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Upcycling and street style

4 Mar Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot

My final 24 hours in Delhi proved quite busy. We were lucky to have a travelling American artist/photographer, Joey Edwards, join us for our last street shoot.

Joey had volunteered with Conserve India a few years ago and was dropping in to the office to say hi. We, of course, jumped at the chance to have an extra photographer for our planned photoshoot at Delhi’s Connaught Place shopping centre.

And here are the citizens of Delhi who graciously stopped to model our bags. Amazingly, these lovely ladies knew about the project because they’d read about it in the papersCommonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot

…and we thought our next model, Sujay, looked far more stylish than the United Colours of Bennetton mannequins we snapped him in front of (especially their hair arrangements…or lack thereof).

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 2

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 3

…We loved how Sumit’s dark clothing highlighted the bright colours of our Games messenger bag…

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 4

…and, finally, the very obliging Anyad and Mrinali, lending us their unique looks for this photo…

Commonwealth Games upcycled bags photoshoot 5

What was great about the shoot was that people got the idea quickly; they understood what we were trying to do.

We were overjoyed with their show of support (and the photos – thanks Joey and Jenna!)…

…like Shammi Kapoor (the ‘Elvis of Bollywood’) on seeing his true love…

…or Rahat Fateh Ali Khan mid-flight in song…

…Gold!


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Making good things out of Games waste…

2 Mar

Today we reveal where our roller-coaster race to catch Games waste ended. Just as we thought we’d failed to find a material we could work with, we stumbled across high quality PVC street flags.

We rushed a small number of them back to the Conserve India sampling unit to start working on bag designs…

discussing Commonwealth Games waste design challenge

Conserve's design intern, Christina and the Conserve India sampling unit - Moksud, Inam and Sajit - discussing the Games design challenges

Conserve’s staff were incredibly busy meeting orders at the time so, to speed up the sampling process, we agreed to try modifying established designs with the PVC material. And here’s what the team created…

Sajit and the Commonwealth Games bag samples

Sajit and the Commonwealth Games bag samples (on left)

I decided to get a few shots of the bags around the workshop…

Delhi 2010 Games messenger sample bag

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games messenger bag (sample) made from athlete flags and wall wrap banner insert

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games messenger bag (sample) made from athlete flags

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games messenger bag (sample) made from athlete flags

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games 'Breeda' bag (sample)

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games 'Breeda' bag (sample) - Games banners and tyre tubing

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games 'Breeda' bag (sample) with denim lining

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games 'Breeda' bag (sample) with denim lining

Look! It's a bird!...No, wait....it's Commonwealth Games waste...upcycled!

But would Delhi’s citizens appreciate these products?

Wait till you see who volunteered to model our bags in the middle of the city’s most exclusive shopping district…

Tomorrow, dear readers, tomorrow…

Tyvek: sustainable substitute or simply ‘less bad’?

1 Mar

This is the final post about our project’s amazing response from India’s corporate world.

After news of the project broke in the Indian media we were contacted by Reebok, Aviva and finally, Dupont.

Dupont is a global science-based products and services company. They’re into…well…everything!

They were keen to work with Conserve India on an upcycling solution for their signage and banner products made from one of the company’s signature materials –Tyvek.

Tyvek is created with finely spun fibers of high density polyethelene. So it’s still a plastic derived from petroleum and could be viewed as ‘less bad’ rather than as a more sustainable alternative to the cheaper PVC signage materials.

But from an upcycling point of view, Tyvek is a very interesting material. It’s incredibly lightweight, strong, water and stain resistant.

Dupont sent us some sample Tyvek sheets (note the logo on the bottom – yep, they were ticket envelopes left over from the Commonwealth Games).

tyvek commonwealth games envelopes

Delhi Commonwealth Games Tyvek ticket envelopes converted to a tote bag

With only half an hour to experiment, Conserve’s design intern (Jenna) whipped up a simple tote bag to show Dupont India staff.

Jenna and the sample Tyvek tote bag

Jenna and the sample Tyvek tote bag

The meeting was positive and, by the time I left India, both Conserve and Dupont were interested in developing an ongoing upcycling partnership.

