Style and Sustainability

Ethical upcycled handbags from The Berry Berry

Ethical upcycled handbags from The Berry Berry

We love it when brands combine individual style with sound ethical principles. That’s just what The Berry Berry does – their unique upcycled handbags are made from materials which would otherwise have gone to landfill. As they come to the end of a crowdfunding campaign to increase their production, we caught up with founder Lucia Jombikova.

Lucia Jombikova, founder of The Berry Berry.

Hi Lucia, can you tell us more about The Berry Berry?

I founded The Berry Berry, an ethical fashion brand, in 2014. Since then we have handcrafted hundreds of unique eco-friendly upcycled handbags! We upcycle textile off-cuts and other textile materials alongside magazines and wrapping papers and make our bags out of them. This means we are reducing landfill pollution. By paying fair wages and selling the beautiful upcycled products they create for us, we empower seamstresses and makers in Slovakia and Romania. We also support Project Purse, an NGO, who distribute handbags with sanitary products, food and cosmetics to women in need, refugee women and homeless women.

What first inspired you to focus on ethical and eco-friendly production?

It all started with a plastic bag! When I worked as a sales assistant at an airport food shop, I was constantly asked by customers to give them a free bag for their sandwich. I knew they would just eat the sandwich and then bin the bag without a single thought. This lack of care for the environment irritated and upset me, so I decided to do something about it. I founded an environmental organisation Love Your Planet in 2012 and I applied for some grants to run it . With help from friends and environmental charities we organised numerous workshops, events and exhibitions. We still run this organisation, where we inspire and encourage others to reduce, reuse, recycle and upcycle in a creative way and teach people to live a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle.

While running Love your Planet, I found out that the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters of our planet. I am a creative soul and I have a degree in Interior Architecture, so I knew I needed to work in a creative design field. I decided to start upcycling textiles into handbags and jewellery to reduce the amount going to landfill and so The Berry Berry was born in 2014: an ethical fashion brand. And here we are four years later crowdfunding on Kickstarter! Our dream is to make a bigger impact: we want to prevent textiles from being dumped into landfill by creating stylish bags which do good.

Recycling is a large part of what you do but you also empower women. Can you tell us more about that side of The Berry Berry?

We empower women in three different ways:

  1. We support mothers, seamstresses and makers in Slovakia and Romania, who are doing their best to provide for their families and kids. We pay them fair wages for the beautiful bags they create for us. As the employment situation in Romania and Slovakia is tough and both of these countries are amongst the countries with the lowest minimum salary in Europe, it can be hard to make ends meet. These women have been struggling to sell their makes in their own countries, mainly because of the tough financial situation and strong competition from fast fashion brands. So working with us provides them with a higher income and the opportunity to work at what they love doing.
  2. We also support Project Purse, who donate handbags containing sanitary products, food and cosmetics to women in need, refugee women and homeless women and help them to integrate back to society.
  3. Lastly we empower our customers. They don’t need to compromise on style, price or environmental cost and they can be sure that no one needed to suffer to produce their handbag. Women can wear our upcycled handbags with pride knowing they’ve empowered other women, the mumpreneurs I employ to sew and make the bags and those other women at Project Purse who also benefit because of us donating handbags with every day essentials to them.

We believe that our customers deserve handbags that are designed especially for them, which outline their unique style, values and personality. The aim of our products is to make our customers feel confident about themselves and their choices.

Justina Bow Bags made from recycled magazines.

We love that some of your bags are made from recycled magazines. How do you go about designing your products? Do you start with a concept or with the material? 

It all started with experimenting and trying to make various sizes and shapes of bag. After some trial runs, I have chosen my favourites designs: mini clutch bags, Justina crossbody bow evening bags and big tote bags. Each of these is perfect for a particular occasion: mini clutches are handy for storing cards, phone and lipstick. Evening bags are ideal for night out with friends and big bags are perfect for everyday use, as you can fit so much more in there.

Once we have these designs tested and we know that each of them is useful in their way, we then move on to making them. As all of our bags are made from recycled materials, the material itself plays huge role in the production process. Usually we don’t even know exactly how the bag or clutch will look to start with. We cut, fold, wave and sew together the individual magazine pieces, trying to match the colours in an exciting way. Only in the process of making these small actions does the final design of the bag reveal itself. It is an exciting journey and each step of the process brings us closer to the beauty of the finished bag. It is a long process and a lot of love and patience is involved. But it’s very fulfilling to see the beautiful finished product made out of materials which were considered waste by some.

Can you share your top tips for combining style and sustainability? Are there any brands you’re particularly fond of?

It’s all about your choices. It’s always good to ask these questions before buying clothes and accessories: 1. Do I love it? 2. Do I really need it? 3. Will I keep it for long time? 4. Can I wear it with what I already own? When you avoid impulse purchases and you carefully consider your buying decision, you will buy the items you love and feel good in. You will keep these items for longer which is in itself more sustainable and better for the environment.

I personally don’t have favourite brands. I love to buy from and support different makers I meet personally at fairs. Or I enjoy shopping on Etsy, as I can see the face of the person who made my items. It feels good to support someone you meet, even if it’s just virtually. Items like these are unique and handmade and I am happy to keep them for longer.

To participate in The Berry Berry’s crowdfunding campaign to increase production of their upcycled handbags, visit their Kickstarter page.

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