Many of us have heard the story about the creation of 3 Green Moms and their game-changing reusable sandwich bags, Lunchskins, that come in a variety of creative and colorful designs. In 2010, 3 Green Moms saved 120 million plastic baggies from landfills and broke $1 million in sales. Patch had the chance to meet with Potomac residents Cris Bourelly and Kirsten Quigley, the Founders of 3 Green Moms, to talk about the growth of the business, the challenges of growing a Green company and their advice for local parents with their own green ideas for children’s products. (Thr "third" green mom -- Jennie Stoller Barakat -- is the team's creative director and lives in Los Angeles.) Enjoy!
Patch: Lunchskins and 3 Green Moms started with a school fundraiser and awareness of the number of plastic sandwich bags that go into landfills each year. What were the greatest green challenges you faced as you developed your Lunchskins product?
Kirsten: Getting a nice, consistent product and reliable production to meet demand.
Cris: We grappled with "Was this product really green?" We’re produced in Pennsylvania and ship our product to customers. We had to get our heads around the greater good.
Kirsten: The end user doesn’t always think that way. We produce Lunchskins in the U.S., so "local" feels right. We had to stay true to our values and often found ourselves saying "Is this trade-off worth it?" Can we do everything green? Probably not. It’s knowing what your core values are. We’re changing the mindset of a generation of kids.
Patch: Lunchskins were designed with children’s lunches in mind, but I’m guessing that not all of your customers are parents. Who have been some of your most surprising customers?
Kirsten: The sweet spot is the moms and kids but our designs give the product mainstream appeal, and make Lunchskins appealing to adults. We would never be in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) without our designs, and the customers at MoMA are very different than our customers for schools. The product has international appeal. We have a vigorous distribution in Australia. Lunchskins are popular there.
Cris: The line transcends sandwiches. We have a strong following in the Middle East. How many sandwiches do they eat there?
Kirsten: We’re retraining the way people think. In the U.S. a sustainable lifestyle is something new, but it’s also practical. Many of our customers are buying Lunchskins not for the green aspect but for the high quality and the value. We’re most proud that we’ve connected people who are not buying for green to have green practices.
Patch: What first inspired an interest in green and the environment for each of you?
Cris: A trip cross country that I did with my friend Jennie – our creative director – after we got out of college. In Colorado and Wyoming we were so close to nature. It was a life changing trip where we did a lot of camping and saw such beauty and nature, and I thought about the waste I was generating.
Kirsten: I grew up around here, and my family were suburban farmers. I lived sun up to sun down on a weekend farm. In college I got a degree in conservation and environmental health. It was an extension of what I liked to do, and I try to apply that every day. We live a stone’s throw from the C&O Canal and try to make that a refuge.
Patch: How does living in the Bethesda/Potomac area support being able to start and build a green business?
Cris: It’s been both a blessing and a curse. People are aware of issues and are generally sympathetic to our mission to reduce plastic waste. But we live in an area that’s more affluent and so it’s difficult to instill the notions of frugality and saving resources.
Kirsten: I’ve seen an enormous change in the past two years in Bethesda. I see the consumers demanding it, and businesses providing it. Bethesda Green has been a great resource for launching support and committing to the notion that green is here to stay. Businesses are walking the walk and that goes a long way. I love the way the community has embraced it and I love the way that businesses have backed it up.
Cris: 3 Green Moms was formed at the same time as Bethesda Green, and it’s been great to see the changes in those years.
Kirsten: Bethesda Green gave voice to what the community wanted. There had to be a critical mass to support it.
Patch: You took an idea that started with a green lunch basket for a school fundraiser, and turned it into a successful company. What advice do you have for other moms and dads living in Bethesda who have an idea for a green product or green business?
Cris: You have to have a passion for your product if it’s a product-based business. You have to have the faith that it might not take off right away. It goes back to being committed to our mission. We can’t do everything for everyone. You just have to remain committed to your ideal and your mission.
Kirsten: There are any number of roadblocks and you have to find where your core values are. You’ve got to step back and say am I providing a greater good, have I been honest, and do I feel it meets the standards of a non-green product? You want to say is this product a good product and then I’ll measure against the green standard.
Cris: Make it from top down. We’ve tried to maintain paperless billing systems and we expect our contractors to use the same standards that we apply.
Cris and Kirsten, thank you for talking with Patch and thank you for creating Lunchskins! We look forward to seeing more from 3 Green Moms in the future!