New Basalt store going green " with style |

New Basalt store going green " with style

Photo courtesy of Sheryl BartoMichelle Lowe spent years selecting products and honing her concept before opening Corky Woods, a "green" department store in Willits Town Center this fall.

BASALT, Colorado ” You can buy underwear in Basalt again.

And not just any underwear. It’s men’s organic cotton underwear, boxer-brief style, for $17 at a new store at Willits Town Center called Corky Woods.

The availability of underwear, or lack thereof, became a symbol of discontent with changes in Aspen and other parts of the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1980s and ’90s. People lamented the loss of mom-and-pop stores when property values soared and ushered in the ultra-luxury era.

But the stocking of underwear isn’t really what makes Corky Woods unique. The establishment is a “green” department store where every product is environmentally friendly or made by a company that follows sustainable practices. Owner Michelle Lowe believes it is one of the first of its kind in the country.

The store boasts everything from chic green apparel to home furnishings, and non-toxic cosmetics to building materials.

There is a fair-sized section of environmentally friendly cleaning supplies from companies like Seventh Generation and Ecover. There are sheets and bedding made from organic cotton and wool, and reusable plates made from bamboo. Old sweaters were reused in more fashionable women’s tops. Cabinetry created from renewable wood fiber and without formaldehyde resins is integrated into the store design and available for sale.

A baby section features an organic cotton collection from a company called MiYim, including chemical-free, non-toxic colored bear for $35. The classic book of environmental activism, “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, is prominently displayed in the kids section.

A $58 handbag made from soda-can tops by a company called Alluminate, which makes accessories for social and environmental justice, captured the attention of a teen-aged shopper Wednesday afternoon.

The 3,300-square-foot store opened this fall after Lowe thought of and honed the concept for years. She brings a refreshing attitude to the green movement. She is a firm believer in sustainable, eco-friendly living, but she’s also leery about preaching about it. Not from lack of commitment. She fears people are getting jaded to some extent because of the constant barrage about green this and green that.

So Lowe decided to make the green products available for a market she is confident will respond. After working for several years in the area as an architectural interior designer, she saw firsthand the demand for green house wares, furnishings and decor.

“The key was to try to make it hip and chic,” Lowe said. She set out to prove it is possible to go green without sacrificing style through the products she stocked.

Corky Woods’ product selection shows you don’t have to be a smelly hippie living a life of depravity to be green.

Lowe also believes demand already exists for eco-friendly products for daily living, like the non-toxic cosmetics, bath and body products and cleaning materials. Valley residents just needed those products to be more accessible.

“This has got to become bigger,” Lowe said. “I don’t like calling it a trend. It’s got to be the way of the future. It’s ridiculous it’s not.”

She is unfazed by starting a store at the time economic turmoil is gripping the country. “To me it’s the perfect time,” she said, noting that Heinz Ketchup was created during the Great Depression. She believes people will adjust their buying habits as part of the recovery from this recession. They will change their ideas on consumption. They will be more conscious of the sustainable practices of producers and appreciate recycled and earth-friendly products.

She applied her beliefs while customizing the interior of the store. The building materials used to construct Corky Woods are available for sale. She used bamboo flooring on the ceiling. The floor is reclaimed teak. Light fixtures are from recycled metals. The countertops are recycled glass. She will soon install solar voltaic awnings.

The shelving and other fixtures were destined for a dump when a Macy’s store in Seattle liquidated. They were saved and shipped by Lowe to Basalt.

She and her top assistant have been researching products for their inventory since 2001. They tended to go with items that aren’t available elsewhere in the valley.

“I really did obsess about decisions,” Lowe said. “That’s why this project took so long.”

But coming up with the store name ” Corky Woods ” was easy. “That is my alter-ego, green name,” Lowe said with a smile. She was sitting around with friends a few years back when they discussed how “all the cool environmental people” have fitting names. Corky Woods popped into her mind after that conversation.

The green department store is located at 261 Robinson St. in the Willits Town Center. It is in the same building that houses El Korita, Smoke and Crave Kitchen.

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