Classic, comfortable, eco-friendly women’s clothing
Laurie Dunlap wasn’t much of a sunbather, but 23 years ago, she wanted a swimsuit that would stay put when she played volleyball or body surfed at the beaches in her home state of California.This need led her to create her first clothing design—a two-piece swimsuit styled for comfort and movement.
Dunlap found she enjoyed designing clothes so much that she made more suits from organic cotton and started to sell them through local arts and crafts fairs and through small eco-retailers.The suits were instantly popular in her hometown, and when women began buying them as bras and panties, she realized she was onto something:There seemed to be a ready market niche for organic cotton, comfortable underwear, she says.
In 1994, Dunlap followed her dream and created a full, organic woman’s clothing line. Inspired by a handmade wooden blue canoe she noticed floating in a nearby lake among the familiar green fiberglass models, she named her company Blue Canoe.
Dunlap’s first purchase was a $200 roll of undyed cotton spandex fabric. She did all of the designing and pattern-making herself, and some of the sewing, garment dyeing, and purchasing, while hiring others to assist.
Today, this woman-run company is headquartered in San Francisco, where a full staff designs and manufactures “always organic,” made-in-the-USA women’s clothing and lingerie, specializing in wearable clothes that women can wear daily.
“We focus on effortlessly stylish and versatile designs in high-quality fabrics that feel good next to the skin,” says Dunlap.“We believe women should be able to dress once and go through their day feeling comfortable and chic—’easy dressing’ is our motto.”
Blue Canoe clothes are primarily made from organic cotton and organic bamboo, grown without harmful synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Dunlap is also committed to using nontoxic dyes, making the fabric soft and fluid.
The vast majority of Blue Canoe products are classic pieces that will likely never go out of style, says Dunlap. “Our design aesthetic starts with simple lines and sophisticated styles that are never fussy or overdone.”
Blue Canoe’s first home was a small cottage under some redwood trees in Northern California, shared by four industrious women all starting their own clothing businesses—from hemp hats to hand-painted silk kimonos.
“The little space was bursting with machinery, supplies, and the energy of new beginnings,” says Dunlap. “It was a noisy, friendly place where the four of us brainstormed ideas, traded resources and information, helped walk-in customers, and hammered out ways to build our businesses.”
As her line and business grew, Dunlap moved into her own building in San Francisco, where the company has been for the last ten years.
Today, Blue Canoe clothing is still made in the US, supporting American workers, manufacturers, and distributors.The fabrics are all knit in Los Angeles, using certified organic fibers. Dunlap also works with the company’s knitting mills to develop custom novelty knits using organic cotton yarn, including stripes, sweater knits, and sheers.
The company has a dedicated following that keeps getting bigger, says Dunlap: since 2008, Blue Canoe has been growing by 25 percent every year and has a retail business worth several million dollars, she says.
But Dunlap will never forget her first customers. Back in the mid-1990s, when she first started out, organic clothing was a small niche market.Those initial customers, however, showed her
a passion for aligning their clothing purchases with their values.
“I had the pulse of early adopters across the nation—women looking for healthier choices for themselves and their children,” says Dunlap.“We reached active, outdoor women who immediately embraced the concept of comfortable bras and casual wear that were made locally with eco-friendly fabrics.”