From Bottles to Bags: Eco-Friendly Collection Turns Trash Into Fashion

Each bag in the Hamilton Perkins Collection is made out of about 16 discarded plastic bottles.
(Photos: Courtesy Hamilton Perkins)
May 22, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

It’s been molded into jewelry, turned into building materials for homes, and fashioned into athletic shoes. Now a designer is using plastic waste to create functional and stylish luggage.

Hamilton Perkins, the 30-year-old founder of an accessories collection bearing his name, used plastic bottles and repurposed vinyl from billboards for his line of three bags.

“This started out of a problem I was having personally. I couldn’t find a bag that was unique, transparent, and was going to makes a difference,” Perkins told TakePart. He started out making high-end leather bags but felt using traditional materials was a missed opportunity. That’s where the idea for repurposing plastic bottles came in.

“I would drink bottled water and just see all the plastic bottles that you could go through in a matter of days,” Perkins said.

Americans consume about 10 billion gallons of water from plastic bottles annually but recycle only about one in five. That leaves discarded bottles—which take hundreds of years to biodegrade—polluting our oceans or emitting harmful greenhouse gases in landfills.

(Photo: Courtesy Hamilton Perkins)

For every 1,000 bags sold, Perkins estimates that 16,000 plastic bottles will be diverted from landfills.

The Virginia-based entrepreneur partnered with Thread, an international group that works with developing nations to turn plastic waste into fabric. Workers in Haiti collect the discarded bottles and receive cash from Ramase Lajan, a community-based program that runs more than two dozen plastic collection centers. These facilities are owned and operated by Haitians, who strip the bottles and prepare them for the production line. Once cleaned, the bottles are crushed into a material called flake. That raw material gets turned into fabric in the U.S. and becomes one of Perkins’ bags.

The inner lining of each bag is one-of-a-kind. Thanks to the repurposed billboards—which Perkins acquires when they’re headed to local landfills—one bag might contain a woodsy nature scene, while another might be filled with the wide smile of a fashion model.

“It gives the product that unique appeal, and at the same time, you can know it’s also doing good for the environment,” Perkins said.

To get production going, Perkins plans to crowdfund the launch of the collection, which includes a $95 duffle and a $299 two-in-one bag with a Kickstarter campaign that will go live in June. He plans to be transparent in his cost structure and supply chain so buyers can see the direct impact they’re making, from fair wages for workers in developing nations to the number of bottles repurposed to the amount of water conserved during production.

“What we hope is that by our customers having this product in their lives, it also opens them up and shows them other areas of their lives where they can also measure impact or measure how they are being a stakeholder in society,” Perkins said. “It’s doing good beyond just [buying] the product.”

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