Transcribed from an interview with Blue Canoe founder, Laurie Dunlap
Tell me about how Blue Canoe started.
I started Blue Canoe by the seat of my pants while I was homesteading with my family in northern California. A couple of creative girlfriends had started a small swimwear business, which I nosed in on whenever I had a chance. It was a gentle introduction to running a clothing business. I was able to start small and grow organically, learning as I went.
Were you literally in your garage?
Blue Canoe’s first home was a small historic cottage under redwood trees.I shared it with three industrious women all starting their own clothing businesses - from hemp hats to hand painted silk kimonos. The little space was bursting with machinery, supplies and the energy of new beginnings. It was a noisy, friendly place where the four of us brainstormed ideas, traded resources and information, helped walk-in customers, and hammered out ways to build our businesses.
What was your first major investment?
My first purchase was a $200 roll of un-dyed cotton/spandex fabric. I wore a dozen hats - doing all the designing, pattern making, sewing, bookkeeping, garment dyeing, purchasing, etc. Marketing meant going to craft fairs or cold-calling the small eco stores that were cropping up across the country.
What were your first designs?
My first designs were organic cotton two-piece swimsuits styled for comfort. When women began buying them as bras and panties I realized I was on to something. It turns out there were lots of women looking for comfortable, cotton underwear, and I was set to provide it.
What was the first year like?
Gradually the line expanded and the business grew. I left the cottage under the redwoods and moved into a larger office beside a nearby river. That’s when I noticed a hand-made wooden blue canoe, which inspired the name of my company.
Today Blue Canoe is thriving in San Francisco where we manufacture a full line of stylish eco-friendly clothing and lingerie. The years have not altered our commitment to organic cotton and manufacturing in the USA. We are still woman-owned and women-run. We still do business from the heart, and a little bit by the seat of our pants. We’re always learning, getting better, and always put our customers at the center of our business.