Maria Yee Inc.: Making 'Green' Furniture in China

By Glenn Carroll, Maria Shao
2009 | Case No. SI110
In 2008, Maria Yee Inc. occupied a unique position as a premium “green” household furniture maker with two direct-owned factories in China and distribution through several large U.S. retailers. Yee, a Chinese-born entrepreneur in California, founded her business in 1988 with Asian-inspired designs and Chinese hand joinery techniques. Over the years, she pursued environmentally responsible principles such as using renewable bamboo and eco-certified wood. She believed in being green through thoughtful design and manufacturing, not just marketing. The company was a leader on environmental initiatives within the furniture industry. But Yee wrestled with how to expand and become more mass market while staying true to her green values. The biggest challenge was staying cost-competitive, since environmental innovations such as using eco-certified timber or eco-friendly manufacturing processes tended to cost more. The company experienced problems developing a reliable green supply chain in China for wood, bamboo and finishes. It faced the challenge of getting consumers to fully value the environmental benefit of its products. And it was considering how to create greater brand awareness and develop new market segments and distribution channels for its eco-furniture. The case addresses the unique challenges that an entrepreneurial company faces in reaching its full potential as a business while advancing its green strategy.
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