina.
Parks got the idea to launch Ecoroot while on a trip to Europe. “It started when my husband and I went on vacation to Italy, and I noticed that everyone uses reusable bags there.”
Once back in the U.S., Parks started “messing around in [her] sewing room” to find designs and fabrics that could be both sturdy and small. “I tried to figure out something that you could stick in your purse […] that would be very portable so I don’t have to think about it,” she said. “I also wanted something that was washable, because I really don’t like germs.”
The bags Parks created are made of a sport-mesh that can easily be put in the dishwasher or washer with a load of laundry. They also collapse down into a small pouch and are fully customizable.
Another cool feature? The bag is made of plastic #1 (polyethylene) and is “totally recyclable.” When she chose the material, Parks didn’t realize that she was double-dipping on environmental issues, since she “didn’t even realize at the time” that the fabric was made from PET – it was “pure luck. It’s very lightweight, it’s strong. It turned out to be a really fun product.”
The World Wide Market
“I started developing it over a year ago, and launched this fall,” she said. “I’ve been in business for myself for over 20 years, but never been in the manufacturing process.” For Parks, who had most recently owned a nursery, called Roots, Inc., learning about concepts like sourcing and finding patents was an interesting journey.
But the biggest change Parks has seen since she started working for herself 27 years ago is the influence of the Internet in a business’ success. “The Internet can change the world. The last time I started a business, the Internet didn’t even exist,” she said. Setting up her business this time around was easier because of her connection to the rest of the world, especially to find sourcing both in the U.S. and other countries, like China. “It’s leveled the playing field for the ‘small potatoes’ like us,” she acknowledged.
Having a wider scope for potential customers is also a plus of being plugged in. “We don’t’ have money for PR, that’s where we get hit a little bit,” she said. “North Carolina on the coast, in a small town area, yet my market is across the country and international inquiries.”
Parks was also able to file all of her patent searches online, for a small fee of around $110. She also had to research names for her company, because green prefixes like “eco-” and “earth-” are very popular. “I went through hundreds of different combinations of ‘ecological’ or ‘environmental’ to come up with something no one else has used yet,” she said, eventually blending “eco-” with her nursery’s name.
In the future, Parks wants to expand to aluminum or stainless steel water bottles that can also easily fit in a purse. She’s also hoping to create an opportunity for schools to fundraise by “trying to offer the bags at true wholesale prices, so they can actually make money. They [the students] can be little soldiers to help convert their parents to use reusable bags.”
In the future, when the business grows, Parks is planning on doing more with the money than just taking an eco-friendly trip to the Galapagos (ok, that’s actually our dream green trip, but you get the point.) She’s actually hoping to support other earth-friendly groups with her proceeds. “One of our goals is to take 20 percent of the profits to put towards educational awareness programs,” said Parks.
But with the business just getting started, for Parks, Ecoroot is “more of a labor of love for us right now.”