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BagWise :: Recycle Your Bag

BagWise :: Recycle Your Bag

by , June 26, 2014

If the opportunity to make sure your old bag goes to a good home while also scoring a discount on a great piece of new carry has you eagerly demanding “Where do I sign up?!” then look no further than BagWise. We got in touch with Marta from BagWise to find out more about this waste-conscious retail project and their “Recycle your bag” campaign…

What inspired you to start ‘Recycle Your Bag?’ 

Living in London, I often see backpacks, handbags, hip bags thrown out in the city, near trash bins or outside charity shops. Most I come across were in bad condition but could have been reused by someone else. This made me think: “What if there was a practical process where these bags get repaired and provided to people who may need them?”

My close friend Albert – the Barcelona-based OuiShare (a think and do-tank with the mission to empower citizens, public institutions and companies to create a collaborative economy) Connector for Spain and Latin America – mentioned a similar model during one of our chats. This was a US online retailer, proposing to purchase used branded high-quality leather handbags in return for the sale of a new high-value leather bag.

Putting these two ideas together, I came up with “Recycle your bag – Do not Bin It, Bag It” campaign, removing the commercial element of purchasing the used bag against the sale of a new bag. To incentivise the consumer, we thought we would give up part of our profit on a new bag, also pay for the shipping charges and repairs cost of the used bag. We believe that if the consumer sees the retailer is putting in the effort socially and financially, he/she will feel more inclined to collaborate.


Who’s behind the project? The team? 

The team is small. Other than myself, our web design agency helped a lot creating the structure for this campaign. Two tailors who I know personally do the repairs. They both work for dry cleaners and stores that do alterations, and from time to time repair our bags, make them stronger and give them a longer life. Our customer service staff take care of the coordination of repairs, charities and donations.


Who are these magical bag repair guys? Do they get paid for their work?

Sure they get paid for the work they do! We have an agreement for a flat fee, unless the bag is seriously damaged. If that is the case, then we get their professional opinion and see if it is worth the repair at all.

It makes no sense to try and repair a bag for several hours if it is made out of some low-quality or weak material such as polyester or with plastic zips that do not last long. If we come across such a bag, then we remove parts that could be used in the repair of another bag as spare parts, trying to make use of it in a different way.

One of our tailors is an expert on leather repairs, all manual, with the help of a thick needle. He has a wide collection of nylon threads and is also well-informed about how to find spare parts. This know-how and experience is very important to us, as we also learn a lot during this process.

Was it difficult to get up and running?

Let’s say it did not come easy.  It took us some discussions and time to build the campaign, and then transfer the workflow for our online site with the help of our web design agency. We needed a simple process and a quick workflow for people to understand quickly and easily how it works so they could complete the steps within a few minutes. We constantly review the process and listen to feedback to see how we can make it better, smoother and easier.

What are the major challenges you face?

The main challenge is announcing the campaign. It is on our website and we get some traffic but we need more people to see it so we can “recycle” more. The cost of pushing such a campaign online is not cheap so we are asking for help from all similar-minded businesses or charities.

The second challenge is avoiding fake/imitation bags to be recycled. We get pics from people with high-value brand bags to recycle, asking for big discounts. We cannot accept this and sometimes this creates a discussion. But, well, this is part of the job I guess.

How does the whole thing work?

We try to keep it simple and short: once you choose a new bag from Bagwise.com and have an old one from your closet in hand to trade in, you register on our site and click on the “Recycle your Bag” link. You fill in a few details online about the old bag and send us some photos by email. We evaluate your bag and, if suitable to be recycled, email you a voucher for a generous discount on your purchase.

We then pick up the bag from you, bring it over to our depot, have it cleaned and repaired and decide where best to donate and make a difference. In the meantime, you can go ahead and buy your new bag/wallet at a favorable price. That is it!



What kinds of people receive the bag?

Great question! This is the fun part actually, as we have all types of people. A school bag goes to a kid in need, a backpack may end up with a homeless person… We are also in touch with some charities which, from time to time, need specific bags and we aim to help them as we get suitable bags. It is sometimes a challenge to match a bag with someone, but we get by fine.


What kind of responses are you getting from those you help? Any characters or stories that really struck a nerve?

Usually, good responses, happy faces! I think the most challenging task so far was providing three school bags to a family in North London for their three school kids. The deadline was the school opening day obviously and we did not have all three of them ready but we managed to put things right with the help of social media.

What kinds of bags are you looking for? 

We evaluate everything that comes in, but backpacks are really useful, as most people prefer backpacks. They are easier to carry, take loads. We make sure we repair a bag that will last a few years at least, so we look for bags made of good material like canvas, Cordura, leather and nylon…

What bags don’t fit the bill?

Counterfeit bags are no-go. We want to recycle bags but do not want to help criminal activity and abuse IP. Low-quality bags, usually coming from fast fashion brands, are also no good for us as their material is cheap and weak, wears out quick and falls apart even if you put in many hours to repair, patch up and make good.


How do you plan to grow in the next five years?

By pushing this campaign in every direction possible and nationwide. We have expertise in evaluating and repairing quality bags, so we can do our bit in the society where we make a living.

We also have plans to run the campaign at a corporate level: getting corporate staff to donate bags in return for new bags from a wide collection we offer at Bagwise.com.

Who else is doing rad recycle programs? Any other carry brands or crews recycling other things like garments/shoes?

There are a few sites recycling clothing and I have come across a site recycling baby clothing, which is a brilliant idea as babies grow so quick they never wear the same clothing or shoes more than a month or two, so that is a real area of waste.

Shoes are a bit difficult (except for ladies’ evening shoes), they get worn out very quick but, for example, one of our designers supplying bags, Doreen Westphal, upcycles leftover leather pieces from a shoe factory and makes great stylish bags. They are made of real/natural leather, are very sturdy and last long. Like good leather shoes!


Just curious, but do you know how many bags are thrown away every year, is there massive amounts of carry waste piling up?

There is no specific statistics about bags as they are considered part of a bigger category “shoes and accessories”. But, looking at statistics coming from the fashion industry as a whole, it is really mind-blowing how many garments, shoes and bags go to waste as they are not “in season” anymore or fall prey to “sellouts”.

I read in a blog last week that 13 million tons of textile was sent to dump (figure by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)), only by North Americans, in 2011. And only 14% of this waste was recycled or reused. Imagine the rest of the world and the increase of fast fashion since 2011.

If we could keep more items in circulation and pass them on to people who cannot afford a quality product, it would be great. Sustainable fashion, ecofashion, detox fashion are all concepts coming from the same root and they create awareness of this (unnecessarily) crazy fast fashion world and production, which actually feeds us a lot of bad-quality items and gets us to shop season after season non-stop.

Anything you think I’ve missed that you’d love to talk about?

Well, thanks to Bellroy for giving BagWise a chance to put the spotlight on our “Recycle your Bag” campaign. I am hoping that your cute owl brings us luck and lots of recyclable bags!


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