TOSHEKA DESIGNS: The ubiquitous plastic shopping bag recently banned in Los Angeles and several other Southern California cities is not just a menace here but also the world over. So Philadelphia-based entrepreneurs Lucy Lau Bigham and husband Herman Bigham conceived of a way to transform the trash into handbags.
For seven years the Bighams have worked with communities in Lucy's native Kenya developing green textiles and products. When they approached a major Kenyan supermarket chain called Nakumatt and proposed collecting clean used bags from the market's clients, creating the handbags with their community groups and then circling them back to the retailer to sell, "they thought this was a brilliant idea," Herman Bigham says.
Today, more than 130 women in 15 underserved Kenyan communities crochet the colorful bags using techniques passed down from their ancestors. The finished bags sell in 15 supermarkets throughout Kenya, and the company is gearing up to enter tourist hotel boutiques and the U.S. market.
"What do people do with the many plastic bags they come home with from the supermarket? If they bring them back clean to the supermarkets, we can make a product that will probably outlive them.... We see this as a great intervention in making sure these plastics don't get into the environment," Herman Bigham says. "Most of our customers simply can't believe [the purses] are made out of plastic trash bags."
Prices range from $60 to $250. http://www.toshekadesigns.com
JUDARI: When Muscovites and business partners Julia Voitenko and Daria Golevko decided to start a fashion company in 2005, they wanted to combine their love of vintage and scarves. Both designers relished their vintage flea-market hunts across Europe, and soon they fell on the idea of making shoes with one-of-a-kind vintage scarves.
Judari is their Milan-based shoe company and Russy their new line, which produced 600 limited edition colorful and bright sneakers made from the old scarves they found across Europe. The sneakers can be laced with shoelaces or scarves.
"At first, the production was difficult because the scarves were all of different sizes and that was not a normal thing for a production of sneakers," says Voitenko. "Although even with that problem at the end we were happy with the results."
She says this is part of what makes upcycled fashion so appealing — "each item is unique," a stand-alone, with a one-only story. "We're so sure of the idea that we'll create more in the future," she says. "At first, some customers didn't understand and even called to verify if there had been a mistake. But now, people love the idea."
MAPLEXO: When Oregonian skateboarder Lindsay Jo Holmes started her MapleXO jewelry line — flipping used skateboards into funky jewelry — she went to a local indoor skatepark and asked if she could put out a skateboard recycling bin. "They were so enthusiastic I baked them cookies when I picked up the boards and it started a trend," she says. "Each time I go to pick up boards now, I bake cookies and even to this day, we still sit up at night baking cookies for the rad people who send us boards."
The boards are generally made out of maple, hence the name (XO was added "as a feminine touch," Holmes says). And it's the boards that produce the colors in the jewelry. "It usually takes a second [for people to understand] and then they get it," Holmes says. "The scratches on the graphics, the layers in the wood, the contour the pieces have from the shape of the board — even people that don't know much about skateboarding can recognize these qualities. It's so awesome because each piece really has a story all its own."
She gets the used boards now from skateboard shops, skateboard companies, her friends, friends of friends, random people met at skate parks, the guys she works with. "Now, more than ever, I think people crave a connection to the things they buy," she says. "The plastic world of mass production and sweatshops has revealed its unglamorous truths."
The company sells to 40 outlets across the world.
"We love thinking about getting a board that has traveled on skate-trips through the U.S. and Spain perhaps, and then sending jewelry from this board to an order in Japan," Holmes explains. "So many pieces of the world can touch each piece."
Prices range from $18 to $98. http://www.maplexo.com