Cotton, Cotton, Cotton

When Gail and Randy Schnee came to the San Juan Islands for a kayaking trip, they weren’t expecting to stay for good. Originally from Orlando, Fla. and tired of hurricanes and bustling crowds, the couple found Washington’s mild climate and Friday Harbor’s small community ideal. They fell in love with Friday Harbor and immediately began looking at small businesses they could run successfully without any experience. In Florida, Gail had worked at Universal Studios as an executive assistant and Randy worked at Walgreens. They wanted a career shift that allowed more time to enjoy life.

The clothing store, Cotton, Cotton, Cotton, hit the market, but it was out of their price range. The owner was ready to sell and relocate, so she slashed the price, allowing the Schnees to become shop owners. Now they just needed to figure out how to run a clothing store.

Inventory was key to their success. In order to appeal to a larger demographic, the couple sought out appealing clothing for younger women and summertime items for men. The Schnees visit trade shows in Seattle and Portland, but maintain a level of exclusivity with vendors, especially in the small town of Friday Harbor. Sometimes Gail will even place inventory orders with loyal customers in mind. All in all, Cotton has to stand behind every product they sell, which they do. “We love the clothes we sell,” said Gail.

This attention to inventory selection has resulted in a store invested in eco-friendly products. Being located in Friday Harbor, this philosophy resonates well. Gail explained that sustainability and eco-friendly products are “really important to all the islanders here.” Additionally, about 70-80 percent of Cotton’s inventory is U.S.-made or adheres to fair trade standards. The Schnees first look for U.S. merchants with exceptional eco-friendly clothing and accessories. If they find something beautiful, but made outside the country, they check the company’s fair trade practices. Just as the Schnees adopted the Pacific Northwest way of life, their store has adopted a mission to provide sustainable, eco-friendly, and humane products.

There’s something for everyone in the brightly lit store. A Solmate Socks display in the window is sure to catch a passerby’s eye. The incredibly soft and wacky-colored socks are made from recycled t-shirts. They also make hats, gloves, and children’s socks.

Perusing the racks, you’ll find flowy tops that are great for keeping cool during summer days, yet fight off the chills from cool evening breezes. Try on one of the Lur tops, made from recycled water bottles. From the luxurious feel, you’ll never guess the fabric was once hard plastic. Colorful printed
…scarves line the back wall, and sleek 3-in-1 handbags are difficult to walk away from. In summer Cotton carries men’s Aloha shirts. Is there a better way to dress on vacation?

There’s more than just clothes at Cotton. Friday Harbor artist Penny Torkington sells her baubles here, and Linda Jensen’s delicate drop-stone earrings top the clothing racks. Check out the vegan leather bracelets and clutches from NW 58th St. by Margaux Jones. The Seattle-based designer prints original art on cotton, then affixes it to vegan (man-made material and cork) leather. The statement pieces work with just about any outfit.

Cotton also carries Naked Bee lotion. Made in Tennessee, the Naked Bee lotions are 70 percent organic and contain olive oil, honey, and beeswax. There are no dyes or mineral oil, and the company doesn’t test on animals.

Finally, it’s not wearable, but definitely worth checking out: San Juan Puzzles. The puzzles feature local photographs and are printed on recycled materials with soy-based inks. A father-son team, Tom and Levi Doenges, run the small business, which began as a way to teach Levi about finances and business. A portion of the proceeds are donated to whale research funds. Eco-friendly, business education, and helping out whales — that’s one valuable product.

Cotton, Cotton, Cotton’s inventory materializes the Schnee’s goal to promote sustainable, eco-friendly products while boosting their community’s economy. In the end, this kind, humble couple just wants to “provide good products and help our customers feel good about themselves.” We’d
say they’ve succeeded.

260 Spring St., Ste. 9, Friday Harbor
360.378.3531 |

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"Cotton has to stand behind every product they sell, which they do. "