Cairo's Reform Studio is turning trash into treasure with its Plastex material, which is woven from plastic bags using Egyptian handlooms.
Plastic shopping bags, as useful as they are for the 12 minutes when they're in use, are a curse on our planet. While it can be simple enough to avoid them by bringing our own reusable shopping bags with us, the fact that millions of them are made each day, to be used only briefly and to then spend years afterward contaminating our shared resources, is enough to make even the staunchest treehugger throw their hands up in defeat.
Of course, we're not all so easily swayed into giving up on finding alternatives and solutions for this plastic menace, and some innovative designers are coming up with ways to upcycle plastic bags into products that not only make us feel good about them, but that also look good as well.
One such initiative comes from Reform Studio, which has developed a rather ingenious solution to our plastic bag epidemic, in which the bags become the feedstock for a traditional, yet disappearing, industry in Egypt - handweaving.
Reform Studio is the brainchild of two designers, Mariam Hazem and Hend Riad, who came up with the original concept as their project for the Faculty of Applied Arts at the German University in Cairo two years ago, in which they followed their belief that "design can solve stubborn problems."
"It all started with a plastic bag. We believe that design can solve stubborn problems and thus we started from a major issue in Egypt: waste. One experiment after another, and after many design proposals, we came up with our first product ‘Plastex’. Plastex is a new eco-friendly material made by weaving discarded plastic bags." - Reform Studio
Plastex starts with used plastic bags collected by friends, family, and the public, as well as with flawed bags that can't be sold or used as-is, which are then converted into long plastic strips. These strips, or 'threads' are strung on a handloom and manually woven into a fabric that retains the original colors of the threads, which adds to the unique look of the upcycled material. The company claims that the material has proven to be "durable, strong, washable and tolerant to sand and dust."
By turning what was once waste into a valuable resource, this process can help reduce the negative impacts of single-use plastic bags, as the material is not only a colorful and useful material, but one that can also spur further conversations about waste and plastic and reuse.
"Plastex is designed to raise awareness about how we define waste and the possibilities behind reusing what was once destined to become ‘trash’."
Currently, Reform Studio offers two types of chairs, the Ahwa (coffee) collection, and the Grammy’s collection (named after grandma, not the music award), both upholstered with Plastex, along with a variety of other goods made with the material, at six stores in Cairo and one in London.
According to FuturePerfect, Reform Studio employs mostly women (70%) in its upcycling workshop, and the company offers job opportunities for untrained workers, either at the facility or working from home, through referrals from charitable organizations.
Find out more at Reform Studio's website.