The corporate interest in Conserve India was a fantastic unexpected outcome from our Commonwealth Games project.

I’m looking forward to sharing the final project results over the next few days.

Liz

Insane in the membrane…

24 Feb

Ok, so we’re heading into the home stretch with this project blog (just over a week to go until my final deadline: Sunday March 6). I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted about the Games PVC banner material.

So what happened to all those banners – all 25 tonnes of them?

Commonwealth Games banners scrap

Commonwealth Games banners stored at the warehouse

We made a heap of products and sold them for stash of cash, right?

Not quite.

I was trialling one of the sample PVC bags, taking it to all my meetings, usually stuffed full of things like a Macbook laptop and a waterbottle (no point mucking around when it comes to R&D).

using the Games messenger bags

On the way to a 'very important' meeting at the 2010 Commonwealth Games

A few weeks of this and I began noticing cracks in the folds – the PVC banners from the Games media event just weren’t durable enough for a bag in constant use. But what about the official Games wall wrap banners? Could we still use them?

Checking out the banner material with Conserve India's sampling unit

Checking out the wall wrap banner material with Conserve India's sampling unit

Sadly, it turned out they were made of a similar form of PVC.

It’s called blackout flex – basically polyester thread spray painted with a thin PVC resin coating. Great for cheap, temporary advertising applications, but not so good for a high-end, durable fashion accessory.

It felt like we’d hit a dead end with our Games upcycling experiment. We made one last visit to the warehouse, thinking we’d collect a couple of the wall wraps for future experiments with the material.

But when we arrived we noticed these…

Commonwealth Games athlete flags

Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games street flags

Sponsor flags

Air India and Tissot Games sponsor flags - major brands being trashed...literally

trashed brands

Hero Honda and Central Bank of India: do you know where your brand is being dumped?

They were street flags, strung up across the city for the Games and made from a tougher form of PVC (blockout flex).

So, with clouds of disappointment rapidly lifting, we took as many of the flags as we could manage and hurried back to Conserve’s workshop.

As for the wall wrap banners, as far as we know, they were sold as cheap scrap to the city’s waste dealers. We’d like to think they ended up serving a useful second purpose. However, we can’t be certain.

But one thing is for sure, dear readers, it’s a little insane in the brain making so many of them in the first place, let alone without much thought for what happens to them when the party is over.

Looking forward to showing you what we did with the flags…

Upcycling: like playing Hacky Sack with materials…

11 Feb checking out the fence bunting

There were quite a few Games waste materials we identified during and just after the event. But establishing a viable upcycled product range takes quite a bit more than just finding materials.

Can the material be made into products fitting our current brand and organisational capacity? Can we afford to store enough of it? What about the product testing?

And of course, there’s the market development work – not many businesses can afford to produce products without some sort of guarantee they’ll sell.

So we had to be careful about which materials we accepted from the Games. Apart from the PVC banners we actively targeted, we were offered a few other interesting materials:

  • Recyclable waste directly from the Games Organising Committee Headquarters. This was mostly office waste – paper, cardboard and plastic bottles. Although Zitta Schnitt’s fabulous open source PET bottle purse designdid make us stop and ponder for a moment……………………we decided most of the materials weren’t suitable for durable fashion and homeware products.

    Delhi 2010 Games Organising Committee Headquarters

    Delhi 2010 Games Organising Committee Headquarters - inside and out

  • Temporary fencing and bunting cloth – during the Games, many events were cordoned off with thousands of temporary fences. We were offered these materials during the de-commisioning process after the event. We contemplated taking a small number of fences to trial some industrial furniture items (such as lampstands and shelving) as well as simple drawstring gym bags from the bunting material. But due to storage issues and the uncertainty factor regarding sales we had to say no.
Games fences and bunting

Delhi 2010 temporary fencing and bunting material

checking out the fence bunting

You watch the athletes, we'll feel the fence. Scoping out venue bunting material.

  • Unused Delhi 2010 Games ticket envelopes made from Tyvek plastic – this was such an interesting material I’m dedicating tomorrow’s post to it.

