photo: Reused Remade
I grew up in a household that valued the weight of balance and self-made sustainable success. There were no plastic bags in our home when I grew up, just a couple of cotton bags my parents would use for shopping. Hardly anything came packed in plastic. Not the milk, not the bread, not the rice, not the fruit, not our toys, and we certainly did not wear anything that was made even in the slightest percent of plastic. I am 38 years old. I did not grow up with plastic. It was not that long ago. What happened? How did we let this world be swallowed by plastic?
People who lived in the countryside, like my grandparents, produced almost everything they ate. They made their own bread, grew their own cow for milk, grew their own cereals, vegetables and fruit. They valued their belongings, they reused everything, they mended what was broken, they bought with intention. My parents loved and still love beautiful clothes, yet their wardrobes have always been comprised of only classic, essential items. “Always buy the best you can afford. You’ll have it for years. Don’t buy three of everything, just buy a good one,” they would say. And they have always had a good tailor. Their clothes always fit perfectly, even if they don’t always do when they buy them off the rack. But they both know how to mend a garment, too, in case they can’t find time to go to the tailor. My father, with the help of several other men and after his own drawing, built our family country house. Now we’ve lost the desire and ability to make with our own hands. People used to go out there and make things happen, now they take everything for granted. Now we buy everything others make for us and we buy more and more, and everything, if it is not made of plastic, comes wrapped up in plastic, even the organic food. More is not better, more is just more.
My upbringing is the touchstone for my trying to live a full and meaningful life, but it was my recent conversation with Josephine Alhanko, the co-founder of Reused Remade, that has made me realise that it is not enough to make changes yourself, but that you have to voice your beliefs and your freedom from consumerism, that it is not enough to raise awareness, but that you have to do it in a peaceful yet powerful way, that you first have to find your own peace of mind and value your existence as a balanced, happy person in order to make things happen for yourself and for the world, that you can do it with beautiful design rather than with raging protests, that you can dramatically reduce your environmental footprint by gaining confidence in your own style.
Reused Remade was founded on the idea of making use of what we already have. They take hotel bed linen that have come to the end of their life cycle and turn them into textile bags. They take something old and transform it into something new and beautiful and eco-friendly. That sounds pretty smart and it certainly is vital in our present day. I have talked in detail to Josephine about the idea behind the brand, about her background as a professional ballet dancer and a performing actor, and about the important things in life and why and how the human spirit should be nourished.
photo: Reused Remade
People are becoming more and more aware of the disaster caused by plastic to our planet and although we are yet to reach a global plastic bag ban, they are reaching for more environmentally friendly solutions, individually or in other ways. But was it something in particular that made your brand idea take flight? Something that inspired you to make it more than a personal choice, that made you realise you needed to bring awareness to the problem and contribute to the cause in a bigger way?
For me personally, the UN conference that I heard on the radio in 2015 was an eye opener. I had no idea that plastic waste was such a huge problem. If we don’t take action, there will be more plastic than fish in our seas by the year 2050. That is pretty soon, and my kids will be roughly about my age today when that scenario may become reality. That got me thinking and, more importantly, do changes in my everyday life. I became aware of how many plastic bags I use just once before I throw them away. At the same time, I feel resigned when I hear the alarm reports about global climate change and the major change of living we need to make to stop it. I believe that people do respond better to hope than fear and by giving them a chance to take simple actions, they are more likely to change their behaviours.
This easy way to act positively is important to us and was no brainer to implement in our business ideas. To do something little can have a great impact, one-person can’t do everything but together we can make a big difference. It’s also important to us that the design of the bags is appealing and smart looking. People not only like to do good, they want to look good too while doing good. I think that the combination of the increased awareness and the look of the bags have made it easier for us to establish our brand on the market. You can have a great business idea, but if the timing is wrong, it won’t matter how good of an idea or product you have. Timing is so important.
