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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

VC Exclusive: A conversation with Envirosax

We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Envirosax co-founder Mark David-Tooze. If you’re not familiar with their hip, eco-friendly bags, prepare to be informed. In addition, he gave us the inside scoop on their new line of bags called “Botanica” that will be available just in time for the holidays.

Brief History:

Belinda and Mark met in Tokyo, Japan in 1990 and were married in Cornwall, England in 1993, before settling in Australia. They now have three children, James 9, Luci 4 and Grace 3 and live in Currumbin Valley in South East Queensland. The idea for making eco-friendly bags came from a discussion had over a glass of wine in October 2004 after returning from a shopping trip. Belinda decided that the polypropylene green bags on offer at most supermarkets were dull and unfashionable and saw the need for a more fun, fashionable item that everybody would like to be seen with and at the same time still spread the message of reusable bags over cheap throwaway plastic bags.

VC: Your bags have a sustainable sensibility when it comes
to material, usage of water based inks, fair trade production. What are some of the challenges that you face to stay eco-friendly, while maintaining a healthy business?

E: The success and sales of our polyester graphics bags, even though they are made of a crude oil product have allowed us to expand our business very quickly and allowed us to experiment with a range of natural fibers like bamboo viscose, linen and hemp. We made a decision very early on to never go down the polypropylene path even though this would have been very profitable for us. We see the stronger more durable polyester envirosax bags as the new generation of reusable shopping bags. The whole point of a reusable bag is REUSE, so why make it out of a material that decays in the UV rays of the Sun has inferior tensile strength properties and rips easily as do the cheap polypropylene bags.

Recently we have been to Peru to source organic certified cotton. These bags will reach the marketplace in 2009. We have similar projects happening in parts of Russia and Africa, where we are looking at a range of organic certified natural materials made under fair trade practises. On our most recent trip to China in September this year, we looked as further ways we can green our factories and manufacturing processes, without compromising the quality of our product. We already recycle all waste water and inks used in the printing process and also recycle all waste paper into cardboard for packaging. In the future we would like to fit photovoltaic’s to the roofs of the factories and also rainwater tanks and we have already started discussing these changes with our Chinese counterparts.

VC: Your involvement in environmental and educational initiatives is refreshing to see. Tell me a little more about Envirosax’s initiatives and partnerships.

E: Up until September last year I was still Head of a Science department in a senior school. In 2001 I attended a lecture by Professor Ian Rowe at the Hilton hotel in Brisbane, the conference was the Queensland “Smart State” science conference. Professor Rowe talked about sustainability and this really struck a chord with me.

In the same year inspired by Professor Rowe’s talk I embarked on a four year project to design and build The Burling Centre for Scientific Inquiry at All Saints Anglican School based on the theme of Sustainability. Six million dollars and four years later the Burling CSI was officially opened by Dr Karl Krucelnichci. The Burling CSI has hard and soft coral tanks which house tropical fish for educating the students on the importance of reef systems in the fight against global warming as well as hydroponic systems for growing vegetables and propagating plants for the School’s “Sustainable Foods Project”. The centre has a wet area, a 220 seat lecture theatre, six science laboratories, small break out rooms, research rooms and a fuel cell and robotics lab.

I introduced fuel cells into the curriculum at All Saints in 2005. The Science of Fuel cells is taught in physics and chemistry in all the senior years. In December 06 I organised for six students to visit The Australian National University to work with Professor Rod Boswell in the Space Plasma labs. The students carried out some research into fuel cells and also pressed a proton exchange membrane. The visit to Canberra last December has now given birth to the ANU Fuel Cell Outreach program and next year we hope to get students from other schools involved. The students have now embarked on a project to build a fuel cell boat.

In January 2006 I attended the 2nd Annual International Conference on Sustainability in Hanoi, Vietnam. The conference covered the four corners of sustainability, cultural, social, environmental and economic. In January 2007 I was invited to present a paper at the 3rd Annual International Conference on Sustainability at Madras University, Chennai, India. I presented a paper on “Introducing sustainability into the School curriculum from k-12”.

In October 2006 and 2007, I organised a “Students for a Sustainable Future” student conference at All Saints where 21 year 12 students from neighbouring schools gave 35 presentations to an audience of academics and peers. The conference was entered into the University of New South Wales Sustainability Living Challenge and won an “Outstanding Academic Achievement Award”.

Currently I am working on another student conference and also on developing a more energy efficient fuel cell car and boat with the new Head of science Dr Atoine Durandet. Currently Dr Durandet is in negotiations with a few organisations who are very interested in their endeavours. Envirosax is helping by sponsoring the research into fuel cell.

VC: Over the last few years it seems that everyone is coming out with reusable bags. How is Envirosax different?

