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Jenny Hughes makes reusable shopping bags from recycled textiles and organic cotton

Jenny Hughes took a hard look at her company before she stood in front of that modern-day inquisition, CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den. Ms. Hughes had set up her Vancouver firm, Me & You Inc., to design and sell reusable shopping bags produced from recycled textiles and organic cotton. The bags have been photographed over the shoulder of a few minor celebrities. Here Ms. Hughes is photographed at the fabric warehouse where she gets her textiles.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

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Earlier on, Ms. Hughes had been designing a range of bags each year and selling them in batches of 20 to stores here or there as well as directly to customers. “I was doing fall/winter and spring/summer collections, like a little fashion line out of Vancouver,” she said. But as she pored over her company strategy before the Dragons’ Den appearance, she came to realize that custom, bulk orders made up her main business. These minimum orders of 100 bags, often running into the many hundreds or thousands, are typically for retailers and event organizers.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

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When she started her business in 2005, “I definitely saw a void in the market for manufactured, local, reusable shopping bags. And there wasn’t much out there that was stylish and trendy. I saw an opportunity to create some slogan bags with some catchy sayings and some pretty prints, not realizing how much it would take off.”

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

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About six months later, cities across Canada began banning plastic bags, so Ms. Hughes’s company “rode that wave for a while.”

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

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Using local Vancouver manufacturers has given her a big advantage, she said, ensuring high quality and the ability to turn around orders quickly. But as bulk orders have grown, she’s had trouble keeping up with demand. “I didn’t think I would be at a point where I could do a 5,000-bag or 10,000-bag order. I was talking with a company about doing a 30,000-bag order,” Ms. Hughes said. If she wants to grow, she might have to seek additional manufacturing capacity in Montreal and Ontario, she says. She would like to have her own manufacturing plant someday.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

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Yet owning a factory can be prohibitively expensive. This is the conundrum she presented to Dragons’ Den, although her segment ultimately never aired. The producers told her, she said, that they had shot too many sound business pitches. The show needed more bad ideas for entertainment value. Hers was yet another positive story. And it remains so. “Business is good right now,” she said, but the limitations of local manufacturers is a problem as the orders keep growing in size.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

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