I think you are making such an important point here, that people are responding better to hope than fear. I remember when I watched the documentary The Salt of the Earth about photographer Sebastião Salgado, who together with his wife has been working to regrow the drought-stricken remains of his family’s once-thriving farm and the Brazilian rain forest of his youth. Salgado photographs, which have chronicled our species’ hardest, lowest and most horrific moments, from famine to savagery genocide, as soul-shattering as they may be, did not make me cry, but his Instituto Terra did, precisely because it gives you hope and faith. Hope about our planet, faith in the human race, hope about our future and our children’s future, faith in ourselves. And I also wholeheartedly agree with the fact that people respond better to beautiful design, because not more than five years ago I think, ethical fashion and design did not exactly translate into appealing and good looking. So what I want to say is thank you for being part of the solution. By choosing old bed linen as your raw material you are challenging the current production of both fabric and plastic bags. How do you source it? What is the most challenging part of the production process?
Sourcing used bed linen in the quantity that we do is definitely something new. Our global trading over the last centuries has traditionally been to place an order at a factory where they use new materials in the production. We want to do it the other way around. We use bed sheets, an already produced fabric, that have a set shape and form and transform it into textile bags. We call it the reincarnation of textile. It is not easy to be one of the first companies that do this, and we have run into numerous different problems with law regulations, custom policies, transportation and export rules. It sure is not easy to take the first steps in this field. Hopefully, we can set an example and other companies can follow our trace when awareness grows about how and what outer things we can use and transform into new goods. We surely learn new things every day and the positive aspect of this is that people start to realise that the old regulation may no longer be applicable when we need to move towards a circular economy.
photo: Reused Remade
Tell me a little about the beautiful prints on your bags. What sustainable way have you found for printing your bags?
We use screen print with water-based colors. We are always trying to improve the production process and limit unnecessary transportation, cover materials and other needless materials. We try to keep a simple approach to what we do and really take a step back and think about how our grandparents would have tackled similar situations. Simple solutions sometimes might be the answer to complex situations.
Reused Remade is a brand committed to people who want to make a difference, who want to make the smart choice. Do you think it will take mass action (and what would that be?) to curb our addiction to mass-produced, cheap products? And what do you think is the first thing every individual should do in order to lead a more sustainable way of life, any tip that may help someone else just starting out on their journey?
We believe that one person can’t do everything, but everyone can do something and by beginning with a positive change, no matter how small it is, it will have an impact. It is up to everyone to make choices that are sustainable if we want to leave behind a healthy earth to future generations. We believe that by adding a positive change instead of changing a negative one, it is easier for people to adapt.
”Simple solutions sometimes might be
the answer to complex situations.”
Speaking of mass products and textile waste, the textile industry and its products have shaped the contemporary world more than anything else and is largely responsible for the disaster our world is in. Do you think people are finally starting to move more towards an idea of a personal style than to continue along the lines of fashion, especially fast fashion?
This is a complex and difficult question to give a short answer to. It is so complex. We have to bear in mind that fast fashion has only been around for a few decades in the human history. Yet, it has been a gigantic success never heard off in history. Its growth and expansion has only been possible through the trading, technology and economic development that evolved after the Second World War. Before that, cloth was expensive and fabric was considered a luxury item. Fast fashion has played a major part in the world’s development and, to a certain extent, it has also been a democratic factor for the western countries.
On the other hand, many people, especially in the developing countries, have paid a huge price for our mass consumption. Their health and work conditions have not been prioritised, nor has the nature. We do face a rising disaster if we don’t take immediate action. There has to be a major transformation in the whole fashion industry from sourcing to production, and consuming. This successful receipt has been around for several decades and nearly every fashion company existing today has built their success around it. No wonder they are hesitant to take actions against it. To go through such a major change is not pain free or easy. I would love to say YES to the question that people will start to move towards a more personal style rather than fast fashion, but, at the same time, great forces are working to keep us in this system, and even though the companies talk loudly about sustainability very little is actually changing. Unfortunately, I am a bit pessimistic about the situation in the fashion world. We need to see real changes in the fashion industry that I have not yet seen in order for the system to change on the scale that we need it to happen.
photo: Reused Remade
The Reused Remade bags are not only the eco-friendly version of the plastic bag, but also a very stylish alternative, and even a conversation starter. What does style in the bigger context mean to you?
People like to look smart and stylish. It’s more likely that we use something that looks good and makes us feel good. A bag for everyday use should look nice and appealing since we are supposed to use it frequently at different occasions and in different seasons. We wanted to come up with a design that was both practical, yet resembling to people’s recognition, and last but not least, stylish.