E: Reusable bags made of natural fibers have been around for thousands of years, but I would like to think that Envirosax has led the way with designer reusable shopping bags. When we first released our retro and flora prints in 2004, there was nothing else in the marketplace that compared with us. There were many green bags and bags with slogans but none with funky designs. The reason we started Envirosax was to give something back to the environment. We always intended from the beginning to support environmental and educational institutions and help educate people about the four corners of sustainability, cultural, social, economic and environmental. After four years of being in business we feel we are definitely on track to achieving these goals. On another note our eco-chic totes are about as far removed from the average shopping bag as is artistically possible and we challenge the lack of stylish or fashionable eco-friendly shopping bags available. Our stylish bags are not only fashionable but also functional and so the design briefs specified that the bags be lightweight, portable, waterproof and have a large holding capacity. Each bag is able to carry the equivalent of 2 supermarket plastic shopping bags or 44 pounds in weight. We also make the ‘move in the right direction’ easier as each bag can roll up and become a lightweight and portable, 1.4oz package. Our groovy bags, available as single items, also come as an assortment of 5 designs contained in a small pouch. The pouch is small enough to stow into a glove compartment or a handbag. This means customers are less likely to leave their eco-bags in the car or cupboard when they shop.

VC: The fashionable designs in your collection are quite impressive. What’s the inspiration behind the look and feel of each bag?

E: We aimed to create totes which captured the bold colours and freshness of Mother Nature, or the designs and whimsy of retro and modern art and culture. The inspiration for the designs on Envirosax bags are drawn from our surroundings (the tropical rainforest and the beach), our passions (art and music) and our background (fashion and travel). Our children often also stimulate a design process, with a simple discussion over the family dinner table, a drawing or even just a simple word.

VC: Does Envirosax have an in-house team that develops the graphic/illustrative images or do you work with specific designers/illustrators that you admire?

E: We work mainly with Australian graphic artists, but we have used American designers from time to time. Recently we have taken on an Art Director whom we both admire very much and hopefully this will take our 2009 designs onto a totally new level.

VC: What Envirosax do you take to the market?

When we go shopping it is always a very rushed random exercise and we use whatever bags are in the car. I love to mix the retro with the flora and mono. My personal favourite are the retro.

VC: Is there a designer/illustrator out there that you would like to collaborate with to design a series? Anything in the works?

E: Andy Warhol, no, not really, we are always on the look out for fresh new designers, but to be honest, we have a good system which currently works very well. We are firm believers in not trying to fix something which is not broken. I think at Envirosax we have definitely developed a certain brand theme, and I think in the future we will be building on this.

VC: One of the most intriguing functional design elements incorporated into the bag is the flap that allows you to store the bag in your glove compartment, purse, etc. Was this an initial design element or has it evolved?

E: Belinda designed the bag and the pouch. When we usually go shopping, we use at least 10 bags, we are a family of five. The pouch is a very efficient way of storing five bags. The pouch can be easily stored in the glove box of the car or in your handbag.

VC: There has been a lot of press recently on the issue of reusable bags becoming more of a problem than a solution. What are your thoughts?

To be honest I think cheaply made polypropylene reusable bags which break down and fade in the Sun and have inferior tensile strength properties to polyester could pose a big problem in the future. I think the general public need to be educated about these facts. Many major supermarket chains are pumping out cheap polypropylene reusable bags because they are extremely cheap to produce, but the downside is that these bags themselves will eventually become a pollution problem. A reusable bag is made to be REUSED and should be strong and durable, that is why with Envirosax we choose polyester over polypropylene as the material of choice.

Polyester will not break down in the Sun, the sublimated colours in the material will not fade and the fabric has superior tensile strength properties. All our bags, both Natural fiber and polyester, have been tested for heavy metals by the Australian Government Measurement Institute. The bags have also been food migration tested by the same organization to make sure they are safe for carrying raw foods. The tensile strength of the bags has been tested by the Australian Wool Testing Authority.

VC: Where do you see Envirosax in the coming year? What’s on the horizon?

E: We have a new range of bags being released next month called “Botanica” Botanica is Spanish for botany or plant, so this gives you some clue to the designs which will feature on these bags.
In 2009 we will be experimenting far more with natural fibers and recently we have been to South America and Indonesia to research these projects. Also in 2009 we will be working very closely with our manufacturers to produce the best quality, most functional designer reusable bags that money can buy. We understand the need for the next generation of reusable bags to be both functionlal and stylish

VC: Tell us a little about the sustainable lifestyle you lead. We have heard you live on 10 acres of pristine rainforest with your family.

E: In 1995, Belinda and I bought 17 acres of land in Crabbes Creek, Northern New South Wales. Over the next 10 years we focussed on rainforest regeneration as the land had been cleared many years before leaving an opening for introduced weeds such as lantana and tobacco bush to take hold. Using a biocycle to recycle grey water and sewage, we were able to water the extensive gardens at Crabbes Creek, creating a true Garden of Eden.

In 2005, Belinda and I decided to take our green lifestyle a little further by purchasing a block of land which comprised of an old avocado farm amongst 10 acres of rainforest in Currumbin Valley SE Queensland. We now live with our three children totally off the grid with all our electricity coming from 12, 185 watt solar panels. Hot water is heated using a solar hot water system and huge water tanks, which collect rainwater, provide our entire water supply. Grey water and sewerage is recycled back on to our extensive tropical gardens using a biocycle. All our vegetables come from our organic vegetable gardens and we have 60 avocado trees and also many oranges, bananas, limes, lemons, custard apples and passion fruit to keep our young family supplied with plenty of fruit.

posted by Oberholtzer Creative Staff at 7:35 am  


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