It started with three Potomac moms sitting around a kitchen table in 2008, bemoaning the fact that children’s lunches these days consume a whole lot of plastic. The three women, who were all good friends, had just heard a staggering statistic: every day, 20 million plastic sandwich and snack bags end up in U.S. landfills and waterways. And, a quick estimation of their own personal consumption revealed they were each discarding at least 2,000 single-use plastic bags annually.
Kirsten Quigley, Cris Bourelly and Jennie Stoller Barakat knew there had to be a way to decrease the amount of plastic waste they were generating. So, they set about trying to find an environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic baggy. “We knew that many families were looking for easy, convenient ways to be green and avoid this kind of waste,” said Quigley.
Quigley recalled it seemed like an easy task at first. All they needed was to find a moderately attractive, reusable bag that was food-safe and dishwasher-friendly. The team began by combing the Internet for eco-friendly alternatives. When they could find none, they knew they were on to something. Their search became the inspiration for a new company, which they named 3greenmoms.
Creating a “green” product was a natural fit for co-founder Quigley, who had longtime experience in environmental organization and also worked as a consultant for non-profits. She and co-founder Bourelly, formerly a corporate lawyer in international law, began to form the new business.
A top priority for the team was to find a reliable, safe fabric from which to construct their new bags. The food industry seemed like a natural place to start. After months of research, they uncovered a high-quality fabric used in pastry bags by bakeries. Made by Thermohauser, a German manufacturer, the cloth was moisture-proof, could withstand high heat and met the international directives for food-safety.
“Our hope is to inspire people to think about their choices and to give them an everyday solution to plastic waste that will result in a greener world.” — Kirsten Quigley
With the raw materials selected, the team named their new product LunchSkins Reusable Sandwich Bags and Bourelly began to navigate the complicated process of registering the trademark. Creative Director Barakat, a Los Angeles based graphic designer, started working on the look and feel of the new brand. Together, they chose bold, bright colors and child-friendly graphics to convey LunchSkins’ modern, eco-friendly feel.
After finding a manufacturer to make the prototype, 3greenmoms introduced the bag in a gift basket they prepared for a local fundraiser. The bag was an instant hit. Quigley recalled that in the first months following the fundraiser, they were taking orders for 15-20 bags a week. Then, in April of 2010, an article about LunchSkins appeared in Oprah Winfrey’s “O Magazine.” Quigley said that demand blew up about six months later.
Within a year, large retailers such as The Container Store and Kids Pottery Barn were approaching 3greenmoms about selling the bags in their stores. Five years after launch, the list of stores has only continued to grow. LunchSkins are now being sold in organic markets, gift stores and hardware stores located all over the United States as well as in the national retail chains, Target and Whole Foods. By their latest figures, Quigley estimates 3greenmoms is now producing 300,000 bags a year.
The original eco-friendly idea for a reusable bag has now expanded to encompass a full product line including standard-sized lunch and snack bags, slightly larger sub bags and a more recent introduction, the zippered lunch bag that coincided with the start of the school year. Other new additions, created in response to customer feedback, include different sized wet bags for cloth diapers and a new “sweat” bag for travel and gym.
In the works are insulated hot and cold sandwich bags and lunch totes that are freezable and cooler resistant. “We think these would be fun innovations and a great addition to the line,” said Quigley, adding, “Everyone who turns to a plastic bag of some sorts for something; we plan to offer a solution. We are always thinking about innovations. That is what we love to do.”
What started as a decentralized, grass-roots organization operating from many homes has now evolved into a streamlined organization of six people, all working together under one roof. “In the beginning, we were a small band of women working virtually trying to establish the business. Now we’re one lean team, under one roof, trying to leverage our individual talents and grow the business, “ said Quigley.
LunchSkins’ mission remains simple, but it has expanded to embrace the green movement more fully, which Quigley believes is becoming mainstream. She sees LunchSkins as an opportunity for children and adults to get involved in environmental issues. 3greenmoms now strives to encourage people to look harder at the impact that their plastic waste is having on the environment and to inspire a new generation to embrace small, everyday changes.
“It’s about the little things we do each day. Our hope is to inspire people to think about their choices and to give them an everyday solution to plastic waste that will result in a greener world,” said Quigley.
While it is clear that many of the area’s residents have finally embraced the idea of replacing the plastic grocery store bag with a cloth one of their own. LunchSkins would like them to think even smaller. “We’d like to take the trend down to the level of a lunch bag,” said Quigley. “Change begins at home.”
For more information on 3greenmoms or how to purchase their products, go to http://www.3greenmoms.com/
In keeping with their mission to raise awareness about plastic pollution, 3greenmoms is now reaching out to the broader community to create partnerships. This year, 3greenmoms introduced the Seabird LunchSkin, featuring an albatross in flight. They’re planning to give 10 percent of the sales of the bag back to the 5Gyres Institute, an organization dedicated to creating a planet free of plastic pollution.
The idea for the design was inspired by a Chris Jordan video featuring the Midway atoll, “Message from the Gyre.” In the video, Jordan depicts thousands of baby albatrosses lying dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic. “It provides a stark picture of what our consumer-driven society looks like under this light,” said Quigley, adding, “3greenmoms hopes to bring awareness to the problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and be the solution-based product to the problem they highlight.”