London-based Troubadour launched a collection of fully circular bags this month. Yes, you simply send the bag off after you’re done (hopefully after using it for at least 5 years) and the company can break it up to make it into a new bag, says Samuel Bail, co-founder of Trovador.
This effort to make truly circular bags has been years in the making, adds Samantha Jacob, Troubadour’s creative director, and is the first of its kind in the industry.
The new fully circular collection, called Orbis, features two backpack styles, a backpack 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 around 40 components in each, the designs in the circular collection only have 16 components—or less than half.
“The biggest problem with recycling is that there are so many components that it takes a lot of energy to break the item down and separate all the various materials,” says Jacob.
That’s why they had to start at the design stage. Jacob went through countless iterations to arrive at a design that would still have the appeal of a Troubadour bag – the quality, aesthetics and practicality – but with fewer materials.
Three areas of the product posed a challenge: the lining used inside the bags, the PU (polymer-based) adhesive that holds the different layers of the bag together, and finally, the leather.
“One of the hardest materials to change out,” says Bail, “is the PU adhesive used to bond different parts of the bag together. In fact, we’d go to trade shows where we’d see people talking about circular bags and, yes, even though the individual layers were made of circular material, we’d ask, ‘What are you using to hold them together?’ And the answer we got, with a few smirks, was PU glue.”
That’s why the process took years to figure out how to get around these obstacles, reiterates Jacob. But finally they did and the new Orbis collection is now available in their London store as well as online. When customers want to return the bag, they will receive a pre-paid label to return it to the recycler in the UK (with more being added in the coming years to reduce the shipping distance).
Although the bag is made of polyester, Bail and Jacob note that by having a material, they are able to guarantee a fully recyclable bag.
“The reason we went with polyester is that it doesn’t degrade when you recycle it. Some materials aren’t as strong when you try to repurpose them. With polyester, we know we can get another bag as strong and durable as the first one,” adds Bail. “Also, because this is a bag and not clothing, microplastics are less of a concern here.”
Troubadour has set an ambitious goal of transitioning its entire product line to circulation by the end of 2024.
“When we decided to do this, a lot of people told us, ‘Don’t do this. It’s too early. It’s not possible,’” says Bail. “But one of the exciting things for us is that it’s possible, and we’re hoping to show others how it can be done. We really hope other brands will copy what we are doing. That’s the #1 goal here.”
Despite the “craziness” of this project, says Jacob, one of its manufacturers became an ambassador for this circular initiative and gathered more people from the industry to face this challenge. “We’re finding that our manufacturers are willing to embark on this journey with us and have supported us, even if we’ve driven them a little crazy. So it’s definitely worth pursuing,” adds Jacob.