London-based Troubadour launched a collection of fully circular bags this month. Yes, you simply ship the bag after you’re done with it (hopefully, after you’ve used it for at least 5 years), and then the company can break it down to turn it into a new bag, says Samuel Bail, co-founder of Troubadour.
This effort to make truly circular bags has been years in the making, adds Samantha Jacob, Creative Director at Troubadour, and is the first of its kind in the industry.
The new fully circular collection, called Orbis, features two styles of backpacks, a top and a laptop – essentially three of the 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 make the recycling process easier. While their bags typically have around 40 components that go into each, the circular collection designs have just 16 components — or less than half.
“The biggest problem with recycling was that there are so many components, so a lot of energy is used to break the item down and separate all the different materials,” says Jacob.
That’s why they had to start from the planning stage. Jacob went through countless iterations to come up with a design that would still have the charm of a Troubadour bag – the quality, aesthetics and practicality – but made with fewer materials.
Three areas of the product posed a challenge: the lining used inside the bags, the PU (polymer-based) adhesive that holds 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 connect different parts of the bag. In fact, we went to trade shows where we saw people talking about circular bags, and yes, while the individual layers were made of circular material, we would ask, “What do you use to hold it together?” And the answer we would get, with a few smiles, was PU glue.”
That’s why the process took years to figure out how to overcome these obstacles, Jacob reiterates. But they finally did and the new Orbis collection is now available in their London store as well as online. When customers want to send the bag back, they will receive a pre-paid label to send back to their UK recycler (with more to be added in the coming years to reduce shipping distance).
Although the bag is made of polyester, Bail and Jacob note that by having one material, they can ensure a fully recyclable bag.
“The reason we went with polyester in the end was that it doesn’t degrade when you recycle it. Some materials are not as strong when you try to reposition them. With polyester, we know we can get another bag that is just as strong and durable as the first,” adds Bail. “Plus, because it’s a bag and not clothing, microplastics are less of a concern here.”
Troubadour has set an ambitious goal to convert their entire product line into circular form 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 is possible and we hope to show others how it can be done. We really hope that other brands copy what we are doing. That’s the No. 1 goal here.”
Despite the “craziness” of this project, Jacob says, one of their builders actually became an ambassador for this circular initiative and rallied more people in the industry to take on this challenge. “We’re finding that our manufacturers are willing to go on this journey with us and have been supportive, even if we’ve driven them a little crazy. So it’s definitely worth pursuing,” adds Jacob.