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Originally published Friday, April 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Retail Report

Kirkland organic-cotton clothing company weathers the downturn

Kirkland children's clothier Kate Quinn Organics proves that despite major economic worries, environmental concerns still matter to some shoppers.

Seattle Times business reporters

Kirkland children's clothier Kate Quinn Organics proves that despite major economic worries, environmental concerns still matter to some shoppers.

The company is on pace to sell $1.6 million in organic-cotton clothing and bedding this year, the same as last year, according to founding owner Kate Quinn. When most retailers consider flat sales the "new up," Quinn says she must be doing something right.

"People who like it really like it, and they don't put their kids in much else," she said. "We still get $1,000 orders online."

The company's products are made in India with organic cotton, meaning the crop was grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and under "fair trade" regulations designed to promote decent work conditions.

Prices range from $22 for an infant's puff-sleeve bodysuit to $62 for a kimono-dress outfit — more or less in line with such upscale, mainstream brands as Hanna Andersson and Janie and Jack.

Chicago research firm Mintel found in a recent nationwide survey that 36 percent of adults "almost always" or "regularly" buy eco-friendly products. That's the same percentage as last year, suggesting that consumer interest in eco-friendly products has leveled off since a big surge between 2006 and 2008.

Analyst David Lockwood said the green shopping movement probably won't pick back up until consumers feel more secure about their personal finances. "Consumers are cutting back on spending in almost all categories right now, so any category that's holding its own is doing a good job," he said.

Quinn attributes her success to clothes that she describes as not just eco-friendly, but also reasonably priced and durable. "I wouldn't want to be selling $48 onesies right now," she said.

Quinn sells to about 400 specialty stores in the United States, Europe and Asia. She also sells to consumers online at www.katequinnorganics.com and at her Kirkland warehouse, where she employs eight people.

Quinn, 31, came up with the idea for an oganic-cotton clothing company five years ago after struggling to find all-natural, baby-shower gifts. She used $1,000 in personal savings to buy 200 organic infant onesies from a factory in India, then sold them on eBay and Craigslist for $3,200.

"People loved them," she said. "My first wholesale accounts found me on Craigslist. They must have just been looking for their kids, and they were like, 'You know, I have a store. Can I carry you?' "

In 2006, she quit her job as a nanny and devoted herself full time to Kate Quinn Organics. Sticking to a pay-as-you-go strategy has helped in the current credit crunch, she said. "We never borrowed a dime to pay our staff or rent. I paid $500 for my original Web site, and we replaced it when we could."

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Quinn, who has a 7-month-old daughter, Ruby Jean, recently expanded the company's product mix to women's activewear and skin-care lotions.

Soon, she'll introduce maternity clothes and possibly a separate children's line for nationwide retailers, including Nordstrom. The maternity line will be made in Southern California — her first foray into U.S. production.

"We want to cut our carbon footprint even more," she said.

— Amy Martinez

Tidbits

Portland-based Fred Meyer Stores says customers brought reusable bags to its checkout lines 12 million more times in 2008 than in 2007. As a result, Fred Meyer says it ordered 14 million fewer plastic bags and 2.2 million fewer paper bags in the second year of a companywide program promoting reusable shopping bags. Fred Meyer, which is owned by Kroger, sells reusable bags for 89 cents and 99 cents, depending on the size, and customers get a five-cent credit each time they use them. — AM

The Beer Authority, a new beer shop at 12716 Lake City Way N.E., will hold its grand opening April 18 and 19. Every bottle is individually priced so customers can mix and match. Owners Barry and Shellane Adams also carry kegs, glassware, brewery apparel and wine. Beer tastings are weekdays from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. — MA

Om Yoga in Redmond has cut its per-person rate for weekend classes to $5 through the end of April. "With the recent layoffs and maybe more to come, this is our way of supporting yogis in the community," said studio owner Karen Herold. The regular rate is $16. — AM

Taste Washington! happens Sunday at Qwest Field Event Center. More than 225 wineries will pour more than 900 wines, paired with sample dishes from 60 restaurants. Vineyards also will pour wines made from their grapes. General admission runs 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. for $85; V.I.P. entry begins at 2 p.m. for $125. Seminars will be Saturday at Bell Harbor International Conference Center. — MA

A specialty wallpaper shop called Hermitage has opened on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Owner Jennifer June recently moved here from Portland, where she had a home-decor shop for a year. Hermitage shares space on East Prospect Street near Volunteer Park with lampshade designer LiT. — AM

The regular soft-drink market lost 15.6 million adult drinkers over the past five years, according to a new report from the market research firm Mintel. The number of diet-soda drinkers grew by 7.8 million adults, bottled-water drinkers by 24 million and energy-drink consumers nearly doubled to 34.5 million. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Retail Report

Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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