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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  1. /anne... says:

    I think you’re going in the right direction; it’s hard to justify paying the far higher price of a boxy organic tee shirt, but stylish clothing that fits, flatters AND is kind to the environment – that gets my $.

    Several Australian companies are going that way, notably Gorman:

    I think the knitwear is about $50-$60 each.

    For your motto, how about Smart, Sustainable, Stylish?

    And yes, I’d expect Naturally Bamboo to sell only bamboo products. It would confuse me.

  2. Andrea says:


    Fantastis post! Thanks for being so candid. As for your name, usually there is one of two ways you can go: Rename, or make a big deal about the fact that you are expanding your offerings. I ran into this with Hempsown when she started carrying organic cotton and other sustainable products that had nothing to do with hemp…that’s how we came up with “eco-boutique” as a tag line…and it worked. Mostly you want to let your customers know that you are still committed to the same principles that you started with. If you put out a press release saying as much wouldn’t hurt either. By doing that you go on record with your message…as well as stating it on your website and any printed materials you may have going out. If you rename your company, all the brand recognition you’ve built will go out the window and in my opinion it’s not worth it just to change the materials you use. Conversely, if you were to completely change the bent of your company, it would confuse people dedicated to your brand as it is now…and then renaming would certainly be appropriate.

    Thanks again for the post!

  3. Kathleen has had a couple of posts about names, or maybe a post and a book chapter, I don’t remember. Anyway, the gist is that your company name is something generic, like April Fermite — exactly because of the jam you’ve gotten into with Naturally Bamboo. The solution she suggests is to migrate gradually. Now you’re ‘Naturally Bamboo’; tomorrow you are ‘Naturally Bamboo by April Fermite’; next year you are ‘April Fermite’ and you have a Naturally Bamboo line and also a Naturally Hemp line or whatever. Then if you decide to go into… oh, shredded tires for road resurfacing you can still be April Fermite with a ‘Thoughtfully Shredded Tires’ product.

  4. Jennifer E. says:

    I second Alison’s comment on the migration to a different name over time. Not sure if man would like to buy a shirt made by “April Fermite” So I might choose a different generic name for the company.
    I think good that looking at expanding the line to include other fibers or processes than bamboo. I am myself am not found of recycled pop bottle fabrics because of an article I read in the Atlantic Monthly back in 1999 or 2000 about how the PETE was brittle and made polyester dust. Like the Eco2Cotton concept, I also remember some company that was recycling cotton and polyester fiber waste from spinning to make cotton goods. Hmmm I guess when I have time i have to find that binder again of articles.

  5. Anna says:

    I think if you started by introducing fabrics that have % of bamboo, your name will still fit and then if you come up with fabrics that are not bamboo give it a “collection” name.

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