Back in 2005, during a trip to Australia, Lisa D. Foster’s greatest surprise wasn’t the outback wildlife; it was the grocery store bags. The island continent was transitioning from single-use bags to reusable, because the ozone hole overhead there was already making climate change urgent.
Foster, an English teacher, believed the concept would work in the U.S. She founded the company 1 Bag at a Time, brought the reusable shopping bag to America, and sold millions of them within a few years. She then sold the company itself for 11 times her annual teacher salary.
Listen to Yourself, Not Your Doubters
It wasn’t overnight success for Foster; she got laughed out of numerous initial meetings. “The Western buyer for Safeway took my call … and said 3% of Americans use reusable bags, ‘We don’t expect it to change,’ and hung up,” Foster told us. “When I [sold] my business, 60% of Americans were using reusable bags.”
Plus, more than 400 U.S. municipalities now tax or ban single-use grocery bags. Going green will save you some green.
Marketing Is Just Storytelling
Foster’s secret weapon was her experience in teaching literature. “If you come in with an argument — ‘here’s why I’m right, and I have my facts and figures’ — people put up their defenses,” she said. “But if you tell a story, you get the suspension of disbelief. Come in with emotion!”
Her story was “the tragic life of a plastic bag” that spends thousands of years in a landfill without decomposing. The sad tale won over buyers at small organic shops, then midsize grocers, and finally megastores.
Foster didn’t have a business background, only the simple tools of hard work and a powerful narrative.
“I’m an English teacher,” she said. “Ask me about Shakspeare!”
Bag Lady: How I Started a Business for a Greener World and Changed the Way America Shops is available from Changemakers Books.