When entrepreneur Hamilton Perkins was getting ready to go on a trip and couldn’t find a duffel bag he liked, he decided to design his own. The first version was leather, but he soon shifted to a more unconventional material: plastic bottles.
“The bigger goal I always had was to build products that mattered,” he says. The new bags, made from a canvas created out of recycled bottles and lined with recycled vinyl billboards, are more affordable than a leather luxury bag. They also reduce carbon emissions, save water, and create jobs in developing countries.
“Billions of plastic bottles are thrown away every year, and I just felt like there really wasn’t any awareness,” says Perkins. “There definitely weren’t any practical companies out there making a product where every bag and every product they sell embodies the awareness aspect and actually does something about it.”
Perkins’s startup, a certified B Corporation called Hamilton Perkins Collection, partnered with Thread, a social enterprise that works with recyclers in developing countries. In Haiti, the source of the plastic bottles for the bags, more than two dozen recycling centers pay community members for old bottles, then clean and crush the plastic. Then the plastic flakes are sent to the U.S., spun into yarn, and woven into a canvas material.
Inside, the lining is made from old vinyl banners from print shops or festivals; each lining is different. “It’s a reminder,” he says. “Most of the bags we carry, there’s not as much of a story.”
Perkins also decided to make the cost of the bag fully transparent–for the $95 duffel, he publishes the cost of everything from the plastic bottles ($12) to the labor ($30). “I had an epiphany,” he says. “I went to all these retail stores, and they were 50% off, 75% off, and I was like, why? There really wasn’t transparency, and it was more about keeping the pricing process away from the customer.”
Perkins’s startup also publishes how much revenue each bag generates for Haitian businesses, and how much water and carbon emissions it saves compared to a normal duffel bag–by his calculations, nearly 15,000 pounds of CO2.