The Green Garmento – An Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaning Tote
“Using The Green Garmento for your dry cleaning is similar to the reusable totes movement, which started as something grocery stores were offering and has changed the way people do their grocery shopping,” says Jennie Nigrosh, president and co-founder of The Green Garmento.
Nigrosh’s product is a dry cleaning bag that consumers use over and over again, both as a hamper at home and as a way to transport their dry cleaning without plastic bags. “Way beyond the fact that we have an interesting product that helps make life easier, helps to organize your closet, and helps you be green all at the same time,” Nigrosh adds, “it’s a new category.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Nigrosh by phone from her California office to learn more about The Green Garmento as well as its acceptance in the dry-cleaning world and in homes around the nation. — Julia Wasson
BPGL: When you call The Green Garmento “a new category,” what do you mean?
NIGROSH: Bringing reusable totes to the grocery store has become a really important part of the routine that people are becoming more and more committed to. We would like our product, The Green Garmento, to represent the same kind of category growth. You can now treat your clothing the same way that you treat your groceries.
BPGL: It’s hard for people to begin a new habit. Even now, many people who own the reusable grocery totes forget to take them to the store. How will consumers remember to use The Green Garmento for their dry cleaning?
NIGROSH: The cool part about our product is that it’s already a hamper. So you don’t have to remember it. Your dry-cleaning clothes are already in your reusable bag, which you’re then bringing to the dry cleaner. The most important part about The Green Garmento is that it’s truly becoming a way of life and not just a product that’s going to help you go green or save on plastic. It really is going to change the way you think about your dry cleaning routine.
BPGL: How are you spreading the word about The Green Garmento?
NIGROSH: We are reaching out to two groups. We have an entire website devoted just to dry cleaners. And then we have a website that is devoted to consumers. Within our dry cleaning website, we actually have another website which is in Korean, because there’s a huge number of dry cleaners in the United States who are Korean speaking.
BPGL: When you launched your product, did you focus first on consumers or on dry cleaners?
NIGROSH: We launched to the dry cleaning industry first, at trade shows and in dry cleaning publications. We wanted to help them understand the product and be able to implement it into their system before we introduced it to consumers.
For our first year in business, we met with and marketed to various dry cleaners. And that’s been great for us. They taught us a whole new language! We come from a different industry — the entertainment industry. We went to our first dry cleaning convention in Long Beach, California, and we thought we would really come up against resistance. Instead, all of a sudden, we had mentors helping us learn how dry cleaning works, helping us introduce it to other dry cleaners, and explaining how we would be able to reach their customers. It was very enlightening for us.
We realized, my husband, Rick, and I, that this was a good place for us. People are nice and helpful, and they understand that this is a good change. And not only does it help the dry cleaner go green, or send a green message to their community that they’re doing the best that they can for waste elimination, but also it saves them money on those single-use plastic bags. At the same time, they can either sell or take a deposit on The Green Garmento. So they’re going to improve their cash flow as well.
BPGL: Why did you pick polypropylene for your bags, rather than canvas, cotton, or nylon?
NIGROSH: We did research and talked to some dry cleaners about using cotton. The amount of water and natural resources it takes to wash a cotton or canvas bag is huge. We’re talking about in some cases, thousands of bags at a time. This can be very cumbersome for dry cleaners’ systems. When cotton bags get wet they are very heavy and it takes a lot of energy to dry them. And over time, cotton gets moldy, and it rips. Dry cleaners have tried cotton laundry bags in the past and they just don’t hold up and are very expensive.
We also wanted a bag that would be water resistant and slightly weatherproof and breathable, because there are often chemicals in dry cleaning. The Green Garmento allows the clothes to breathe, unlike single-use plastic.
The other reason was, the polypropylene bags are already branded and proven to be an eco-friendly choice at the grocery stores. You go to any grocery store, and their reusable totes usually are polypropylene. The reason for that is that they’re really easy to care for. They wash really well.
And they’re inexpensive. We wanted a bag that we could price accordingly. If we had a cotton or canvas bag, it would be in the $30.00 range. Ours are a $10 retail item, and the dry cleaners are paying less than that, because they buy them in bulk.
There were a lot of reasons why we chose polypropylene: cost effectiveness, water resilience, breathability. It was already branded green. And it takes much less natural resources to create the bags. It’s also made from the byproduct of oil, so it’s eco-friendly insomuch as what would normally become garbage from oil being refined gets turned into a resin, and then into a pellet, and then into material. It’s a repurposed product and a totally recyclable one.
