Reclaim Bags: Sophie Postma on Upcycing & Inner Tubes

Reclaim Bags was born in 2011 by British based designer, Sophie Postma whilst studying Fashion and Innovation at Leeds college of Art. She innovatively uses recycled rubber inner tubes to make her unique bags and purses. Sophie is passionate about upcycling and showing consumers that the most basic of materials can be used to produce something beautiful.

Large Envelope Clutch, £40

Large Envelope Clutch, £40

1. I read in another interview with you that Reclaim Bags started life as a university project, what pushed you to launch it as a real business?

I really enjoyed the project throughout the time I was working on it and really felt like the idea I had was something special. I had seen the idea emerge and grow into something that was real, a real brand – something that actually had the potential to grow further and achieve the concept behind it of changing peoples’ perceptions of recycled products. I also got a lot of great feedback from people so I think that made me more eager to pursue it.

2. How did your Fashion & Innovation degree differ from other fashion degrees?

I studied for three years. The first year was the basics in Fashion design. After that the course split into two separate pathways, one which focused more on concepts and the communication of that concept, the other much more design based. I decided on the concept and communication side of the course. This meant not only were we taught about design and manufacture, but also film, promotion, designing packaging and marketing. There was also the opportunity to move away from garments and design products, which is what I did. This side of the course I really believe gave me a more rounded skill set which has been a great help in setting up my own business.

3. You say on your website that the aim of the brand is to ‘change people’s perceptions of recycled products’. In your experience what are people’s general perceptions of recycled products? Do you think the stigma is waning?

I do still believe that there is a stigma surrounding recycled products, but yes it is waning. I generally think people worry about the quality of the product when they hear the word recycled. Being at Spitalfields I see customers directly and I do notice that some still have reservations when I explain that the material used is recycled rubber, however more people are interested and open to the idea. It’s a slow but steady progression in the right direction.

4. Is it easy to get hold of the raw materials you need, i.e. the inner tubes? What extra challenges do you face by using such an unusual material?

At the moment I have a few main suppliers that I rely on, so yes it is relatively easy to source my material. However, the rubber doesn’t come in ready to use rolls like you would buy fabric. I pick up the whole inner tubes, as they are, having just been taken off a lorry or tractor etc. So you can imagine what kind of state they are in. The washing and preparing of the material is the most difficult part of the whole making process.

5. What do you envisage for Reclaim Bags over the next year?

I would like to think that within the next year, I would have my own studio to work from and that the business was growing at a steady rate. I will continue to raise awareness of the brand in turn to raise awareness of the concept. I would also love to think that I will be able to notice more of a change in people’s attitudes towards recycled products. I am currently working on a new collection and men’s products so lots of exciting things ahead for the brand.

You can catch Reclaim Bags at Spitalfields Market every Friday.

IPad Case, £40

IPad Case, £40

Large PVC and Rubber Clutch, £60

Large PVC and Rubber Clutch, £60

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Elephant Branded: Bags to Give School Children the Chance they Deserve

Elephant Branded, run by uni friends James and Tim, is an accessories brand fronting a beautiful story. Put simply, for every ethically made, recycled bag or similar product they give one school bag and kit to a child in Africa or Asia. James set up Elephant Branded when, after working in these continents, he was shocked by the basic lack of school equipment available to children and wanted to make a positive difference.

Elephant Branded joins a new breed of ethical fashion enterprise who strive not just to neutralise the detrimental effects of the fashion industry, but whose existence actually has a positive effect. They pay a fair, competitive wage to local villagers who make the products from locally sourced, recycled materials and then sell them to the likes of us (at a very reasonable price!).


Featured by the BBC, Glamour magazine and The Sunday Times, Elephant Branded currently create covetable bags, laptop cases, iPad cases and wallets. Their big break came when John Lewis started selling their wares. I love the large Clipper bag (£45), a roomy holdall style bag perfect for travelling, the gym or the beach. It is hand-crafted from recycled cement bags by villagers in Cambodia and of course, for every one sold Elephant Branded delivers a school kit to a child in Africa or Asia. Whilst the clutch purse, £18, makes a great gift

Take a look at some of their projects in Cambodia, Uganda and Sierra Leone and meet their suppliers. Buy direct online or from John Lewis.


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Second-hand Retail for the Green Economy

Last week I presented my research and ideas on second-hand retail at the Annual Green Economics Conference in Oxford. I have always looked at second-hand consumption from a sustainability perspective, but until Ben Armstrong-Haworth suggested I speak at the conference, I had not thought about my research on the wider scale of green economics.

