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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Quazi Design interview

Quazi Design is a social enterprise based in Swaziland. They produce jewellery and homewares from recycled paper, utilising rolled paper beads, folding and layering, and paper mache which is then varnished. The products are all handmade by local rural women. The results are fantastic, unique and attractive products which are environmentally friendly and provide employment to local women. Founder and designer, Doron, answered my questions.

Emma: What was your background before starting Quazi Design?

Doron: I studied Theatre Design at Nottingham Trent, graduating in 2002. I was interested in how space, design, words, costume, history, architecture, and many other elements come together to express a story and a feeling.

I was drawn to product development as the process is creative and unique but it’s also about skill, materials, pricing and marketing. I have always wanted to work in Africa with a social business and have also worked as a youth worker and with people with learning disabilities in the past.

E: How did Quazi Design start? Where did the idea for the enterprise come from?

D: I was approached by the people that distribute the magazines in Swaziland, they had the idea to create something from the waste paper and they asked me to design some products. In the beginning I worked as a freelance designer and when my contract was over with another local craft business I started with them full time. Back then we only had two designs and one woman producer. I believed in the project and saw the opportunity to create work for the local women and also put Swaziland on the map. The magazine distributors are partners in the business and they believed in me and let me have the freedom to run with it. Our vision is to create sustainable, full time, secure work for the women producers and that is exactly what we are doing. We are growing organically, not rushing, but taking small steps and learning huge amounts along the way. I am the designer and the manager, and because it’s such a small business I did everything in the beginning. I have learnt a lot about running a business just by hands on experience.

E: How many workers do you have? How has the enterprise made a difference to the lives of the workers?

D: We currently employ 10 women full time at our workshop in Mbabane, Swaziland. These women have had no previous employment and no previous skills, with an average of 7 dependents each. The women have gained socially and financially. It has meant that the women are independent, can send their children to school as here they have to pay school fees, can pay hospital fees, can care for their families and can put food on the table. All women are assisted in opening a bank account, which sounds simple, but here in Swaziland it’s very rare, and to start saving. They have also gained confidence in themselves and are proud of their work, proud that people all around the world are wearing something they have made with love with their own hands. They appreciate this opportunity and give their best in their work day. They are happy to come into a safe, secure and stable work environment.

E: How are the products and the enterprise as a whole marketed to consumers?

D: For the last two years we have slowly gained a reputation locally and in South Africa, by having a retail shop, and attending trade shows in Johannesburg. Through this we find customers in Southern Africa. We have also approached buyers abroad and work with fair Trade buyers, ethical buyers and independent retailers in the USA, Europe and Australia. Our strategy is to find our feet locally and now that we have that we are looking abroad and making connections. We create a new catalogue every year with new products and updated designs to keep innovative and trend led.

E: What does the future hold for Quazi Design? Do you have expansion plans?

D: I have great belief in Quazi and believe that it can grow into a successful and sustainable business with a name for eco, ethical and design led products. In the next year we hope to find a suitable distributor in the UK and America and also work with more designers, collaborating and pushing design further. There are many paper beads in the market place and we hope that are different, high end and unique to the others. We want consumers to appreciate the handmade product but not compromise on style and materials. We want to balance social and environmental awareness with fashion.
By growing sales and our customer base we can afford to employ more women and provide full time secure work for local women and uplift the Swazi communities. We are currently building a large workshop so we have space for expansion!

Find out more at

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BIC Pen Dress

Here’s an idea – next time the ink in your pen runs out, don’t chuck it in the bin, get creative with all of those tubes of plastic. Take inspiration from Annette Carey who has designed this dress made from the humble BIC ball point pen barrels. To celebrate BIC Cristal pen’s 60th anniversary, the dress was designed to appear in an exhibition at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising for one month from 1st April.

The dress is made from 1,200 BIC barrels, 2000 Swarovski crystals, and weighs 8lbs. Talk about upcycling! Basic pen to stunning dress in just 640 man hours. . .

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Charity Shop Drapers Review

A first for fashion trade magazine, Drapers, as they featured a charity shop in their weekly double page shop review. This is a HUGE development. Charity shops have for far too long had a stigma attached to them, especially amongst the youth. There will always be people who won’t step foot inside a charity shop perhaps because they think they are for old people, poor people, or they simply don’t want to wear second hand clothes. Personally I think charity shops are the ultimate in guilt free shopping – you are recycling and diverting textiles from landfill, giving money to a good cause, and spending out less money than you would for a brand new item.

Charity shops have benefited from the upsurge in demand for vintage pieces no doubt, and as the article in fact says, the best charity shops should feel more like vintage boutiques than dowdy charity shops. Mary Portas tried to change the fortune of charity shops around in her series Mary Queen of Charity Shops, and her influence can now be spotted in shops up and down the country. The shop review in Drapers is a Mary Portas/ Save the Children collaboration. Positioned in Primrose Hill, it should attract donations from the well heeled types living and working in the area. They also rely on donations from the big brands, next month hosting a Rigby and Peller event.
Charity shops cannot meet all needs, they don’t suit the time poor or those looking for a particular item, but if you do find a gem in your size it does leave you feeling a bit smug.

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