When Jennie Nigrosh first conceived of her company, The Green Garmento, she had no idea she’d wind up in the laundry business. Before launching her reusable dry-cleaning bag company in 2008, Jennie worked at a Los Angeles record label. She spent her days meeting famous people, enjoying “two-hour prosecco lunches” and dashing off to the Cannes Film Festival with her husband (and, now, Green Garmento co-founder) Rick.
Turns out Jennie was far more passionate about plastic than prosecco. Today, The Green Garmento is used in over 1000 dry-cleaning chains and by hoteliers across 25 countries. Jennie and her products have been featured in theNew York Times, The Today Show and onShark Tank, and have won awards from the hospitality and housewares industries. Most impressively, thanks to her reusable dry-cleaning bag that doubles as a duffle, Jennie aims to cut single-use plastic-bag waste by a whopping 300 million pounds per year.
Why did you decide to start a reusable dry-cleaning bag business?
Back in 2005, I realized there was something better in the world that I could be doing. I married later in life, and we tried to have kids for quite a long time, but it didn't work out. We were throwing a lot of money into that, and I thought, let's put our money into something that actually could grow. If procreating is not meant to be, maybe we can do something else positive.
I’m not necessarily a “green” person, I just hate waste. I'm not a hoarder, but I have a hard time throwing things away if I don't know where they're supposed to be thrown. I wasn't sure how to recycle all these plastic dry-cleaning bags that were ending up as my own personal landfill in my closet. My husband and I would fight about it. I would be naked in my closet looking for clothes to wear and then be late for work. It was a total nightmare!
I was also seeing what havoc this plastic material is having on our ecosystem. It's not just about the plastic patch that's growing in the ocean. Marine life are confusing it for food. How would you like it if your kids confused a plastic bottle cap for a Cheerio? It's no different. Marine life are going to look for something to eat to survive. And they're surviving on something synthetic we created to cover our clothing, which lasts for ten minutes. That just didn’t seem right.
Your brand is all about sustainability and eco-awareness. How are you taking that message to others in the industry?
I've been working with large companies to create reusable or sustainable products. I’ve learned the general population doesn't really understand how to be more earth friendly. When I get in front of big companies I can say, "Listen, you're doing a promotional giveaway, why don't we make it something that's sustainable" or "You have a delivery service, why don't we have a vessel that people can reuse over and over again?” While we’re at it, why don't we get some marketing on that vessel!
I was asked by another company to make a plastic bag that wasn’t reusable, and I turned down the business. Sometimes I have a crisis of conscience because my business needs the money but that’s not what my mission is.
Now I'm looking into bioplastic, so if it has to be a single-use bag, perhaps I can work with a plant-based plastic or compound. I may be able to offer somebody research or ideas and come up with the right property and pricing. That's how I've been able to turn my one little garment bag business into a more nimble approach to different businesses.
In the last ten years your business has expanded and you’ve been consulting with other companies. How do you keep up and still find time for yourself?
I think that physical health is critically important. As the saying goes,"If you don't have your health, you don't have anything." For me to be productive at work, I like to start my day with a walk or a hike, a little bit of yoga or a quick bike ride. I'm a morning workout person. When I get that blood flowing and I’m feeling my muscles, my brain starts firing. Having that sort of body-mind stimulation and connectivity helps me find focus for the day ahead.
You’re officially a seasoned entrepreneur. What insight can you offer small business owners who are just starting out?
You gotta have a business plan! If I had a business plan when I started -- and I didn’t -- it would have been easier to understand what potentially could happen to my business. I might have foreseen having a lot of competition and how that would completely distort my prices. I would have known more about doing business overseas.
Your friends and associates are going to say you have a great idea because they love you, and that’s lovely. We love our people because they love us and they think we're great and our business idea is a “no brainer.” And that’s exactly why you need real business mentors to review and critique your business plan so you can develop your own set of checks and balances.
Finally, don't ever think that what you do is so great it's a “no brainer” -- because there's no such thing!
Before you go
QB Community members, how often do you consider sustainability in your business? Can you share any tips for making your small business more earth-friendly? We’d love to know.
I've worked in print, broadcast and digital media for 20 years and managed to start a couple small businesses along the way. I love collaborating with and supporting creative folks who have great ideas. As Content Creator for the QB Community team, I’m excited to help other small-business owners be the best they can be!