Throughout history, reusing and making-do has been the primary way of life. Second-hand trade was the primary form of trade for material things, and much of what was consumed in the home was also produced in the home. It was at the time of the Industrial Revolution that a binary way of thinking emerged between production and consumption; suddenly mass production allowed society to move into a material culture and ‘new’ things became the norm.

As consumers we receive many conflicting messages – spend money and consume to help us out of the recession, consume ethically and recycle for the good of the planet. Recycling has been pushed forward as one of the ways towards a sustainable economy, but the argument I made during my talk was that direct reuse should be prioritised as the primary form of consumption. Although recycling is beneficial, direct reuse sees more benefits gleaned as the process of recycling requires further input of energy and materials, whilst direct reuse, apart from the transportation footprint, does not. Reuse should be the primary consumption method for a greener economy with the aim of minimizing the number of transformations, reducing the speed of resource flow through the economy. Of course trade of second-hand products may or may not involve exchange of money, but in the case of charity shops, eBay, car boot sales and nearly new sales it does involve exchange of money and is therefore adding to our economy.

For optimum reuse value, consumers need to prioritise quality over quantity, and manufacturers need to make things to last. There is growing awareness of the built in obsolescence of products, a manufacturing trait which is simply unacceptable. We all know the scenario – cheaper to buy new than to replace small parts. Understandably, companies want to make money, and due to such strong competition on the market, they need to make money. The only way to change things is either enforced regulation from government, or increased consumer pressure – I would suggest both.

With this in mind, these are some of my recommendations and key arguments, based on the literature.
• Reuse should be prioritised over recycle
• Manufacturers must be more responsible regarding long-life product design. Enforced regulation (difficult on global scale)
• Encourage loan rather than purchase of large electrical items
• Encourage continuation of fashion for vintage and antique pieces
• Regulate advertising that depicts pleasure gained from consumer culture (like that enforced for UK alcohol advertising)

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Donating Clothes to Charity has never been Easier

It has literally never been easier to donate unwanted clothes and accessories to charity. As well as the parade of charity shops on our local high street, there are donation banks at the supermarket, car parks and workplaces and well-known names are starting to take donations into their stores too.

This year’s ‘Give Up Clothes for Good’ campaign for example ran from 1st-30th April 2012 and asked people to drop off their unwanted quality clothing, accessories and homeware at their local TK Maxx store. All the stock was then sold in Cancer Research UK shops, raising an incredible total of £3.1 million for research into children’s cancers. Since 2004 the TKMaxx/Cancer Research partnership has raised over £13 million.

H&M did something similar stateside, but the story to gain most recent press attention is that of shwopping at M&S. M&S have put a huge amount of resources into a TV and print campaign with Joanna Lumley to advertise their shwopping scheme which is described on a press release as follows:

“All M&S clothing stores will now accept unwanted clothing of any brand, all year round. It’s a new, free service for customers aimed at creating a new ‘buy one, give one’ culture on the UK high street. Through Oxfam, the clothes will be resold, reused or recycled and the money raised will go to help people living in poverty. Not a single item will go to landfill and the ultimate aim for M&S is to recycle as many clothes as it sells – 350 million a year.”

I have no doubt that this is great PR for Oxfam, and for M&S for that matter, but I see publicity as the main outcome of this scheme. Who is going to traipse around town with a bag of unwanted clothing to drop off at M&S (which is big and busy and will probably require queuing) when the nearest charity shop is at the end of the street? And will M&S employees have a clue what to do with the items when they receive them? Perhaps TKMaxx is a good example that they will and I am being far too sceptical.

Any encouragement to develop a more robust second-hand culture where it is the norm to donate and reuse rather than throw away is clearly beneficial.

So how do customers shwop?

In stores, M&S customers will be invited to leave their old or unwanted clothes in specially designed ‘Shwop Drops’ (cardboard recycling boxes). There will be over 1,200 Shwop Drops across the UK (at least two per store) alongside till points. If customers would like to register their shwop they can follow the instructions on the box to text and enter into a monthly prize draw.

