PagaBags has been in quite a dilemma. Some of our perfectly resistant bags, made of recycled plastic and cotton have flaws, serious ones. They have been splitting and not at the seams. And, it is not related to poor sewing; rather, it is a problem of plastic.
The problem began to show in early 2017. It took some time to get to the origin of the problem. At first I thought that our sorting process was inconsistent. Or perhaps the soap we use to wash had been changed and was more aggressive. In fact, the cause of the problem was related to biodegradable plastic bags that had entered the waste stream in Burkina Faso. The change dated back to February 2015 when the country banned plastic bags, replacing them with biodegradable ones. So while welcoming the decision, we realized that we needed a Plan B to make a transition from plastics.
Our Plan B started to take form in 2017. It was actually relatively simple, technically speaking. We would replace our recycled material with 100% cotton (no more plastic threads). Material woven of 100% cotton is called Faso DanFani in Burkina, which means, “woven cloth of the homeland”. It is the traditional material widespread in Burkina. However, we make handbags and not dresses so, in order to ensure the same quality of material, we engaged in some research and development in order to ensure a more sturdy material. For certain products, like our PagaDay, the light-weight material works well, however for our Paga Weekenders, it was decided to increase the number of threads per line (the weft) so as to increase the weight of the material. The results are wonderful! I am really enthusiastic about our future collections.
At the same time, our Plan B is not only concerned with creating a new material to replace our recycled material, it is also concerned about people. Our action plan needed to include the poor women with whom we have partnered since 2012 and whose jobs were being threatened by the transition: the women who collect plastic for us and the plastic cutters. The “social arm” of our Plan B has included training our plastic cutters to become weavers and training our waste collectors in making Smile Bracelets. Unfortunately, we were only able to include 14 of the 28 women waste collectors in making Smile bracelets, so the other 14 will be trained in the near future, hopefully in the Fall, in creating something (I am still looking for ideas!) that will allow us to include them in PagaBags. I’ll keep you posted!
Finally, in all these transitions, we have also taken on a challenge with regards to our choice in dyes. Indeed, since January this year, we have been carrying out research and development in using plant dies to replace of our organic dyes. Natural, plant dyes are made from macerated plants (leaves, grains), roots and bark. Why do I prefer natural dyes to organic? Firstly, organic dyes are imported from Europe and outsourced to a local company (to the dismay of my partner weavers). Natural dyes are sourced locally, perfect for small-scale production and, our bet is that the weavers will quickly adapt to this new technique. Also, while natural dyes cannot create the vibrant colors found with organic synthetic dyes, the cooler colors are nonetheless magnificent. However, it is important to mention that - from our recent experiences with plant dyes - it is close to impossible to predict the outcome of the color when using plants. To this end, we will need to be lenient. And, lastly, and most importantly, the benefits to health and to the environment make natural dyes a far better choice as they have a carbon neutral footprint.
I am including some lovely pictures of the day I gave our bags away. I gave away bags we took out of stock because the risk of splitting was important. I told the women, it is a gift that may very well fall apart. (They know first hand how much trouble the recycled plastic has caused). That being said, they are much better given away than thrown away!