Made in the USA
MBA in Strategic Management alumna Christa Gray Page ’13 is driving the Made in the USA movement, one gift at a time.
Christa Gray Page ’13 followed her dream of fashion merchandising all around the world—from China, Taiwan, and Bangladesh to Europe and beyond—but says there’s no place like home when it comes to the power of a purchase. Now the Lubin MBA in Strategic Management alumna is following her new dream to support the Made in USA movement, one upcycled wine candle and oversized bar of soap at a time.
Gray Page’s online store 50ROOTS.com is a retailer of gifts, gadgets, and more, all made in the USA. Customers can search for home goods, accessories, and even children’s toys and pet products with the confidence that the items they’re browsing through are made in America, with social and environmental impacts in mind. Some items currently for sale on 50ROOTS.com include Rewind’s wine-scented soy candles, hand-poured into recycled wine bottles from Charleston, South Carolina; and Duke Cannon’s Big A** Brick of Soap for men from Memphis, Tennessee.
50ROOTS.com also features a Mission Map of the U.S. that Gray Page marks with each new state that a product comes from. Currently, the Mission Map is 42% filled in with products from 21 states. Vendors, designers, and manufacturers from the U.S. can submit a product to 50ROOTS.com by filling out a form on the website. Gray Page then tests each product to ensure it’s non-hazardous to the environment, high-quality, innovative, and—most importantly—homegrown.
“I’ve been reading a lot about the rise and awareness of American-made and how consumers are now looking for it more and more on the products they buy,” says Gray Page. “It’s not necessarily about price anymore. It’s about innovation, quality, and something lasting and not being so disposable. It’s great to know that there are people out there who feel the same way and are looking for that, and I’m providing it.”
Gray Page first noticed the issues surrounding American-made a few years into her career at Zoo York as a merchandiser and product development manager. She saw the company’s seasonal collections through from start to finish, taking designs on paper into stores by overseeing fabrics, prototypes, fit, pricing, and more. Her career took her around the world to trade shows, fabric shows, and to find trends.
“I realized throughout my career, everything that I was developing—well, the majority of it—was made overseas. I started to think ‘Why don’t we manufacture more in America?’ and all my managers would respond ‘It’s too expensive,’” she says. “It just didn’t sit right with me.”
While her career progressed, the American economy entered the Great Recession and unemployment began to rise. “I started to think more and more about the importance of American-made,” she says. According to the Made in America Movement, the average American will spend around $700 on gifts throughout the year. If half that amount was spent on gifts produced in the U.S., up to one million American jobs could be created.
Gray Page became conscious of where her own purchases were coming from, many of which she discovered were not produced in the U.S., like the classic “I heart NY” postcards she ordered a few years ago as save the dates for her NYC wedding. “When I received them, I realized they weren’t actually printed in New York, let alone the USA! I had just assumed they would be. I couldn’t believe it when I opened the box,” she says. That’s when the idea for 50ROOTS.com was born.
“I thought it would be helpful to have a place where people could actually go if they’re shopping for gift items, accessories, or home goods, where they know everything they’re looking at is made in the US,” she says.
Around this time, at the recommendation of her friends and Pace alumni, Gray Page attended a Pace Open House and enrolled in the Lubin School of Business’ Strategic Management MBA program in the fall of 2011. With the idea of 50ROOTS.com planted in her mind, Gray Page started researching how feasible the company actually was while attending classes at Pace. She created a roster of items and designers she would feature, researched the competition, and more.
“As I was doing my research I realized, with every product I found, there was such a cool story about each designer, maker, and manufacturer, and it really sold the product to me. I felt proud because another American [made it],” she says. “I thought it would be helpful and interesting, with each product that I feature on the site, to tell the story, to show where exactly in the US it’s made, and to talk about how the company started or how the designer came up with the idea to make his/her item.”
Remember Duke Cannon’s Big A** Brick of Soap for men? 50ROOTS.com features a video and story about how the brick is modeled after the soap GIs used during the Korean War and is produced in the same Memphis factory that was the primary supplier of military soap for more than 20 years. Duke Cannon Supply Company also donates a portion of its proceeds to veteran causes. “We want to give customers as much information as possible, not only about the products but the businesses behind them, to enable them to make educated purchases,” says Gray Page.
As part of her final semester at Pace, she took the Business Plan Development course that requires students to write a comprehensive business plan and submit them to the Entrepreneurship Lab’s Annual Pace Business Plan Competition at the end of the semester. 50ROOTS.com came to life on paper and earned Gray Page the win for the 11th Annual Pace Business Plan Competition.
“Winning the Pace Business Plan Competition means that I’m on the right track. It’s exciting and it’s validation—that I wasn’t completely crazy for taking a risk and quitting my corporate job to pursue 50ROOTS.com,” says Gray Page.
And the reception to her crazy idea has been positive so far. In fact, Gray Page admits that she still gets excited whenever someone makes a purchase from the website. “Seeing it grow and seeing people’s reaction and how they really love the concept, love American-made—it’s just something that’s important to me and to see that it means something to other people, it’s fantastic.”
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