BPGL: I’ve heard that polypropylene is not easily recyclable. Does your local recycler take it at the curb?
NIGROSH: Yes. We actually work with our local garbage recycling company, Crown Disposal. They have already signed on to say they will recycle The Green Garmento. just as they would plastic. The interesting part is, we’ve yet to have to recycle many in the two years since we started.
We have a program that you can send your bag back if it’s damaged or lived a full life. You pay to ship it back, but then we’ll give you a discount toward a new bag, and we’ll recycle it for you. And we do that no matter what the quantity. We do that with our dry cleaners as well.
BPGL: That’s wonderful. You’re doing the take-back program that everybody is trying to get the computer manufacturers to do. Congratulations.
NIGROSH: Thank you. It’s a lot easier than taking back a computer. But I appreciate that.
If we have some bags that are misprinted, or have pockets that are a little wonky or stitching off but still usable, I donate them to charity. We wrote a really fun “blogmento” and sent it to our Facebook and Twitter followers asking for people to suggest their favorite charities that can use our all-in-one garment bags. From this, we learned about three organizations we haven’t worked with before. We sent out about 800 bags in a week to a homeless shelter in downtown L.A. called People Reaching Out (PRO), a second-chance clothing drive called Desert Best Friend’s Closet and a cool organization called Trash For Teaching.
We’ve also donated to a woman’s charity called Dress for Success. They give women a chance to re-enter society after being in a shelter. They have boutiques and help women to shop for the right clothes for interviews and such. I think a really important part of that is to have something to protect those clothes.
If we have any bags that really can’t be used, I repurpose them. We cut them up, and they become my paperless press kit cover. So I’ve got hundreds of little CD pouches that we use to send press kits to the media. And then if they don’t want to use it as their CD pouch, it’s a great little makeup case or change purse. So, we’re doing the best we can to not let this stuff go to waste.
BPGL: Describe what happens to The Green Garmento when it goes to the laundry.
NIGROSH: When you take The Green Garmento to your dry cleaner, it gets checked in with your order. Depending on how the cleaner identifies your clothes — a lot of them will use bar codes or a ticket that they’ll staple onto your clothes — they can do the same thing to the bag to keep it as part of your order. It gets checked in as a non-revenue item, meaning it stays with your order, but it doesn’t get processed. The Green Garmento is not dry-cleanable. Though we’ve tested them, and they can go through the cleaning process, we don’t recommend it.
The dry cleaner doesn’t have to process it or clean it or anything. They put it in a place so that when your order comes back, they find the bag. They can write on the ticket, “Came with a bag,” or “Customer brought their own bag.” Then it’s ready to go.
The other great thing about this fabric is that it’s not a natural fiber, it’s not going to absorb a lot of moisture or get really dirty with your dry cleaning (which hopefully is not too terribly dirty anyway). It’s kind of up to you and your dry cleaner whether you decide to wash the bag every single time or you ask if they will put it through the wash. When it does get washed, they just use a cold cycle, gentle detergent, and no dryer. It’s a very quick, easy process.
BPGL: I understand that some dry cleaners have their own bags. How does that work?
NIGROSH: Dry cleaners work differently, depending on how they process their clothes. Green Apple Cleaners is a large, eco-friendly dry-cleaning chain that has a big plant in New Jersey and dry cleaning stores all over Manhattan. They don’t let the customer have their very own bag; they have many thousands of bags rotating. So the customer brings in a bag, and they get back a clean bag. Green Apple does wash their bags.
But I have other dry cleaners that say, “The customer and I worked it out. They don’t need to wash it every single time.” That’s the beauty of this bag. It’s saving water. It’s saving power. And it’s a reusable tote for your clothes.
BPGL: I can see where it would make sense for the dry cleaner to have their own supply that they rotate and clean themselves. I gather they ask the customer to pay a deposit on it.
NIGROSH: Dry cleaners all over the country brand The Green Garmento with their logo. Then they introduce it to the customer and take orders.
Some cleaners sell the bags or take a deposit. And there’s a reason for that. It helps the customer get excited and committed to the program. If you’re getting something for free, you might forget about it. If you’re paying for it, you’re going to be part of the program and look forward to using it instead of plastic.
