Lisa Foster, founder of 1 Bag at a Time, on her Inspiration and Strategy to build the Business
Posted April 8, 2010on:
Lisa Foster is one of the several entrepreneurs that I managed to meet through Northeastern University.
As a college and high-school English professor, Foster had never imagined that she will be an entrepreneur one day. But then, she left the U.S. to live in Australia with her familly for six month. Early after her arrival, she went grocery shopping and at the cashier, she was asked if she wanted a bag. Hum hum… It was in 2005 and at that time, nobody in the U.S. would imagine leaving a store without a plastic/paper bag. Well, Lisa did what the other Australian shoppers had done already, she bought a few reusable bags made of textile materials. This trip to Australia raised Lisa’s awareness about the damages of paper/plastic bags and showed that actual solutions do exist.
Like many other new entrepreneurs before her, Lisa came back to her country with an idea inspired from abroad. Still, it was clearly difficult to find the required partners to manufacture and sell reusable bags in the U.S. I am convinced that this reality faces every entrepreneur that tries to create a new market. So Lisa partnered with the same manufacturer that build the Australian bags and took care of the distribution in the U.S. herself.
It took approximately one year to build up the operations and then, Lisa decided to dedicate her skills full-time to her business and dream.
So far, 1 Bag at a Time has sold 10 million reusable bags within the U.S.
During our interview, Lisa mentionned that her bags are manufactured in China in factories where she clearly put a point on working conditions. No child are working on the factory and people from the same familly are kept together. A minimum wage is guaranteed and no penalties are taken out of the salary (salary penalties are extremely frequent in China e.g. someone who did not clean his work space may loose 5% of his daily wage). Instead of punishing people that do not work fast enough, incentives are created to encourage productivity. Over the years, only the best people come back after the Chinese New Year Break. Manufacturing the bags in China is a bit controversial to me because the transportation environmental footprint is not negligible but I am not sure either about where our plastic/paper bags are manufactured.
This interview with Lisa pointed out great things from an entrepreneurial standpoint:
– Entrepreneur should believe in their ideas and find a way to make them work. Remember that it takes time to create a market.
– Keep your eyes open. Great ideas are everywhere and traveling is surely a great way to get inspired from other habits and behaviors.
– It is not easy. Lisa pointed out how difficult it is to run a company full-time and then keep the familly running on evenings and week-ends. But it is possible.