Are you thinking about opening a bamboo store or a natural fiber eco-boutique? Or maybe you already have an alternative, natural product shop, and you’re looking to add some new merchandise? Given bamboo’s growing popularity, this would be a great time to stock your shelves with some new bamboo product lines.
I owned and operated an all-bamboo eco-boutique from 2006 until 2020, and continue to manage this bamboo oriented website. Even before opening Bambu Batu, I had started one of the very first all-hemp stores in the country. That was the Hemp Shak, also based in San Luis Obispo, California. So I have some pretty extensive experience in merchandising with eco-friendly retail businesses.
Over the years I’ve dealt with my fair share of wholesalers, eco entrepreneurs and natural fiber manufacturers. Some were better at what they did than others, and some were only a quick flash in the pan. And one thing I came to realize was that every company had its strengths and weaknesses. Some excelled at product designs, but had a hard time answering the phone. Others had excellent customer service but charged a little too much for their wares.
What to look for when seeking bamboo products and wholesale suppliers
The fact is, there are a lot of criteria to consider when you’re vetting vendors to stock your retail store. In an eco-boutique, you want high quality products made from eco-conscious materials in a socially responsible supply chain. The products need to be interesting to a range of customers, and so you need to know your customers. You also need to know you can rely on your suppliers, so that you can reorder consistently when you find items that move well.
It also helps if the supplier has a good selection of different items that sell well. That way you’re ordering from a smaller number of companies. If you have to call two dozen different places to order two dozen of your best selling items, then you’re going to be spending a lot of time managing your orders. Not only that, but you might also have a hard time reaching the minimum order quantities with every different vendor.
One more consideration is going to be the location of your store and your suppliers. My stores were based in California, so I always tried to find suppliers who were also in California, or else somewhere on the West Coast. It’s not possible to do this in every case, but the are three basic advantages. First, it saves money (and time) on shipping when the products don’t come from far away. Second, you’re supporting your local economy when you buy from within your own state or community. Lastly, as an eco-entrepreneur, you should be interested in reducing the carbon footprint of your wares by not having them shipped all around the country.
Our favorite bamboo products and wholesale suppliers
After all that time in retail, I definitely came to have a few favorite suppliers. But variety is key, so it’s nice to maintain a wide range of products and to try out new manufacturers from time to time. Also, companies do come and go, for all different reasons, so it’s important to always be on the lookout for new product lines.
- Bamboo 54: Inexpensive bamboo furniture made in Vietnam and distributed out of southern California. Simple and utilitarian tables, shelves and stools at a reasonable price.
- Greenington: Modern, high-end furniture made from solid, laminated bamboo. Very sleek designs and impressive quality. Based in Washington state.
- Bamboosa: One of the original bamboo clothing manufacturers, formerly on the East Coast, now based in Southern California. Offering socks, face masks, and an assortment of styles for men, women and children, all made in the USA.
- Boody Wear: A larger manufacturer of bamboo apparel, specializing in underwear and undershirts for men and women. All products are a blend of bamboo and synthetic fabrics. All styles are packaged neatly in boxes that display nicely on a rotating stand that maximizes your floor space.
- Kickee Pants: Long standing producer of some fabulous bamboo PJs and outfits for little ones.
- Onno: An excellent source for plain bamboo t-shirts for men and women, ideal for screen printing. Based in Colorado.
- Spun Bamboo: Another pioneer in the bamboo clothing industry, based in Southern California. Specializing in bamboo socks, underwear and blank t-shirts.
- Sweet Bamboo: A newer company with excellent designs and a great selection of bamboo PJ sets for infants and children.
- Yala Designs: The paragon of bamboo fashion, Yala has long set the standard with their Bamboo Dreams fabric, a blend of 95% bamboo viscose and 5% spandex. Based in Ashland, Oregon.
Bamboo kitchen and bath wares
- Bambu: There are dozens and dozens of bamboo cutting board manufacturers out there, but Bambu is a cut above the rest. Modern and innovative designs, using certified organic bamboo and fair trade working conditions.
- Totally Bamboo: Another top supplier of bamboo kitchenwares, with excellent quality and wonderful selection.
- To-Go Ware: Makers of the classic bamboo utensil sets, a perennial best seller.
- Daisy House: Of all the bamboo towel producers, these are our favorites. Blending bamboo and Turkish cotton, made in Turkey, and based in Colorado.
- Panda Poo Poo Paper: Always good for a laugh, and why not? Bamboo paper products processed nature’s way, in the belly of the panda bear.
Where to look for new products and suppliers
You can’t keep a retail business interesting and prosperous by relying on the same handful of suppliers for years and years. You have to mix it up. Eventually, some products will fade away, trends will change, and manufacturers will retire. So you need to be ready to bring new product lines into the shop.
Furthermore, you need to be responsive to your customers. If you have people regularly asking for specific items that you don’t carry, you need to know where to find them, or how to find them. So it helps to have a stack of catalogs from back up suppliers. These are companies that look interesting, but you haven’t ordered from, at least not yet.
But how can you add to your list of vendors? These are the few ways that I’ve found most effective.
- Scour the internet. Any business worth doing business with is going to have a website. But they’re not always easy to find. Perform your due diligence on Google and across the various social media platforms that you use.
- Attend trade shows and gift shows. This used to be the way for businesses to connect. But with the internet, the cost of travel, and the possibility of pandemic, fewer and fewer buyers and sellers are showing up.
- Network and make yourself known on the internet. Maybe you can’t find their website or Instagram account, but hopefully they can find yours. If you have a unique niche like bamboo, then companies producing bamboo products should be looking for you.
- Travel and inspect similar stores. This was actually the most effective way for me to come up with new products lines to carry in my shop. Whenever I’m on the road I pop into metaphysical stores and natural product stores to scope out their selection. Since it’s out of town, these stores are not really competitors. So you can even chat up the owners about specific products and ask if they’re good sellers. But be sure to support the shop and drop some cash in their till if you’re going to hit them up for advice.
Delve deeper into bamboo and eco retail
To become more involved in the bamboo industry, you might want to join the American Bamboo Society. They primarily promote the cultivation of bamboo, while also educating the public about the plant’s great potential.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth discussion about how to launch, maintain or expand an eco-retail business, feel free to contact me through the website. I’d be happy to arrange a private, one-on-one consultation.
If you found this article about bamboo product lines helpful and interesting, please consider sharing it or subscribing to the blog. For additional bamboo resources, you can also take a look and these related posts and listings.
FEATURE PHOTO: Bambu Batu, California’s first all-bamboo boutique, in San Luis Obispo. (The brick & mortar store operated from 2006-2020, and the website clearly lives on.)