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The entire staff gathers at the counter separating the shop from the work area — Tanya Love, Michelle Gentle, Victoria Kesner, Tina Sirt, Gina Jordan and Melissa Stump. 

Gina’s Soft Cloths stitches together a global success

Gina’s Soft Cloths are cut, edged and packaged in Romney — but from there, they travel the world.

Reusable substitutes for disposables like paper towels and baby wipes, they are made of washable cotton fabrics — some from rolls of white and ivory cotton grown from non-GMO seeds and bought from a fair trade source in Pakistan, and others from brightly patterned flannels.

They are sold on Amazon, Etsy and the shop website, as well as in the shop itself, at 144 W. Sioux Lane in Romney.

Product information packed with napkins states: “These napkins were lovingly made one at a time in the USA by American women.”

Orders come from everywhere. They recently received one from Kazakhstan, says business co-owner Victoria Kesner, who adds “I didn’t even know they had internet there.”

There is a lady in Tasmania who sells their wipes in her shop.

Co-owner Gina Jordan says they’re ranked among the top 10 of women entrepreneurs nationally — and have been featured on Whitney Port’s blog (for Mother’s Day) and by both Parents and KIWI Magazines. In July they were included in a group of small businesspeople from Amazon who visited Capitol Hill to talk with Congress.

Gina says it all began when she did dressmaking and alterations back in the ’70s, before going off to college at the Bowdoin College of Fashion Design in Atlanta. After college, she became involved in other things.

Gina’s Soft Cloths was “kind of a retirement job,” that began back in Baltimore with making baby wipes, aided by any relative she could get to help her.

She came to Hampshire County because she was tired of the hustle bustle and closeness of city life, and she wanted to retire to the mountains.

Baltimore has a population density of 50,000 per square mile, Gina says, and Hampshire County about 50 per square mile.

She had a time-share near Harrisonburg, Va., and would have settled there, but Rockingham County had just been listed as one of the best places to live for education, and housing prices were out of sight.

She began looking elsewhere, and was just driving through when she stopped in Romney and was impressed by the people — so nice and polite. Living is “just so easy here — very comfortable,” she says.

She settled down outside of town, in a house where her business took over the living room, then the master bedroom, and the spare bedroom for an office — she just couldn’t keep up.

She started looking last fall, in September or October, she thinks, knowing they would need more space to keep up with orders for the Christmas season.

“A lot of people give our things for gifts,” she explains.

The shop she chose has a lot of space at a fair price, she says — enough space to add another couple of people as their business grows.

The place was busy one afternoon last week — they have a “cool mini-factory” going right now, Gina says. Tanya Love was cutting cloth, Missy Stump was adding edgings, and Tina Sirt and Michelle Gentle were pressing and packaging the final product.

Amazon will order 25 or 50 or 100 identical sets to stock in a warehouse, where they can be shipped quickly to Amazon Prime customers.”

Their supply of finished cloths of different sizes and colors in clear plastic boxes fill one corner of the shop, and FedEx picks up once a day.

Their workers are “typically moms,” says Gina. They can drop off their kids, come to work, and leave when it’s time to pick up the kids again.

If the school calls and they have to go, there’s no problem. “We can understand — we’re moms too,” says Gina. There is even a kid’s room if they need to bring a child to work with them.

Gina describes what they are doing as “a new old idea,” pointing out people used to diaper babies in cloth, and old diapers made great clean-up rags.

People didn’t use paper towels the way they do now. “If I used a paper towel to wipe my hands, my mother would wring my neck,” she says.

One of their newer products is a set of lunchbox napkins. They are popular because the “Green Schools Initiative” (which has not yet reached Hampshire County) rewards kids who have nothing disposable in their lunchboxes with points to be used in the school store.

Their business benefits from the growing interest in alternatives to disposables as a way to cut down on waste. Gina and Victoria were on their way late last week to the Mother Earth News Fair taking place over the weekend in Seven Springs, Pa.

Mother Earth News readers are “kind of our target market,” said Gina — people interested in a sustainable lifestyle, and in preserving the Earth.

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