This spring, the Asia-Pacific trade forum (APEC) hired RAI to embody its 2023 theme “Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All” by producing 2,500 messenger bags for the forum’s Seattle summit in August. It was clear from the beginning that this project would bring both new challenges and new opportunities. The scope was bigger than any previous production—and with only four months to create the bags, the clock was ticking!
The material itself presented the first challenge. APEC asked RAI to make the bags from post-consumer waste that might otherwise end up in landfills, including the type of rice and grain sacks that restaurants receive during deliveries. These sacks consist of a woven polypropylene material that is not designed for easy upcycling.
RAI’s team rose to the challenge, using their ingenuity to design a stylish messenger bag made from the sacks. The final design also included an additional upcycled component: handles made from decommissioned fire hoses.
Next came acquiring the used material. Over 50 different local businesses contributed sacks. Each messenger bag is unique: depending on where the sack originated, you might see grain flavor profiles, nutrition facts for rice, or images of domestic animals!
Finally, it was time to clean and cut the sacks and train the whole group to work with them. Teamwork was key: artisans of every skill level came together to transform the used material into beautiful new messenger bags. The scope of the project continued to grow: when APEC saw the quality of the first batch, they ordered 500 additional bags! These bags showcased the economic diverse economy of our Pacific Northwest region to the delegates of 21 different countries. As one delegate explained, “This bag is so special that I am happy to bring it back to my country to show it off.”
Ultimately, the scope of this project gave every artisan at RAI months of continuous work and predictable income. During the production period, artisans averaged more income per month than ever before in RAI’s six years. As immigrant and refugee women transition to the United States and gain economic independence, this income means a great deal to them and their families.
All of us here at RAI are excited to continue to grow our scope of production and to develop even bigger partnerships. Thank you for supporting this work every step of the way and for understanding the importance of zero-waste products and workplace development!* The upcycled messenger bags are now available for purchase. You can find them on RAI’s online store!