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Trash to Treasure

Products made of unexpected materials showcase creativity.
March 1, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/83576

When Angela Greene, 45, learned that her backpack's pocket was made of truck and tractor inner tubes and that local tire centers offered free discarded inner tubes, she began experimenting. With Ken Kobrick, she created handbag prototypes in 2001. And in 2004, they founded Richmond, Virginia-based Passchal and landed their bags in the Billboard Music Awards goodie bags.

The conversion of inner tubes to luxurious handbags with customizable leather trim and Smartlyte Interior light systems is miraculous, considering the original farm equipment tubes "are dirty and smell like rotten eggs," according to Greene. Kobrick, 47, proudly mentions that, in addition to boutiques, recycling organizations and automotive and tire stores now carry Passchal. The business projects 2006 sales of $200,000 and is creating a line of evening bags with fiber optics, proving they're fearless when it comes to treading into the unfamiliar.

Taking his fondness for recycled crafts to new heights, Garret Croft Stenson, 26, created and sold duct tape wallets from his college dorm in 1998. The marketing major used every project assignment as an opportunity to test out his hobby. Stenson later began making the wallets on a larger scale and set up booths at Portland, Oregon, street markets and events, where tourists and store reps alike were taken by the idea. Sales for 2006 are expected to reach $500,000.

Stenson's business, Db Clay, now makes all wallets from gaffer's tape. "We're really stepping up in terms of quality and design," says Stenson, who notes that artists designed the new mixed-media billfolds. With manufacturing secured, Stenson plans to eventually transition into a full designer label with bags, accessories and clothing. Selling his products via boutiques and his site as well as internationally in Canada, Japan and New Zealand, Stenson is amazed he's reached beyond his original skateboarder and punk-rocker demographic. "[We've learned] people were treating [the wallets] like art pieces. A woman carrying a Prada purse bought one of my wallets."

For Miami-based Ecoist, rejects are its thing. Since 2004, Jonathan Marcoschamer, 29; his mother, Helen, 56; his brother Yair, 31; and his sister-in-law Gabriela, 29; have created products made from misprinted or discontinued lines of snack bags, soda labels and candy wrappers mostly from Mexican brands. And Ecoist works with organizations in Mexico and Central America that teach people how to use these recycled materials to help build and sustain a living. "We were seeing a trend in the markets toward sustainable products," says Jonathan. "We believe this consciousness will go into other industries."

The colorful accessories are currently in 250 stores in the U.S., Canada and Japan and are sold online at www.ecoist.com. Talks with some major U.S. snack brands may lead to limited collections, and 2006 sales are already projected at $1.5 million. "We consider ourselves to be driven not just by the need to make money," says Jonathan, "but to be active in social causes, however small they may be." Junk food never looked so good.