Design made me a Trash Bag

Setting up Ilk Media was an eye opening experience. It made me recognise what I was uncomfortable with. At the time I had identified client based work as a factor I could do without. It is amazing how perceptions shift over time. I find it ironic that I believed clients to be the problem, considering much of my work now focuses on working with people. Perhaps I was working with the wrong clients. More likely, I managed the work badly. Nonetheless the end result was that I began new projects where I had more control over the outcomes.

Trash Bags was one such venture. In collaboration with community based organisations overseas, we set out  to import bags made from recycled materials. The plan was to establish a social enterprise that supported communities internationally, used consumerism to talk about sustainability to the community and made a profit for us in an ethical way.

Trash Bags Products

A range of Trash Bags products. Row one shows bags made from recycled juice packets. Row two shows bags made from recycled newspaper (left) and plastic shopping bags (centre and right). the third row shows products made from rolled and woven newspaper.

Doing the branding for Trash Bags was an exciting opportunity for me. For the first time I could deliver a design response without feeling limited by others. It was a good feeling to be able to dedicate enough time to a project and have a chance to play with imagery. I spent a lot of time thinking through the design elements needed for the project. I had an opportunity to research stock material to find an appropriate solution to our needs. The end results were focused on two factors. Firstly, to facilitate a process whereby the communication with our stakeholders (clients, consumers and producers) minimised the amount of paper waste. And secondly the branding attached to our products used sustainable resources.

Trash Bags Branding

Recycled paper was applied to art board to produce the cards. We printed one set of cards that were individually hand stamped as product tags or business cards. Hemp string was used to apply the tags to the products. We also created ordering forms that attempted to facilitate a smooth ordering system without the need to print. Our catalogues were constructed of a visual language that helped identify the products and orders could be input digitally.

Trash Bags order form

Reflecting back, I have to question the sustainability of the processes we had in place. They were environmentally sustainable. But if the business was to grow, we would not have managed to hand stamp the cards or tie on the tags individually with the hemp string. I never lasted in the business long enough to have to deal with these issues.

Entering into the Trash Bags business, I was so focused on recycled paper, vegetable inks and long lasting design solutions. But partnering with the community made me see things differently. We started off thinking about the value we could add to the community by supporting improvements in their product design. And although in some ways we managed to do this, it wasn’t long before I realised how simplistic and misguided this ideology was. There was a lot to be gained from the partnership also. We learned a lot from the way in which the (mainly) women from the projects applied traditional weaving techniques to new materials and their ability to develop new products was amazing. This new found relationship made me reflect on past experiences and see them in a new light. Specifically, I thought about the photography project I had undertaken in Sri Lanka and the value of the designer in this context.

The experience here helped me expand my notion of what it is to be a ‘good designer’. I began to value the experience of the people around me.

Value the experience of the people around


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