A Conversation with Janie Lowe, Co-founder of Yolo Colorhouse

Virginia Young and Janie Lowe (R)

Green Landlady met with Janie Lowe, a Co-founder of YOLO Colorhouse, in late January.  YOLO Colorhouse was the first company to achieve the very difficult GreenSeal certification under their new GS-11 requirements for paint.  We were interested in learning how a small company was able to compete against all the major paint houses with staffs of chemists and come out on top.  Here is how our conversation went: 

Editor: How did you and YOLO’s other co-founder, Virginia Young, get  together? 

Lowe:  We met in New York in 1995 when I was a fine artist at graduate school and Virginia was an art director at an ad agency.  That’s how YOLO Colorhouse was born.   We began working with a green chemist and paint designer and over the next ten years we built up a custom palette of colors that were not only beautiful but performed exceptionally well. 

Editor: What made you decide to pursue greener products? 

Lowe:  We decided that breathing fumes – even with less toxic water-based paints – was unhealthy for anyone.   We were also inspired after we became involved with several local green building organizations, but we have always been concerned with the methods and ingredients we use in our paint manufacturing process. 

Editor: Did you have trouble convincing your clients that the extra cost for non-VOC paint was worth it? 

Lowe: Actually, we are pretty much center-priced for the market.  Most of the paints are in the $50 to $60 range for the same quality and ours is priced at $39. 

Editor: So how can you compete with some of these other companies that offer hundreds of colors?   

Lowe: We realized that clients often felt overwhelmed by the enormous number of paint color possibilities they were offered. When we presented them with a wonderful, but reduced palette, the clients felt more relaxed and chose well. In response to this, actually, we refined the paint line and reduced our offerings to a solid stable of rich colors designed to complement each other. 

YOLO's Dream .05

Editor: So what made you decide to try for GreenSeal’s GS-11 certification?  I mean, nobody had yet been successful. 

Lowe: When GreenSeal announced its newer GS-11 2009, there was no question that we would pursue it.  It was a much stricter criteria and we welcomed it.  We only had to make one adjustment to our formula to achieve it. 

Editor: That must have been pretty exciting.  Congratulations, by the way.  So, compared to VOC-emitting paint versions, how do YOLO’s non-VOC paints perform? 

Lowe: Our paints contain 40% volume solids, which means that is what is left on the wall after water evaporation.  By comparison, average quality paints have about 28%. 

Editor: Can you wash the walls with your paints without a problem? 

Lowe: When we had our paints independently tested, our ‘scrub test’ was about 1,000 scrubs. 

Editor: Was someone really counting? 

Lowe: Actually, the third party independent testers use a machine, and yes, it keeps track. 

Editor: What kind of performance issues should consumers consider when they buy paint? 

Lowe: Other than the scrub test, I would say its water resistance, ability to hide and cover, adhesion and stain removal.  Our paints score in the superior category in all these areas. 

Editor: What would be the test for water resistance? 

Lowe: Well, if water sits on paint – like a wet sponge for instance – how or if it bubbles determines that. 

Editor: I understand your paints do not emit any VOCs, but do they still have an odor? 

Lowe: There is a slight odor because paint has a lot of ingredients.  We  recommend that for people who are chemically sensitive they have their retailer open a can and give it the old ‘sniff test’.  If they don’t like the smell, they should ask him to open another can of something else.

Editor:  What about ventilation while using YOLO Colorhouse non-VOC paints? 

Studio Dog, "Goose"

Lowe: We recommend ventilation whenever people paint, but it is safe to paint during the day and sleep in the room that night.  Actually, in hospitals and schools there is no need to move patients or students out of the facilities when painting with our paints, which is a privilege we gained with that GS-11 GreenSeal certification

Editor: So how many colors do you have? 

Lowe: 92 colors currently, with 49 in our Earth Color Collection, 36 in a new palette, the Color of Hope, and 7 colors in our Sprout collection. 

Editor: So what new thrills since the GreenSeal coup? 

Lowe: One exciting thing since we received the GS-11 certification is our paint gets spec’d by architects in early design meetings and labeled as ‘added value’.  That feels pretty special. 

Editor: Can you give any advice to others who may want to distinguish their business by pursuing green practices? 

Lowe: Since we were a start-up company, we had the advantage of looking at everything we did through a green lens from the beginning.  It isn’t enough to have green products.  We wanted to ensure our entire manufacturing and distribution processes were sustainable - from printing on recycled paper to recycling paint cans.   But my advice would be it’s never too late for any company to implement green practices.   

Editor: Anything else you’d like to add, Janie? 

Lowe: Don’t be afraid of color!  Have fun with it.  It is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to transform a room and make it your own. 

Editor: Thank you, Janie. 

Lowe: Thank you. 

YOLO Colorhouse has 180 distributors across the country including EcoHaus in Seattle, EcoHome in Berkeley, California, Cox Paint in Santa Monica, California and Livingreen in Los Angeles.  YOLO Colorhouse is located at 3909 NE Martin Luther King Boulevard, Portland, Oregon.  Co-founder Janie Lowe can be reached by email at janie@yolocolorhouse.com.

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