A constraint is often hailed as the birthplace of creativity. When we only have a few tools to work with we have to tap into our creative potential and innovate. Well, for the last few hundred years cotton and leather have been unrivaled kings, with nylon claiming a throne for itself while hemp was shamed into the dungeons. Backpacks have a relatively limited set of designs that are being tested with new materials and layouts in recent years, a playground for innovation.
With the issues facing our ability to keep the planet sustainable, fashion brands and scientists alike are looking for new materials that can keep us looking good and feeling better. While niche brands are often founded on sustainable premises, bigger players are getting into it through public pressure or simply a desire to match the innovation of their emerging competitors. What’s definite though, is things are going to get interesting.
Hemp – Ready for a Comeback
When people think of hemp, images of bearded guys in a poncho talking about conspiracy theories come to mind. What doesn’t -but should- be conjured by the image of hemp is a material that uses 50% less water than cotton, while being three to eight times stronger.
The traditional association of hemp as a quaint or stoner backpack is still alive and well on sites like Etsy where it remains its hippie aesthetic. While global brands have been slow to take up the lead, they’ve been experimenting lightly, Levis have made a “cottonized hemp” jacket, and H&M are weaving hemp and silk for some stylish skirts.
While the big players are only dipping their toes in the water, dedicated hippies have been slaving away on sewing machines making unique and long-lasting sustainable bags for years. Hemp will be the king of the future.
Rewilder Bags – Salvaged and Sustainable
Rewilder uses “100% salvaged, high-performance materials redesigned into the best bags for the planet. Handmade in Los Angeles” to make unique and incredibly stylish bags. They use whatever they can get their sustainable hands-on. The entire bag (in image above) is made from disused automobile airbags and seatbelts saved from landfills.
Not only does it look good, but it’s as durable as it is water-resistant, fits a 15” laptop and the manufacturing process claims to save as much energy as a 300-mile drive. After sustainability is considered though, the bags just look awesome. For some of the most fashionable backpack purses, we recommend visiting this page.
grünBAG – Immortal
If we wanted to go off national stereotypes, we’d say that a grünBAG combines German strength with Swedish design skills. While using recycled or low impact natural materials is important, so too is longevity, and this Danish brand combines the best of its near neighbors’ reputations. They use 90% recycled materials but the real value in a grünBAG is their opposition to “built-in obsolescence” of fast fashion and technology. Simply put, grünBAGs are sustainable because they’re built to last.
Fjällräven – More Nordic Innovation
Fjällräven’s iconic Kånken backpack emerged in the 1970s with a straightened design that helped straighten up kid’s backs who had succumbed the weight of cycling and walking to school with a bag full of books.
The appropriately name re- Kånken maintains all the health promises of its predecessors, but has taken on environmental sustainability onto its own workload. The stylish bag’s material is made of only eleven plastic bottles, and is dyed through a process that drastically reduces the amount of water, energy and chemical that would normally be used in the dying process; taking into account that every step of the journey of a product needs to be thought about and made more innovative and efficient.
QWSTION – A modern throwback
QWSTION has joined the likes of mushroom leather to look for alternative ways of making high-quality backpacks with unusual ingredients. The humble banana peel, with its fibrous outer lining, has been harnessed by QWSTION and applied beautifully into a backpack range inspired by Swiss modernist design. Modernisms focus on sleekness and simplicity to produce this throwback to a more industrial era but with the ultra-modernly named material Bananatex®. The design of these backpacks, from a company founded by industrial and graphic designers, adds an extra layer of sustainability by creating patterns that dramatically reduce the amount of material that is left over after each bag.
Unfortunately, though, until this becomes more mainstream the high price of over 300usd may be sustainable, but for most people, it’s unaffordable.
MuSkin – Mushroom…..Leather?
While not strictly a “backpack”, its leather will soon be entering the backpack sphere and it’s one to look out for.
This driver bag is the first commercially available bag to made with Mylo, a mushroom-based leather. Not only that but its creation was fully funded through a Kickstarter campaign. Everyone loves a scrappy upstart with big dreams, especially in the world of sustainable manufacturing. While mushroom leather doesn’t have the same “sex appeal” as other forms of innovation (and conjures images of dampness) the leather itself is durable and has a beautiful tonal grain that runs along its skin.
On the sustainability side of things, it’s incredibly easy to grow on other agricultural waste, takes very little water, uses fewer tanning chemicals, and the bag itself (apart from the metal) will eventually return harmlessly back into the soil.
The good news about sustainable backpacks is that there are so many more than we’ve included in this small listing. The most common work is being done with simple recycling, then moving up in dedication to reducing pollution or waste during manufacturing, then at the far end of things are the “zero waste” approach and the truly innovative alternative materials productions. It’s an exciting world out there and because backpacks are expected to be durable, they’re a great place to give waterproof recycled plastics a new home and will be used as a testament to the strength of mushroom, banana, and all the other materials that will emerge in the market.