Shannon Hames was looking for something new. She had been making and selling fleece tuques in Nelson, BC, but found the seasonal nature of the product – not to mention the fierce competition – made business tough.
Then a friend showed up with a bag made from old Trek inner tubes. Inspired, Hames cut up a pair of rain pants and one of her own old tubes – she races (“just for fun”) and rides mountain bikes, and could never bring herself to just throw the punctured tubes away – and Flat Bags was born.
Ten years later, Hames is still recycling inner tubes into funky bags, and has added what she calls “rediscovered” – old but unused – vinyl to the mix.
“It’s really important for me to use recycled fabric,” she said. “We need to use all these things that are already here.”
The two materials have shown to be both durable and easy to clean, and the limited nature of the vinyl patterns means that the bags are unique.
They also look good. “I wanted to make a recycled product, but I didn’t want it to look junky,” Hames said. Her line has grown from the original Large Favourite to include wallets, yoga bags, grocery bags and laptop sleeves.
Hames estimates that she uses 250 tubes a year – “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but even 40 is a really big pile” – for a total of more than 15,000 feet of rubber. She’s used her own tubes, but gets most of them from bike shops. What she can’t use, she takes to be recycled.
“What’s also important is that I’m keeping it intact. ... It is essentially in exactly the same form that it was when I got it,” she said.
“There’s a tiny, tiny little hole there somewhere, and that’s it. That’s the only thing that’s wrong with it. It hasn’t worked good for that purpose anymore.”