Based in London Troubadour launched a collection of completely circular bags this month. Yes, you just send the bag in after you’re done with it (hopefully after at least 5 years of use), and then the company can tear it down to make a new bag, says Samuel Bail, co-founder of Troubadour.
This effort to make truly circular bags has taken years, adds Samantha Jacob, Creative Director at Troubadour, and is an industry first.
The new fully circular collection, called Orbis, consists of two backpack styles, a travel bag and a laptop bag – essentially three of their best-selling categories, which the team wanted to make more “sustainable”.
Jacob worked with manufacturers to simplify the number of materials used in each bag to facilitate the recycling process. While their bags typically have about 40 components that fit into each bag, the circular collection designs only have 16 components – or less than half.
“The main problem with recycling is that there are so many components that a lot of energy is put into breaking the item down and separating all the different materials,” says Jacob.
Therefore, they had to start in the design phase. Jacob went through countless iterations to arrive at a design that would still have the appeal of a Troubadour bag – the quality, the aesthetics and practicality – but with fewer materials.
Three areas of the product presented a challenge: the lining used in the bags, the PU (polymer based) glue that holds the different layers of the bag together, and finally the leather.
“One of the most challenging materials to exchange,” says Bail, “is the PU glue used to bond different parts of the bag. We even went to trade shows where we saw people talking about circular bags, and yes , even though the individual layers themselves were made of circular material, we wondered, “What do you use to hold it together?” And the answer we got, with a few grins, was PU glue.”
That’s why the process took years to figure out how to get around these hurdles, Jacob reiterates. But eventually they did and the new Orbis collection is now available both in their London store and online. When customers want to return the bag, they receive a pre-paid label to have it sent back to their recycler in the UK (and more will be added over the next few years to reduce the shipping distance).
Although the bag is made of polyester, Bail and Jacob note that by having one material, they can guarantee a fully recyclable bag.
“The reason we finally went for polyester was that it doesn’t break down when you recycle it. Some materials aren’t as strong when you try to reuse them. With polyester, we know we can get another bag that is just as strong and durable as the first one,” adds Bail. “Plus, because it’s a bag and not clothing, microplastics are less important here.”
Troubadour has set an ambitious goal to make their entire product range circular by the end of 2024.
“When we started doing this, a lot of people said to us, ‘Don’t do this. It is too early. It’s not possible,” says Bail. “But one of the exciting things for us is that it’s possible, and hopefully we can show others how it can be done. We really hope other brands copy what we do. That is the #1 goal here.”
Despite the “madness” of this project, says Jacob, one of their manufacturers has actually become an ambassador for this circular initiative and has brought more people in the industry together to take on this challenge. “We find that our manufacturers are willing to join us on this journey and have supported us, even if we have driven them a little crazy. So it is definitely worth persevering,” adds Jacob.