UPPER WEST SIDE — If you're going to put a napkin in your kid's lunch each day, instead of using one with an image of Hello Kitty or Spider-Man, why not make it a learning experience with a message?
That was Upper West Side mom Amy Rowland's thinking. She's the founder of the online shop Georgie Porgie, which sells both paper and cloth napkins, plates, smocks and placemats — all inscribed with messages about manners and nutrition geared toward kids.
With her 5-year-old son about to start kindergarten at a local public school, Rowland, 39, decided lunchtime provided a great opportunity for sneaking in a little lesson before he heads to recess.
She dreamed up five colorful paper napkins with drawings featuring a happy pineapple, eggplant and cucumber, among other fruits and vegetables. Each of the characters delivers a message, with a dash of silliness, aimed at teaching kids about healthy eating and etiquette.
The napkins, which come in packs of 20 and cost $6, were released this month for sale online.
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One of the illustrations features smiling broccoli with the words: "Here's big Buddy Broccoli with crazy green hair. (He's got all kinds of nutrients curled up in there.)"
"The images are adorable and the sayings make [my son] laugh," said Rowland, who is hoping his friends will ask their parents to get them Georgie Porgie napkins, too.
The inspiration for the company's aesthetic emerged from Rowland's growing collection of children's books from the 1920s and '30s, an era in American history she's always adored.
Illustrations from that time period often featured realistically drawn, upbeat boys and girls, and that sense of optimism infuses her products.
The vintage look also pairs well with the older feel of the messaging around manners, she said.
The placemats and napkins harken back to a time when table manners were a higher priority, Rowland explained, and she hopes they're a means of "bringing a formality back to everyday life."
It took about eight months from Rowland's initial idea to having the actual products in hand — an extremely fast timeline leading up to the line's launch in May 2013, she said.
Rowland was able to move quickly in part because she insisted on having all Georgie Porgie products designed and manufactured in the United States, with the exception of the fabric for the cloth napkins, which comes from China.
When the products are made in America, "you don’t have to wait for things to come in a shipping container," she explained.
Rowland invested her own money into the line. And while the company isn't making a profit yet, she said sales are slowly growing.
Georgie Porgie products are sold in 11 stores across the country, including at the New-York Historical Society.
Her advice for other entrepreneurs is simple: "Just stick with it. You have to be proud of each little accomplishment."
For example, the company is a finalist in Martha Stewart's American Made contest, which "spotlights the maker, supports the local, and celebrates the handmade." If she wins, Rowland will be featured in an issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine.
Other budding business-people should be prepared to go to trade shows and keep plugging away, she said, because you never know which connection or outreach effort will pay off.
"You have to be willing to be in it for the long haul," Rowland said.