It’s already a worldwide effort and trend we dare say, with many companies solely dedicated to making their products out of upcycled materials in order to create a whole new product. The most famous material we’ve seen rising up over the years are discarded banners being turned into bags. This trend was seen halfway through the 90’s when two Swiss graphic designer brothers , Markus and Daniel Freitag were looking for a functional, water-repellent and robust bag to hold their creative work. Inspired by the multicoloured heavy traffic that rumbled through the Zurich transit intersection in front of their flat, they developed a messenger bag from used truck tarpaulins, discarded bicycle inner tubes and car seat belts. This is how the first FREITAG bags took shape in the living room of their shared apartment – each one recycled each one unique.
With their innovation, the brothers inadvertently triggered a seismic event in the world of bag making. Its tremors have since made themselves felt in Zurich and the cities of Europe and spread all the way to Asia, making FREITAG the unofficial outfitter of all urban, mostly bike-riding individualists. FREITAG has been headquartered at the Nœrd industrial complex in Zurich-Oerlikon since 2011. This is where the truck tarps we collect are taken apart, washed and cut up. Now, they even have a collection of clothing made out of fabrics made from vegetable fibres, produced in Europe with minimal use of resources, hardwearing and entirely biodegradable. FREITAG still belongs to the two Freitag brothers, and, as Creative Directors, they still conceive and oversee each new model through to series production.
Moving over to our very own shores, I came across The Biji-Biji Initiative, and what caught my attention was how they made use of car seatbelts (those rejected by the automobile industry) to design their bags. “It’s known as ‘upcycling’, unlike recycling, where waste is regressed into its previous state of raw material. It’s basically the process of repurposing what most would consider waste into a product that is of higher value by the application of human creativity”. After hearing about them from a fellow colleague and another friend, I decided to look them up and stumbled upon their latest efforts of starting a fashion and accessory label. I managed to visit their workshop to speak to Azam, co-founder and one of the designers of Biji-biji who also explained how their creations impact nature and the community.
“We started off as an organisation that makes products from waste materials back in 2013. Today, we have grown our skills, talents, and machinery to provide a range of services, that we believe will define the future we live in.”The core principle behind The Biji-biji Initiative, is the merging of sciences behind sustainability with their passion for design and art. Every project or product conceived at Biji-biji Initiative is a brainchild of the team’s various different departments coming together and sharing their creative and technical knowledge.“From capturing the value of waste, to electronic systems and automation, educational workshops, renewable energy sources, engaging public events, online video content, to our inspiring builds and art installations. Each department has its unique role to play in inspiring sustainability.”
The fashion label by Biji-biji is still rather small but is expected to expand in the near future. For now they mainly have bags, laptop cases, and pouches made from various materials that are sustainable and eco-friendly. “But there is a larger sentiment than just the material alone. Biji-biji is part of a growing movement, in Malaysia and the world over; of fashion brands that champions good practices in the industry of fashion and textile manufacturing. Exemplifying how business and trade should do more good than harm, Biji-biji audits each product by the sustainability of its material, and the economic empowerment it provides to those that need.”
Working directly with growingly displaced Batik makers of Terengganu, training and employing community members from low-income groups, the company continuously seeks approaches that would create positive social and environmental impact. Each product comes with a label with information on how your purchase has helped the community. Seeking to inspire people to initiate their own social and environmental initiatives, the fashion label also shares with the craftier customers how they too can replicate the bag’s designs, so that more waste could be fashionably reused as the company’s practices too are transparent and are observable on their website, www.biji-biji.com.
Image credits: Freitag, Biji-biji