I’m currently back home in Europe and discovered (again?) that social enterprises are much more common here than they are in Singapore. Walking through Vienna, we discovered upcycled goods - mostly bags - everywhere. The upcycling industry takes sturdy material that has fulfilled its original purpose and, instead of throwing it away, transforms it into another product of higher value. Undoubtedly, this is both a good deed and an act of value creation. When I look at the prices of these products, I am often left to wonder however whether the Earth is being saved mainly with my money or whether the organization behind the products also contributes. This question aside, let’s look at some examples now. Hopefully, you find something of value to you in there.
Recycled tea sacks
Ragbag.eu is very unique in the materials it uses. The messenger bag from tea sack material appeared very sturdy in my hands, is waterproof to boot and remains moderately priced around 50-80 EUR. If you’re a real activist, you may want to double-check whether their Indian-based production is really fair in your eyes and whether you consider the implied transportation sustainable. Otherwise, I suggest you take a look at their tea sack (Tamil Nadu) full collection. They also have bags produced from plastic bags (Delhi collection, also waterproof) and recycled cotton (Calcutta collection), but the tea sacks are my favorite by far.
Old sails from sailing boats are a very popular material in the upcycling space. One player is Elbkind from Hamburg. Another is 727sail from France. Both operate in the 150-250 EUR area. I expect there are many more. US-based flowfold started in this area for instance and have since developed custom materials (I’m very happy with their minimal wallet in addition to my main wallet - yes, where I live, cash is still king).
Freitag seems like the King of the Hill not only in this space but in the overall upcycling business (they call it recontextualizing). I make this claim because they are the only player with multiple flagship stores, they are heard of in Asia and I have seen their products in the wild (Austrian school kids, I’m looking at you!). Expect to fork out 150-300 EUR for a bag; their pants are priced at 190 EUR.
A smaller, more personal shop is auferstanden. Our exploration into this space started here and I still like the atmosphere there a lot. If you’re in Vienna, check it out! Besides Rag Bag and Bag to Life (mentioned above) they carry their own line of bags made from advertisement tarpaulin in a social project. We paid around 50 EUR for a small shoulder bag there.
Life vests & parachutes
Parachute material is attractive because it is very light, yet still robust. Life vests are somewhat less light weight, but they are waterproof to boot (unsure for parachutes). The players using life vests that I’m aware of are the German Bag to Life and the Austrian Flug Zeug. Both operate in the 100-200 EUR range.
auferstanden (see tarpaulin section) also makes parachute bags (see their facebook post); come to the store to check them out. I believe I remember they were around 80 EUR. Another option is aforementioned Bag to Life (100 EUR, only 165g at 35cm diameter).
At this point, I’d like to admit that I recently bought the non-recycled Marmot Duffle bag for less than 60 EUR and I expect it to hold up very well. Keep this in mind as a point of reference. Another side mention for leather bags is vidavida for me. I am not sure about their social position, but you may want to consider their leather bags anyway (50-200 GBP; fair shipping everywhere in the world). A large notebook bag (17.3”, none of the above offer this I believe) from Samsonite runs only around 70 EUR.