By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Stretching the concept of recycling into new territory, a company called 3 Green Sisters takes fabric that was destined for landfill and fashions it into uniquely artistic yet practical items for everyday use. Items such as handbags, purses, knitting bags, yoga mats, dog slings, table linens, and wine totes make up the product line for the 3 Green Sisters.
Except there is no product line, because all of the items are handmade. In fact, all of the work on nearly every item is done right here in Northeast Portland.
The 3 Green Sisters are three actual sisters: Suzanne Kinavey, Linda Rittler, and Jennie Wucherer. Kinavey lives in the Sabin neighborhood and honchos the marketing arm of the company (see 3greensisters.com). When I visited her, she had just finished cutting up a roomful of fabric with Rittler. Rittler, who lives in Clear Lake, California, is the chief wielder of scissors, and Wucherer, of Dublin, California, the designer and master seamstress.
Kinavey came up with the idea of recycling fabric as handbags fifteen years ago. At that time, she owned a small employee benefits company and would travel to Portland to visit her daughter, who was in graduate school at the University of Portland. They enjoyed going to a store called Calamity Jane’s to buy beautiful, handcrafted purses.
“One day, I suggested to Jennie that she start making purses,” recalled Kinavey. “So I set her up with some fabric and some ideas just to begin with. I promised to market whatever she made one day a week. I was enjoying this so much, and it was coming up to my twentieth anniversary with my regular job. So I just decided to sell my business and do this fulltime.”
“Then you decided to get your other sister involved,” said Rittler. “She dragged me into the business, and it’s been wonderful, but I’m not a seamstress. I like to put colors and textures together.”
Every 3 Green Sisters’ bag is an individual statement with no two alike. All of them are lined and reinforced with well-coordinated colors and textures. The table cloths, napkins, and runners offer a gorgeous range that runs from the elegantly refined to outrageously vibrant.
Kinavey’s marketing skills have been a key factor in the company’s success. She established a rapport with upholstery, drapery, interior decorating shops, convincing them to save their fabric scraps, samples, and ends of bolts. Sometimes the sisters got vintage clothing from second hand stores, estate sales, and moving sales
The company got a big break two years ago when Vogue Knitting magazine featured their innovative knitting bags.
“We had a booth in the Vogue New York show,” explained Kinavey, “and women complained about the bags that they had been using. The bottom of their bags got dirty because they took the subway. We came up with the idea of putting vinyl at the bottom of most of our knitting bags, so that they can be easily cleaned. Some even have feet to keep the bottom off the ground.”
Because of increasing demand, 3 Green Sisters have hired two seamstresses who live near Kinavey, and they have expanded their catalog to include pieces designed by Portland architect Rebecca McKenna.
“We don’t use sweatshops and we don’t ship overseas,” remarked Kinavey. “The delivery trucks often stop by my home to ship out orders. Then I’ll get a knock on the door from people who have cleaned out their sewing rooms to bring us fabric that they no longer have plans to use. So things stay pretty busy.”
One of the rooms in Kinavey’s home has a large worktable surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelving stuffed with fabric.
“Some of the material might have defects like holes,” noted Rittler. “So we have to cut around them. Sometimes the print is off. That doesn’t matter, we can work with it. Some of the flaws in the fabric add to the beauty of the bag.”
Kinavey added that even the smallest scrap of fabric can be used in many ways, such as for pockets. She also makes sure that whatever doesn’t get used in one of their creations is donated to Goodwill and churches.
“So it all gets recycled,” said Kinavey. “And our creations make people happy. That’s the beauty of it.”