Approximately 830 airlines operate worldwide, with countless planes carrying life vests. For each flight over open water, a plane must carries life vests on board for all passengers and crew, which must be replaced at least after 10 years. This means that large amounts of vests go to waste every year, a steadily growing number due the rapid expansion of the flight industry. BAG TO LIFE has been turning life vests and other waste materials from the airline industry into bags and accessories since 2010.
Sublime: How did the idea of Bag to Life came about?
Kerstin Rank: I was on a flight to London, on holidays. I was curious about the life vests so I asked whether they have to be replaced regularly and what happens to them afterwards. And I found out that it is a legal requirement for these life vests to be replaced and disposed of at least every ten years. You can simply accept that as a fact ... or turn it into a business opportunity. I was born in Bayreuth, a small town in Upper Franconia, Germany, that is well-known to visitors for Richard Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman”, but not so much for its massive airfield. The number of life vests processed at Bayreuth equals those processed at Lufthansa… This is a local material to me and it seemed a natural place to start my business venture.
Sublime: You had the raw materials, but how did you go about turning them into designer bags?
KR: Upcycling means turning an old product into a new one, and as such, BAG TO LIFE life vests are given a new life as a bag or accessory. It was easy enough to come up with this basic idea, but the implementation required long hours of hard work. The first steps involved developing the design, prototypes and testing. But at the same time, we also had to secure a reliable resource management, which not only included procuring the life vests but also remanufacturing them into high-quality, functional bags. The process is manual, so each BAG TO LIFE is unique.
Sublime: What lessons have you learned along the way?
KR: We launched the brand in 2010, and much has happened since. The most important milestones were establishing fruitful partnerships with our customers, and delivering fast logistics and a seamless supply chain to and from our production site in Bosnia. That’s where the manual labour is done – centrally, sustainably and fairly at a factory that we visit regularly. The factory is in a small town in Central Bosnia, and we offer the local women an opportunity to work under fair conditions in a country that is still being rebuilt, and the traces of war are still very visible.
Sublime: Can you tell us a bit more about the sustainability issues you are trying to tackle?
KR: Compared to conventional products, BAG TO LIFE reduces mountains of waste. The increase in global air traffic is also resulting in greater disposal costs for the materials used in this segment (including life vests), which before the BAG TO LIFE product idea ended up on a landfill site. BAG TO LIFE is particularly effective in addressing the environmental issue, because the upcycling process means that hardly anything is left of the life vests afterwards. Release cord attachments become zips, mouthpieces become pen-holders, lamps turn into bags’ feet, whistles catch the eye, and the material of the vests as such is a perfect upper material for production. The products also incorporate discarded plane seatbelts. And in addition, cut-offs from parachute and balloon production are sensibly combined to make light materials that do not tear easily. The upcycling concept contributes to a significant reduction in the waste produced by the airlines. In 2014/15, 50,000 vests were added to the BAG TO LIFE upcycling cycle by Lufthansa alone. At the same time, the high-quality materials of the source materials meet customer needs in terms of quality and performance for bags and accessories (very lightweight, water-repellent, do not stain easily, hard-wearing).
Sublime: What are the pillars of your company?
KR: The general principles of the company culture include a unique design, ecological sustainability and a production process that requires only a minimum of resources. Our brand promise is design, sustainability and functionality. We currently offer 75 products in themed ranges for bags and accessories, which cover for all sorts of everyday situations and user interests. We are very proud to have been awarded the FORM design award as early as a year after our launch. And in 2015, we were honoured again as a German Design Award nominee.
Find your perfect fit at bag-to-life.com