Looking Back, Moving Forward

It feels like yesterday that my husband Thom and I were standing in front of the Coliseum at the 1984 LA Olympics in our tiny booth, selling graphic t-shirts we printed the night before. Having left Kansas two years prior, we we’re feeling courageous and about to take a big risk. But hey, when you don’t have anything, there’s nothing to risk. And here we are 30 years later, celebrating this incredible milestone.

For two full weeks we were going, going, going—selling as many shirts as we could print. When it was over and we realized how much we sold and how much people loved our stuff, we literally jumped up and down on the bed.  We knew we had something special. So, we quit our jobs and said, “Let’s go!”

After that, it was all about the momentum, keeping focused and keeping forward. We worked. And we worked. Every dime we earned went right back into the company. I remember thinking, “Jeeze, are we ever going to go out to dinner again and not have to think about it?”

Our spontaneous plan for a clothing company came together and worked. To me, one of the coolest parts about starting Fresh Produce was that our customer was literally telling us what she wanted. Women wanted easy, put-together looks that were comfortable.  They’re the ones who knew we had something good, so we trusted them and went for it.  It was all on instinct.

Sometimes people ask me what my favorite part is about running FP and it’s honestly, the people. From my teammates at the home office in Boulder, our 26 stores and all our customers—it’s those relationships I cherish the most. I love seeing the potential in people. Watching them grow is a beautiful thing. If I can be a part of that, it’s great.

That’s why one of the hardest times ever was during the recession in 2008 and a few years after. We had to let go so many talented people who I called my friends. It was devastating. With a business, people come in and out of your life—it comes with the job. I just want those people to know that I care. It took me a long time to realize there’s a time and place for all of us.  I had to trust change and that we’d all be ok.  If you lead with right intention, you walk tall.

Right now, in 2014, I couldn’t be more excited about Fresh Produce the brand. The intention and momentum of our company in the past year has been incredible. The last few years we were reimagining the future; now it’s about driving forward.

For my birthday last week, my son, Scout, gave me a card. In it he wrote, “Mom, I can’t wait to see what’s next for you.” When someone you love is so excited to see what you have planned, it’s pretty empowering. When you get that kind of support from someone it makes you feel bright. It’s that support and encouragement that makes me want to shine. And that’s what I’m trying to do for Fresh Produce.  I hope to give Fresh Produce all the tools to stay bright and to shine on for the next 30 years.  I hope our sparkle and our light reflects on you. My instincts tell me you’re going to shine bright. And you have to trust your instincts, right?

Here’s to 30 more years of color!

 

 

4 Comments

  • June 6, 2014

    Suzanne

    Dear Mary Ellen

    I have enjoyed reading your precious life moments that you have shared here with us! Us Mom’s can certainly relate

  • June 9, 2014

    Ginny

    Hi Mary Ellen,

    I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to find your store at Rehoboth Beach in MD all those years ago! I bought two shirts, one yellow and one green. Both had a graphic of beach chairs on them. They were perfect! Nice colors and light fabric! They were perfect! In fact, I still have one! Still wear it too! Love Fresh Produce and wish you many more years making great clothing for us!

  • July 1, 2014

    Janice Feldman

    As Mary Ellen is often asked to tell her and the FP story, I thought that she might like to hear mine. While it is true that color is what has always drawn me to FP, these black and gray/off white shorts are my very first FP purchase. (unable to post picture)

    I would think when I purchased them at least 28 years ago, at 35 I was the target market. At 62, while I am probably not the target market, I have purchased for myself, for gifts and sent many happy customers of all ages to Fresh Produce.

    I purchased these shorts somewhere around 1985 or 1986 at the beach in California. Fuzzy now, but it may have been Manhattan Beach. I also purchased some of the brlightly colored T-shirts that FB is still well known for. But these shorts are my favorite. I have worn these at least once a week, if not more for the entire time I have had them. i also had a pink and lilac pair in the same print. In the beginning they went right into the wash. Now all these years later, I still wear them weekly, but I do not believe they have been put in the dryer for at least ten years. I am hoping that they will last me at least another 27 years.

    I now live on an island in Belize and much to my surprise there is a small shop on Ambergris Caye that carries Fresh Produce. I am often asked by people about these shorts and show much pride in showing them the label and telling them how well FP holds up and how much wear these have gotten over the years.

    Thank you FP for coming into my life and brightening it. I do wish that you would add more prints in this heavier cotton for those of us who are not crazy about the sheeting material and wear them daily as our “uniform.”

    Just wanted to share with you how happy some of your real old time customers are.

    Janice Feldman,
    A “forever” Fresh Produce Girl

    • July 8, 2014

      Rebecca Michuda

      Hi Janice,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a heartfelt comment and for sharing your FP story with us. We’re so happy you’ve been with us for so long. It truly means a lot to us to hear stories from customers like you. Thanks for brightening our day.