So, there’s a lot to do in realising an upcycling business opportunity. One of the ideas we had about securing a buyer for our Games products was to approach upcoming major events – such as the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – regarding upcycled merchandise.

Instead of cheap Chinese imports (like these merchandising items at one of the Delhi 2010 retail outlets)…

Merch cushion covers

Is pillow fighting a Games sport?! Random cushion covers on sale at Delhi 2010 retail store

gamesmerch2

Fuzzy plastic cars and things. What the...

…why not products made directly from materials left over from the last mega event?

Can you see where i’m going with this?

Imagine: closing the loop on waste from one major event to the next; like playing hacky sack with materials for as long as you can.

It’s a big idea and one, I’m certain, with many challenges to be overcome. But it’s not impossible to change a human system is it?

We got a little excited by the possibilities and dashed off a few emails to the London 2o12 and Glasgow 2014 organising committees but, alas, no cigar.

Not even a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’ email.

These events are organised many years in advance and perhaps, for the London Olympics at least, the most sustainable products have already been secured for their branded merchandise? This is, after all, meant to be the ‘first sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games’. London 2012 Sustainability Plan, 2009

But when I logged on to the London 2012 shop I was surprised to find little, if any, details about the products other than most came from the manufacturer to the world – China.

Take, for example, a simple drawstring gym bag (sound familiar?) It’s made from polyester and quite cheap at  7 pounds. You could argue the Olympics, in an effort to be inclusive, has gone for low priced merchandise.

But then there’s the Stella McCartney Team Great Britain gym bag at almost 4 times the price – China and polyester again.

Maybe the sustainability credentials for each product just haven’t been made public? Maybe the organisers thought it wouldn’t make a difference to sales.

Maybe.

But it would be nice to have a choice, wouldn’t it?

Shoes with soul?

9 Jan Handmade recycled plastic sandals

Remember how we were contacted by several corporates after news articles were published on our project? One such contact came from the footwear team at Reebok India. They wanted to know if Conserve India could make upcycled shoes.

Turns out the Conserve India crew have been testing shoe designs for quite a while now – even creating samples – using a wide range of discarded materials from tyre tubes to seatbelts and handmade recycled plastic (shopping bags). Here’s a sneak preview of a few of their styles:

Conserve India mixed materials shoe samples

Conserve India mixed materials shoe samples

Conserve India seatbelt slipons

Jenna models Conserve India's seatbelt slipons

Conserve India seatbelt slipons - showing gold mesh handmade recycled plastic inlay

Conserve India seatbelt slipons - showing gold mesh handmade recycled plastic inlay

Handmade recycled plastic sandals

Handmade recycled plastic sandals

Tyre tube closed toe shoe and men's chappals (slip-on sandal)

Tyre tube closed toe shoe and men's chappals (slip-on sandal)

I particularly love the HRP sandals, with the sherbety pinks and pastel blues of the original shopping bags. Yep, that’s right, no inks or dyes are added during the production process, the single-use shopping bags are simply layered to create the desired shades. Which ones do you like?

Conserve is not yet producing shoes commercially, as they are waiting to move to a new purpose built factory in Bahadurgah on Delhi’s west (more on that soon). But the partnership interest from Reebok definitely presents new and exciting possibilities for a profitable upcycled shoe range – we’ll let you know how it progresses.

In the meantime, I got to wondering if there were any other upcycling or socially responsible shoe manufacturers already selling products. Here’s what I found with a quick internet search:

  • Simple Shoes – check out their impressive range of recycled and sustainable materials
  • Tom’s Shoes – not so much a focus on environmental considerations (although they do have a vegan range), but they’re tackling a global social challenge with a great model –  for every pair of shoes sold by this US company a pair is given to a child who needs them. And by the looks of their website, the idea is gathering a lot of support…
  • Etiko – award winning, Aussie company making shoes from sustainable materials and working with fairtrade suppliers

So, dear readers, a few ways to go forth, flex your consumer muscle…

Christina and Jenna product testing in Reebok's Connaught Place store

Christina and Jenna product testing in Reebok's Connaught Place store

…and tread lightly. If you know of any other companies doing good things in footwear we’d love to hear about it.

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