Bamboo fabric, clothing, home goods sprout in Rice Village

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Bamboo fabric, clothing, home goods sprout in Rice Village

By Jocelyn Kerr of Your Houston News

When Tracy Young and Linda Whittington went on a cruise with their girlfriends two years ago, they didn’t realize they were also embarking on a new business venture together.

The women walked into a Cariloha Bamboo store and fell in love with the store’s bamboo clothing and sheets. At that time, the brand’s ultra-soft bamboo fabric blend was primarily available through shops in port towns across the Caribbean and Hawaii.

“We thought, ‘this is really cool’ and the woman asked if we would be interested in opening our own store,” Young said. “Well, Linda and I had been thinking about starting something together because she already runs her own business and she’s excellent at it and knows the financial aspects of it. I’m a people person and marketing person, so we had complementary skills.”

The sales clerk dropped a brochure in Young’s bag and she researched the company online when she got home.

“We started researching it, and here we are 20 months and nine days later,” Young said at their grand opening in Rice Village in December.

Chase De Jong, the southwest regional sales director for Cariloha Bamboo, helped Young and Whittington design the store and train staff. “We have a Cariloha on just about every island in the Caribbean you can think of,” De Jong said. “So people are excited to see it coming in domestically. The store and the product have been proven over and over.” The Rice Village store un-officially opened about three weeks before the grand opening to give staff a chance to become more familiar with the products.

“We’ve had several repeat customers in the first three weeks,” said Whittington. “We’ve had husbands come in, then tell their wives, then they both come in and buy gifts for each other.”

One couple came in and bought four sets of sheets for all the in-laws. “Before we decided to open the store, we called some other stores, about 15 or so, and we got positive feedback from every one,” Whittington said. “So that, on top of loving the product…we thought, we can’t go wrong.”

PW Companies, the company that owns the Cariloha Bamboo brand, licenses their products to individual store owners and provides design support and product training to get stores up and running. According to De Jong, there are currently 140 stores worldwide. Young and Whittington’s store is the third in Texas, and the 50th in North America.

It’s also one of the first stores that isn’t tied to a tourist destination.

“We’re incredibly excited about being in Houston, and Rice Village is the perfect location for us,” said De Jong.

“We knew Rice Village was a good place to put a product of this quality,” Young said. “We’re helping the company adjust the marketing to capture different demographics and as a result they’re expanding the products and bringing in higher quality sheets. They know when they come into a place like Rice Village that they’re going to get a consumer who’s going to pay for and expect premium quality.

“We’ve had a lot of people in this area who do a lot of vacationing and cruising and they’ve been walking by and saying, ‘oh my goodness, I didn’t realize you had a Cariloha here now!’”

“The great thing is, the people who come in either already know about us and they get so excited to know we’re here, or they don’t know anything about us and that’s when we get to educate them,” Whittington said.

To make bamboo fabric, bamboo fiber is ground and sometimes combined with cotton, spandex or other fibers to create a soft yarn that is woven into fabric. Bamboo fabric is lightweight, velvety soft and wicks moisture faster than cotton. The stalks grow quickly, requiring very little water, which makes it an eco-friendly material.

A video display in the store walks customers through how the fabric is made and some of the ways bamboo is a sustainable alternative to cotton or synthetic fabrics.

“Of those people who’ve heard about Cariloha, it’s like Linda said, they’re excited we’re here,” Young said. “And then there are those people who’ve said, ‘well, I bought a pair of bamboo sheets at Bed, Bath and Beyond.’ The quality of that is a little different from what we have here. PW Cariloha, they have proprietary rights for the bamboo product they manufacture. So, there is consistent quality and it is a very high quality. They do not come out with just any new product unless it’s tested and proven, because they like to maintain a high level of integrity.”

The most popular sellers are bamboo sheets and towels, with the Fit active wear line close behind. The store sells everything from t-shirts, socks and boxers to tote bags and sandals, all made from bamboo fabric. The company will be launching a baby and children’s line in the spring of 2015.

“There’s a big push for organic food, but now with bamboo it’s about having organic clothing that you can wear against your skin,” said Young. “It’s also antimicrobial. So, people who have a lot of allergies or who just have sensory issues have the ability to wear a fabric that’s antimicrobial and doesn’t retain body sweat. In the South, when you can put something soft on your skin that’s three degrees cooler than cotton and not have it smell, that’s a wonderful feature of an organic product like bamboo fabric.”

The store is located at 2446 Times Boulevard in Rice Village.