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This New Kickstarter is Turning Post-Consumer Denim into Upcycled Handbags in Africa

COVID-19 recovery is on the horizon but the pandemic's impact on sustainability, retail, product development and consumer buying patterns means the denim industry must evolve. Join Rivet on April 20th at 11 am ET for the COVID, One Year Later roundtable.

Can a circle-shaped handbag become a symbol for circularity in fashion?

That’s the message Make Fashion Clean (MFC), a non-profit organization that raises awareness about the global environmental and economic impact of post-consumer fashion waste, wants to share with its new Kickstarter campaign for the Blue Circle bag.

The bags are an example of how fashion can close the loop. Each one is handmade by artisans in Ghana using scraps from jeans that were originally recycled by U.S. consumers and shipped to Africa. The goal, MFC explained, is to allow Ghanaian artisans to send the jeans back to the U.S. as one-of-a-kind denim handbags.

Artisans also make bow-ties and hand-crafted necklaces from denim scraps.

By creating goods out of existing denim, MFC can support living wages for artisans and eliminate textile waste in landfills.

“When Americans donate secondhand clothing to thrift stores or collection bins, they often assume these clothes will be re-used locally. However, in reality, more than half of these clothes are shipped overseas—primarily to Africa. Not only do these textiles eventually go into the environment and the landfill in Africa, they also put women who are employed as artisans and seamstresses out-of-work, affecting their livelihoods and families,” the organization noted.

Through the Kickstarter campaign, backers who pledge $50 or more will receive a circle bag. The bag was developed and tested during a 3-month social innovation accelerator MFC participated in at Boston University. Each bag is uniquely designed and features two internal pouches and an adjustable and removable strap.

MFC’s vision is to grow the global market for artisans by employing people and helping individuals build skills. The organization’s goal is to raise $20,000 through its first round of production for the bags to allow for further production and additional styles, like an upcycled denim backpack.

In an interview with Colorado State University, MFC co-founder Sarah Bibbey said the bags are designed to offer functionality and durability.

“It’s a style that appeals to the ethical fashion consumer looking for a unique, hand-crafted product with a story,” she said. “The choices we make about the clothes we wear truly make a difference.”

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