Global ECO Show review: Naturally Bamboo

In the second of today’s exhibitor’s reviews of the Global ECO tradeshow is April Fermite of Naturally Bamboo.

Here is my report on ECO Show at the Venetian (Las Vegas, February 11-14, 2008) ECO show is run by Howard Gabe who has been in the apparel industry for over 30 years and is all about natural and or sustainable fibers. The ECO show took place in conjunction with the ASAP Global Sourcing show (which to me didn’t make sense because here we were trying to promote ECO and fair trade and next door at ASAP they were peddling cheap crap which I assume most is not made by fair wage workers…hmmm).

The show only draws about 1000-2000 buyers, but since they were all looking for environmentally conscious goods, I was pretty busy talking to almost all the people that came through the show. I literally did not sit down for 3 of the 4 days (Tuesday was slow because of Magic opening). There were only about 14-16 of us exhibiting and the show was open to basically anyone who had a business card. I wrote several nice orders and have a stack of business cards to follow up with. I was excited about the turn out since this was only my second show (first was Minneapolis Apparel Mart -which is a joke, especially for anyone who is new).

During the show I met some great people in person that I only knew through email (Hi Vesta). I met up with Elinor from LEAF Certifications who is putting together a USA standard similar to GOTS. I am starting a relationship with a GOTS certified (or soon to be) vegetable dyehouse -Shakiba from Nature’s Laboratory, and I learned about Eco2cotton, which may be a good source for recycled, already dyed cotton. Plus we got free breakfast, lunch and dinner and nightly happy hours -whoo hoo! I even met a potential multi-line sales rep from Dallas who is looking to add some more eco-stuff (she has a denim line and recycled handbags I think, she had a booth over at Project). She made her way over to our show because she heard about the free drinks.

The downside to ECO show was obviously the extremely small size and I was disappointed that many “buyers” were coming through the show sourcing fabric and manufacturing instead of to look at our lines. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to do bamboo private label apparel for them, I would have had enough money to buy everyone a drink at Ra Sushi:). Looks like I am in the wrong business -seems like there are a good amount of people out there looking for private label apparel (which is what I did with my first line and would not recommend unless you have a ton of pre-orders-learning from my mistakes and did a lot of dumb things BEFORE I came across Kathleen’s book).

Will I go back? I’m not sure yet. I heard that POOL had a great ECO section and that MAGIC might finally get their act together and put all of the ECO people together. So maybe I will do one of those 2 shows and/or Outdoor Retailer next time. I had such a great time meeting all of you in person -Kathleen, Trudy, Vesta, Rene, Lameka, Malia, Alice, Bethany (I know I forgot some names, so I apologize).

Doing the ECO show, sitting through a few sustainability seminars, and talking to other eco-designers has really helped me think about what direction I want to head with my company. I had already decided to move all of my production here to the US (I am looking at working with 2 women’s sewing cooperatives here in MN) and this was reinforced as a definite positive from the buyers at our show. Of course there were still a few buyers who couldn’t understand why they couldn’t buy my tees for $3 wholesale. I am actually going away from tees because I will never be able to compete on price since I would be making them here locally. I am thinking of doing my line more like Tommy Bahama, eco leisure wear but without the entire island print thing.

Question for all of you…I am thinking of redesigning my line to include other sustainable fabrics -organic cotton, eco2cotton, recycled poly, etc. My name, Naturally Bamboo, is already trademarked and I really don’t want to change it if I don’t have to, but since I will not just be doing bamboo exclusively, will this be confusing to customers? I will also probably need to drop my tagline, “soft, sustainable, smart” because I think I may move away from producing the soft bamboo clothing which is made with chemicals to using bamboo wovens, which is processed mechanically and thus more eco-friendly, but not silky soft. I will go back to bamboo knits once I have hard core evidence that the processing method does not use any harsh chemicals.

Sorry for the long posting, hopefully someone will learn something from it.

**Note to Kathleen, I don’t know if this would be appropriate to post or not, but thought I would check with you first. I am trying to get rid of my current inventory and would like to offer wholesale pricing to FI readers. They can order online at Naturally Bamboo and use coupon code “discount50”. I need to cleanse myself and start over fresh, now that I have learned to do things the “right way”. All my best and thank you so much for educating and inspiring us.

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