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Oxfam Fashion Interview: The Future of Vintage Fashion

Whether or not you call it a trend, vintage fashion has clearly made a resurgence over the last few years. Of course there are the vintage trends on the high street, but more and more people are actually choosing to seek out the real thing second-hand. This is of course sustainable, encouraging the principles of recycle, make do and mend. Oxfam have done a fantastic job at making vintage fashions cool again, far more so than any other charity shop. They regularly take their second-hand pop-up shops to festivals and events, as I saw first hand when I went to the Clothes Show with them last December. To find out more I spoke to Thea of the Oxfam Fashion team:

1. Do you think vintage fashion is a passing trend or a permanent shift in people’s shopping habits?

The good thing about vintage is that it is effectively never out of style, although vintage trends can often change according with what is ‘in vogue’. For instance the collections of Gucci, Miu Miu, and Jonathan Saunders for A/W 11 heavily referenced the 1940’s and 1960’s. Go back a couple of years ago in 2006, however, and Alexander McQueen was referencing Nineteenth Century bodice jackets, whilst Marc by Marc Jacobs played with both twenties and sixties silhouettes.

Moving away from high design onto the high street, the pattern of consuming second-hand and vintage items is certainly widespread. Looking at’s street style section, a majority of those stopped wear a mix of high street and vintage or second-hand to create their unique looks.

In my opinion, fashion almost always plunders previous era’s for inspiration, but the high street also relies on vintage trends to create their collections and encourage buyers to invest in particular era’s according to the trends of the season.

Whilst popular vintage trends certainly affect people’s shopping habits and the acquisition of certain items, vintage clothes themselves retain a certain wearability, as they can be stored, passed down through generations, and re-worn at a later date. This is why I believe that vintage will not loose its desirability or its place in people’s shopping habits.

2. Do you think there has been a shift in consumer’s perceptions of charity shops and wearing second-hand pieces?

A recent survey produced by Charity finance which highlights that profits in the charity retail sector have risen by 12% (the third consecutive year charity shops have reported a rise in profit in this survey), suggests that consumer perceptions to charity shops are certainly changing. Whilst some may point to the recession to this rise, it is also my belief that it is not just austerity which drives people to charity shops. Charity shops are certainly upping the ante when it comes to changing the face of second-hand clothing, and I believe that the creativeness enacted by the charity sector in creating specialist stores, (such as the Oxfam and the Red Cross Boutiques, and the Oxfam shops at festivals) are examples of presenting second-hand clothing in an attractive way in order to persuade previously disinterested shoppers into charity shops.

3. Does Oxfam fashion have any exciting plans for 2012?

Oxfam Fashion is currently working on a number of exciting projects. We are also really looking forward to Oxfam’s Clothing Conference where we will hear talks from Frip Ethique, and learn more about what happens to our clothing beyond the charity shop. London Fashion week, International Women’s Day, and Fairtrade Fortnight, are also all things we will be involved in, and look forward to! To learn more see @oxfamfashion where we keep our followers updated on all our goings-on!

Follow the Oxfam Fashion blog:

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Worn Again Works with McDonalds for Recyclable Uniforms

Upcycling design brand Worn Again has announced a long term partnership with McDonalds to develop a closed loop system of recycling uniforms. The Hemingway Design team (Wayne and Gerardine founded the iconic Red or Dead fashion label) have been put in charge of designing new uniforms for McDonald’s 85,000 employees in the UK.

It is an interesting move by McDonalds who have worked hard at creating a more sustainable and healthy image in terms of food sourcing and packaging, but clothing wouldn’t be a key concern to spring to mind. It seems noteworthy that such a massive brand is taking steps to limit their textile waste.

Worn Again will be working closely with the uniform provider Dimensions / Alexandra using their joint expertise to help create new uniforms for McDonald’s with the aim of making it 100% closed loop recyclable, where uniforms are recollected in restaurants, reprocessed into raw materials and made back into uniforms again as part of a ‘closed loop’ system. The entire process will take place in phases over the coming years. McDonald’s is the first company in the UK to commit to developing a closed loop uniform. The new designs will be unveiled next year before the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and McDonald’s top performing employees will be the first to wear Wayne and Gerardine’s designs at the McDonald’s Olympic Park restaurants.

I wonder what they are currently doing with uniforms, and will they be recycling each piece of uniform once an employee has discarded it even if it’s not at the end of its useful life? Laundering and reusing would use less energy than recycling. Of course it’s also great publicity for Worn Again who have worked with other big brands including Virgin Atlantic and the Royal Mail, showing that corporate waste doesn’t indeed have to go to waste. Hopefully more big brands will seek guidance from the smaller, ethical brands in the future, thus lessoning the divide between ‘them’ and ‘us’.

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