You’ve probably seen them, and you might even use them, but did you know Eco-Bags Products was the first reusable bag company in the U.S.? CEO Sharon Rowe founded the company in 1989 after participating in Hudson River cleanups in New York, where she saw trees along the river filled with single-use plastic bags.
Rowe purchased cotton string bags like the kind she had seen in Europe for her own use, and every time she shopped she fielded questions and comments about the bags. At the same time, Rowe was a new mother, living in Manhattan and hoping to start her own business that would do good in the world.
She founded Eco-Bags Products with a mission “to offer thoughtful, ethically and sustainably sourced, durable-reusable bags that inspire people to reduce, reuse, recycle, and re-imagine the world we live in.”
“It look about 15 years for the business to take off,” explains Rowe, who first imported the bags from Germany before working directly with a manufacturer in India. “Earth Day in 1990 was a turning point for us. We sold bags hand over fist on that day. But 2007 was the year our bags really took off because we were featured on Oprah’s first Earth Day show.”
From the beginning, Rowe insisted on fair wage and fair labor throughout their supply chain. “We didn’t want to solve a problem here on the back of someone else,” she explains. “Our entire supply chain is clean. All of our business choices are driven by ‘Leave no trace,’ and ‘Do no harm.'”
Rowe has parlayed her experience with Eco-Bags Products into a book due out in May, The Magic of Tiny Business: You Don’t Have to Go Big to Make a Great Living. The book shows a step-by-step process of “building a profitable, right-scaled, sustainable venture that doesn’t compromise your values.”
Much has changed in the 29 years since Rowe founded Eco-Bags Products, but some things remain the same, like their commitment to change the world one reusable bag at a time. And the classic cotton string bag is still the bestseller.