You are an inspiration for design with purpose. But who and what inspires you on a daily basis?
I find inspiration in nature, art and in cool design. I have a background as a professional ballet dancer as well as a trained actress. I have worked within the performing arts for over 20 years and I also have a master’s degree in Art History. I am more comfortable in the art and theatrical societies than in the business environments. This makes me a little like the black sheep, which I think is a good thing because I tend to have a different approach on things and dare to think outside the box. I also like to see myself and our product as a link in the chain of history. There is nothing new in our design, quite the contrary, the bag looks like a traditional plastic bag that was designed in the 1960th, but the new thing is the material in combination with the design that gives it a modern twist.
You have a background in performing arts. What made you change paths, besides becoming more environmentally conscious as you said at the beginning of our interview?
My dream as a young girl was always to be a stage performer. I started my professional ballet training at The Royal Swedish Ballet School at the age of 10. I then did my secondary school at The National Ballet School in London. During my teens, I got hooked on books and movies and when I saw “Gone with the Wind” for the first time I realised that I needed to become an actress. I felt an urge to express myself not only through movement but also through words. I anticipated that acting would give me the chance to portray more complex characters. I was accepted into the Stockholm University of the Arts at the age of 22. After my graduation, I worked for over 15 years at The Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm and did a number of movies and tv-series.
It was after my third child was born that I realised how extremely demanding a life as an actor is, especially if you want to combine it with motherhood. I felt that I needed to own my time better and my focus shifted from me, myself and I, to my kids and to the next generation. I felt that I wanted to be able to look my children in their eyes and assure them that I had done something lasting and contributed to a positive change in the world. This was in the year 2015 and it was during this identity crisis that I heard about the huge amount of plastic waste that circulates in our oceans and ends up on our shores. It was really an eye opener for me. I was at home with the flu one day and listened to the radio about the UN conference in Paris and I stated to fantasize about what other material would be possible to produce bags from, and the idea to use discarded bed linen popped up in my head.
photos: Reused Remade
”I would like to encourage people to invest more
in healthy and happy relationships. These will help you
grow and challenge yourself as an individual. We also
need to start mending and reusing things.”
We live in a hectic world and more and more people are trying to go back to basics, to find a balance, to live mindfully. How do you find balance every day? How do you live life as a conscious choice?
I love spending time in the forest and by the sea. And as I said earlier, my comfort zone is in art, both as a performer and as a spectator. I gain energy from being able to express myself and to interact with people. I also need alone time and chose to be a lot with my children and husband. Family is so important and to me it is a safe heaven. My home is where I can relax and feel completely loved no matter how the business is going or how well I did in the last show. That is of tremendous importance.
In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?
I hope that the growing awareness makes people appreciate what they already have and start taking care of their belongings. It has become almost a human right, at least in the western world, to consume, and for many of us our self-esteem is boosted by the things we buy. For my grandmother, who was born in the 1920s, it was a necessity to re-use wrapping gift paper and ribbons at Christmas when I was a kid. She had lived through the war when there was shortage of everything and as a consequence of this, things were given a higher value. The way we have lived for the past 60 years or so is hopefully a bracket in human history and hopefully we will go back to being wiser and smarter on how and what we consume. I would like to encourage people to invest more in healthy and happy relationships. These will help you grow and challenge yourself as an individual. We also need to start mending and reusing things. This is not something new.
I feel there is a small, or maybe not so small anymore, community of people who are inspired by and moved by this idea of the backlash – the idea that everything doesn’t have to be so fast, that we should cherish what we already have, that the meaning of a fulfilled life has nothing to do with the material side. Do you think every socially conscious person should be more vocal in reminding people that they can do that?
No one can make money by suggesting you should spend more time outdoor in nature or spend time with your loved ones, those things that will actually give you more joy and peace of mind. It is hard for people to suggest just that and to be heard in the constant chattering in our world. We have lost the quiet places that used to be around and that is a problem. Our mind can’t keep up with all the buzz. I personally try to keep it simple and spend time and energy on the things that are important to me and that can never replace my family, my relations with my friends and my relation to myself and time in nature. The human spirit needs to be nourished and that can’t be done through material things. I do believe that we should listen more carefully to our needs and do less if we want to achieve a more content and happy life.