Friday, May 28, 2010

Inventor Showcase: Banana Blossom Press - Greeting Cards For Runners, Walkers, Everyday Athletes & Fitness Enthusiasts

I have had so much fun getting to know Maria Millsap, Owner and Founder of Banana Blossom Press.  Not only does she reside from Seattle, which makes her cool already, but she also has the most awesome personality and outlook on life.  I love the message she brings to the average person wanting to get fit through her beautiful greeting cards and clothing line.  Here's her story:

Q. How did you come up with the idea of your product?

Nine years ago, I was a heavy smoker.  I started running while still a smoker.  I would have a cigarette at the parking lot after each run; that was my "reward" for exercising.  Eventually I quit smoking and decided in 2006 that I would train for a marathon.  I joined a local running group called Seattle Fit who helped me train for two marathons and a number of half marathons.  After finishing the first, I was on a fitness high and searched for another challenge and that's when I found mountaineering. I've lived in the Pacific Northwest all my life and not until I became fit that I started to think about climbing Mt. Rainier, which I did in 2007.

When training for an endurance sports, there are so many components involved including having a great support system. I was able to run and climb because of the support from my husband, son, family and friends and I wanted a way to acknowledge them.  I started to research and look for greeting cards specfically for runners/walkers and other fitness enthusiasts and found two or three companies but their cards didn't appeal to me. Together with my business partner at the time, we started to think about the $7 billion greeting card business.  We figured if we were going to be a greeting card company, we needed to be a niche greeting card company and that's when we decided to form Banana Blossom Press.

Q.  What makes your product unique?
The fact that they are fitness related greeting cards makes them unique. Couple that with a simple, minamalist design brings them to another level.  Our cards are text-based only, focusing on the message. I also love that they have rounded corners, it completes the look of beautiful simplicity. If you were to walk in Oblation Papers & Press, a popular stationery store in Portland, OR, you would easily recognize BBP cards.  That's difficult to do with thousands of cards in the store.  If you don't stand out, your product will get lost in the crowd.

Q. What was your experience like in the actual design and manufacturing of your product?

The actual design has been less work that I had imagined.  I don't have a design background, but I do know what I like.  Our protype looks exactly what we have out in the market now.  We come out with new cards as we retire old ones and experiment with different fonts.
I've worked with several printers for the cards and designers for our t-shirt line since we've started, and all I can say is that I work better with some people than with others.  It's been a big learning curve with the printing business and the t-shirt industry is a completely different ball game.  I'm still learning.

Q. How do you balance launching a new business with family?

I'm so thankful for my husband who is a very kind and patient man. He has been a great sounding board for me since I am now without a business partner.  It also helps that my son is older and less dependent on me at this stage in his life which gives me a little more time to focus on the business.

Q. What did you do prior to launching your business?

I stayed home when my son was younger and started to work and still work full-time after he started Kindergarten.  My day is dedicated to my day job which makes me more focused when I work on Banana Blossom Press business during my off hours.  I like being in both worlds, they complement each other and the skills I learn in one world I certainly use in the other.

Q. What fact would readers find interesting about you?

Two things...first: I am a ham!! I have a great sense of humor and don't take things too seriously.  I love to laugh and I love to make people laugh.  Second: I love dessert.  I mean, I LOOOVEEEEE dessert.  Cakes, cookies, ice cream, you name it, I'm going for it.  Once in a while my husband and I do a bakery crawl where we visit 3 to 4 different bakeries on a Saturday :) Not good for someone who is currently not running. If you're ever in the Seattle area I highly recommend Old School Custard Ice Cream on Capitol Hill. Bliss.
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