Almost a year has gone by since I first saw a friend's wallet that was made from recycled seat belts. I had two thoughts at the time. "Nice wallet!" and "What a great idea!". It was only a few months after I had started writing this blog and I made a note, Urchin, in my phone to remind myself that it was something I would like to know more about. As I was scrolling through my ideas a few weeks ago I came across my notation and decided that it was well past time to get on it.
I found the Urchin Bags website and was surprised to see the variety of products available for purchase. I continued to the Etsy site and found many great styles of wallets, change purses, bags and more. A couple of them even had the seat belt buckle for a closure. I easily found a couple of items on the site that appealed to me, finally decided on one, and was looking at my shipping options when I realized that the maker of these unique products lives reasonably close to me. I sent an email to Clare, the creator of Urchin Bags, and happily she agreed that I could pick up my bag in person and chat with her.
We had an impressive wind storm over much of Vancouver Island last night so when I arrived at Clare's workspace the power was out. Fortunately there was enough light coming through the windows that I could still see her set-up and choose my bag. I had another few moments of indecision as I saw the bags she had available, but in the end I stuck with my first choice. It is big enough to carry around everything I need, plus a book, and a bit more. The strap is adjustable so I can throw it diagonally across my shoulders. Here it is...
As you can see the outside, including the strap, is made of a variety of colours of seat belts. The inside is made of scrap material from an upholstery shop. It has a little magnetic closure that you can see in the second picture, and three pockets sewn inside. Two pockets, of slightly differing size, are big enough to fit a standard size cell phone or wallet with room to spare, while the narrow, centre pocket is designed for a pen. I am looking forward to moving everything over from my standard shoulder bag tonight, minus all of the useless paper and receipts of course.
The other bag that I really liked was slightly wider at the bottom and had a flap that folded right over the top. The colours were slightly darker, including more of the dark blue and burgundy, and it was partially made with some bicycle tire inner tube material, which I think has a nice, sturdy feel to it. One of these days, when my kids are past the age of pencil boxes, I would like to get them one of Clare's "peata pockets", which are a combination of bike tire inner tubes and scrap vinyl.
About five years ago Clare spent some time travelling through Spain and was inspired to make herself a courier style bag after noticing many people carrying around billboard bags. (I had never heard of a billboard bag so I looked it up on Google and found many sites for companies that use old billboard advertisements to create bags and banners). When she returned from Spain she bought a sewing machine and taught herself how to sew. While she started with scrap banner materials, similar to those you might find on a billboard, she found them a bit shiny for her liking and started looking into other options. At this time Clare's products are made from many different materials including seat belts, bicycle tire inner tubes, scrap vinyl, old banners and boating materials. On the back wall of her work space she has a rainbow of seat belts hanging on a multi-rowed rack next to a bundle of bicycle inner tubes waiting to be cut open and cleaned. She also has large totes full of materials from her various sources stacked on the floor in her workroom and more in an adjoining space behind.
Once or twice a month she will make the rounds of a couple of places that set aside materials for her. One stop will be an upholstery shop where she will pick up a variety of materials including the lining of the bag that I purchased today and the vinyl that you see on the "peata pockets", some of her other large purses, or her "mini change purse". Another will be the bicycle shop where she will pick up any inner tubes they have for her. The metal air tubes are removed and then the inner tubes are cut along the seam and washed to remove the powdery substance inside. Finally, the seat belts come from the auto wreckers. Clare says that clean seat belts can be tricky to find as some auto wreckers only let people in to salvage items right before the vehicles are due to be crushed. By this time many of the vehicles have been exposed to the weather for so long that the seat belts have gathered mould, which cannot be washed out. Others have grease, or other stains on them. Fortunately she has developed a relationship with one auto wrecker who kindly cuts the seat belts out when the vehicles arrive and saves them for her. Until seeing her rainbow collection I had no clue that seat belts came in such a wide range of colours.
I love that each of Clare's products has its own unique style. She uses all of her materials in different shapes, sizes, and colour combinations. As an example, the differing sizes of bike inner tubes allow for wide or narrow stripes and occasionally a tube will contain a thin, blue stripe that is also worked into the design. You can see the narrow blue stripe on this bag, which is also partially made from a tennis racquet cover. For a recent birthday gift she received some banner material used at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. The banner is beautiful. Primarily blue in colour, with some green and white, it also includes images of birds and mountains. There are three totes full of it for whatever product her imagination comes up with next. I would encourage you to check out her Etsy site as there is more to see than what I have mentioned here and the items available change as she creates new products and sells others.
Thank you to Clare for meeting with me, and letting me come and see your work space. It was a pleasure! I look forward to perusing your Etsy site again soon.