We have another good-size dry cleaning chain called Flair Cleaners. It’s one of the prominent cleaners here in Los Angeles. Flair bought 1000 bags, and sold all but 3- or 400 within a couple of weeks. They immediately ordered another 3,000 or so bags. So his customers are loving them. One of his stores is in Santa Monica, near the ocean, where people are really cognizant of plastic waste, because marine life is so affected by it.
If a dry cleaner has questions about how to implement The Green Garmento, we have set up a mentor program. We’ll couple them with an appropriately sized dry cleaner that works similarly as they do. I’m not going to put a mom-and-pop with my Green Apple store. I’m going to put them with another mom-and-pop, so they can discuss how to start our reusable bag program.
BPGL: What was your motivation for manufacturing The Green Garmento?
NIGROSH: My husband is 6’4″, and he had a job where he had to wear clothes that had been dry cleaned every, single day. He had a suit-type job, and they had to use the longest dry cleaning bags on his clothes. So our closets had oceans of this disgusting plastic. We would actually get in arguments about what to do with it. And it would take so long in the morning to take off all the plastic, the twist ties, the shoulder covers. It just seemed like such a waste.
Just to rewind for a minute, my dad owned a cardboard recycling plant. He recycled paperboard and corrugated cardboard to make recycled paperboard. We were one of the first families I’d ever known that actually, actively recycled. We would have to save all of our newspapers, and we would go to our neighbor’s house and get their newspapers. It was very old school, the way we helped him gather paper for his plant. Back in the ’70s, recycling wasn’t so prominent as it is today. I’ve always been very cognizant of waste. It was always top of mind.
At one point, I was working for an eco-friendly printing company, called Pixxlz.com, and I was at an eco-fair where there was a woman selling a cotton, upside-down laundry bag to use for dry cleaning., We bought a couple (very expensive – about $60.00) and took it to our dry cleaner. The cleaner said she’d never accept a cotton bag, because it wouldn’t really protect the clothes, and they were too expensive to purchase for her customers.
We went to the bag lady and asked her if we could help her create a more user-friendly bag. She had little interest in changing from expensive cotton. We then did a little research and found another company had a lapsed patent on a similar bag from the early ’90s, but it never worked – it was probably before its time. So we realized, This is going to happen. And we thought, There has to be a better way. Let’s see what we can do.
BPGL: I think you‘ve created a very useful and serviceable bag. I found the one that I received from your publicist to be very sturdy and versatile. How did you decide on the features of The Green Garmento?
NIGROSH: We started asking the different dry cleaners, “What would you like to see in this kind of bag?” We couldn’t have designed it with them in mind without their input. So we met with quite a few dry cleaners. They said, “Having a side zipper is very important, if we can’t use see-through plastic, one of the most important things is for customers to be able to see their clothes.”
You also have to have the straps and the handles. I’m a city girl, I grew up just outside of Boston, so I really wanted it to be easy for people who were going to be on subways or ride a bike. Another really important aspect was for it to be able to hang upside down on a laundry hook over the door. Again, I’ve always lived in apartments, and if you don’t have space for a big sorting hamper for all of your clothes, it’s nice to be able to hang it from a hook and get easy access to it.
BPGL: I’ve seen in a lot of your advertising that people put these on a type of stand, but I don’t see it on your site for purchase.
NIGROSH: We haven’t launched it to the public yet, but we launched it to the big stores who were interested. This is sort of paying homage to my dad, who is also helping me with the design. He’s 83, and he sells machines that make eco-packaging.
So, we are creating an Eco Hamper Stand, made of 100% recyclable content. It’s incredibly lightweight, durable and really affordable. It will have many applications!
They’re going to be in different colors to match the bags. We recently sold our bags on QVC, and we’re excited to introduce the QVC audience to our Eco Hamper Stand when it’s ready for market.
BPGL: A recyclable stand is a great idea. Did you come up with that, or did your dad?
NIGROSH: I did. And then I call my dad a million times a week with questions. He actually flew into Chicago to The International Housewares show we were attending so that he could visit us and take a look at the hamper stand. He said, “No, no, no, you’ve got to do it this way,” because we had our prototype there. He’s a pretty brilliant dude, and it was really neat to get his input on it. It’s an important project for me, too, to get that out there as soon as I can.
The other thing we’re offering is an over-the-door hook in recyclable stainless. So, now, you can get a lovely metal hook to go with our bags.
BPGL: I love what you’re doing and your motivation for doing it.
NIGROSH: If you enter into something thinking you’re only doing it to make money, I just can’t imagine that’s ever going to work out for you.
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