What do we do with wetsuits that are too old or marmalised beyond functional use? The answer is nothing, either they stay in the garage, waiting to to be repaired forever or they get tossed into the landfill, a conundrum that is so distasteful in today’s present eco driven lives.
Wetsuits are bad. Most of them (with a few exceptions) use petrochemicals in their production, get shipped halfway around the world and then fall apart after a year's use. They are then usually discarded in a way I have described above.
There must be a way of using this material again, surely there's something it can be useful for. Well, some ideas are so simple that when they are thunk, you wonder why it has not been done before. On our daily trawling of the interweb, sorting through blurb and marketing poop to bring you interesting new ideas, we stumbled across Mr Stitch.
Mr Stitch (or Daniel as his family and friends probably call him) had a vision, an idea about what to do with all this waste. Make stuff. Daniel makes bags out of old wetsuits, and quite cool looking ones at that.
The idea started when he was a surf instructor in Peniche (Portugal), he had a quite new Rip Curl suit that had come apart and so he sent it back (to Rip Curl) to be repaired. It came back fixed and promptly fell apart again. He was about to throw it away, and that’s when he had an idea, a very good idea. He wondered if he could make something out of it, give an old suit a second chance.
Buying a secondhand sewing machine from OLX (like gumtree, eBay) he set about making a few bags from worn-out wetsuits. The progress was slow but slowly he refined the finished product and started getting old suits from surf schools and making more bags, each one better than the first.
Mr Stitch was born. Now, if you want a bag, all you have to do is send him your old wetsuit. Boom. Light bulb.
We thought it would be cool to have a chat with Daniel and send him a couple of old wetsuits that we had in the office and see what we got back.
SB: Mr Stitch, or Daniel if you prefer, how did the idea come to you in the first place?
Daniel: First of all, thank SB for the invitation to chat. The question is not easy to answer. I think it is a combination of different factors: As a surfer, I am automatically close to nature and therefore have a strong interest in protecting nature, especially the enormous amount of waste today and the pollution of the oceans are of concern to me.
My study of energy and resource management has also sharpened my awareness in this direction. I am a fan of practical, functional solutions, especially with such complex problems. My wetsuit had broken down and I could not do anything with it, I realized how much garbage is actually created by throwing away old wetsuits. When you realize that there are tens of thousands of surf schools, surf camps and surfers around the world, all using wetsuits, we're talking about tons of garbage that comes from old suits every year. What to do?
So then came the idea to get creative and to make something out of the unwanted waste that is an old wetsuit. Because 80% of the neoprene in old wetsiuts is still in a good quality, I found I could easily upcycle it into something else. And I do that.
SB: What sort of bags do you make out of the suits?
Daniel: At the beginning I started to make a simple little bag of about 20cm by 10cm. This is an allrounder, a kind of beachbag. You can pack in loose change, sunglasses, cell phone or keys. It can also be used as a surfbag for wax, wax comb, spare fins, fin keys etc. A friend of mine likes to smoke a pipe and uses his Mr. Stitch Bag to stow his pipe and accessories. As you can see, there are no limits to the imagination here.
The advantage of neoprene here is that the fabric is very resistant and by its characteristics at the same time elastic and protective for sensitive objects such as cell phones.
I am still in a creative process, which I really enjoy. I am currently working on a toiletry bag that has a slightly different cut and is slightly larger so that more and bigger things can be stowed away. I also want to make a bigger shoulder bag. As for the product range, I have many ideas and I constantly try to develop new designs and models. The challenge with neoprene, however, is that it can not be processed as easily as conventional fabrics and I am additionally dependent on the fabric sizes and sections of the wetsuits. That does not make the design very easy, but I see it as a welcome challenge.
SB: What is the process you go through if we send you some suits to transform?
Daniel: The process looks like this: First, I'll take a close look at the wetsuit and ask myself: Are there enough places left that are usable, so the suit will make enough neoprene fabric for me to make something out of it. In addition, I try to select visually appealing wetsuits at the beginning, so that the bags look good later. When this point is cleared, the wetsuit is washed first. I wash the wetsuits in a conventional washing machine so that the fabrics are clean and mostly freed of sand. Interestingly, over time, some wetsuits have "white patterns" in some places, a kind of mixture of wax and contact with the salt water, which gives some pockets a special look. In other bags, you can see the folds of the knees, which also looks very cool.
After washing and then drying, I start to disassemble the wetsuit into separate parts. This is one of the hardest parts, because you have to think carefully about how to cut the wetsuit, so that later beautiful bags can be created. This is also a kind of creative process, which gives me a lot of pleasure. Any excesses that I can no longer use are cut off, and so I come slowly from the wetsuit to my patterns for the pockets. In very good cases, I can reuse about 80 percent of the wetsuit and in the end, only a small amount of garbage remains. Then I select the appropriate zippers which I sew in myself. At the end the bag is checked again, the seams are cleaned and excess threads cut off. A brand new Mr Stitch bag is born.
SB: How many bags have you made to date?
Daniel: Honestly I can not say that exactly because I did not count each bag. If I had to guess, I would say around 60 bags. But I also make bags of cork fabrics and recycled grain sacks. Overall, I would say around 100 bags.
SB: Could you get any of the major wetsuit manufacturers interested in your idea?
Daniel: That's a good question. So far, I'm not in contact with the big neoprene manufacturers. I also do not think that I show up on their radar. I would be very interested in how the big manufacturers think about my approach. If there is an opportunity for dialogue in the future, I would be very happy.
SB: How much do you charge for the bags, have you any plans to make anything else from the old wetsuits?
Daniel: The prices for the bags vary, depending on the size and model. Smaller bags start at 30 euros, larger bags such as the toiletry bag are about 50 euros. I constantly try to offer a product in a good quality for a fair prize. The bags are handmade, all unique and it´s recycled neoprene. The logistical effort and the elaboration of a bag so far can´t be compared to a mass production of standard materials. I want to keep my focus on sustainability and high-quality bags that tell an individual surfers experience.
So far, I work on making bags from worn-out wetsuits. My goal is to expand my portfolio of bags and creatively realize new ideas. I am very excited to see what further possibilities will be realized in the future.
SB: How long is the wait from sending you a suit to getting the bag(s)?
When I get a wetsuit from a customer, the production of the bag takes about a week. It may be that the bag took longer to travel by mail than the production took. That is, depending on the distance, it can take a total of 2-3 weeks, from sending the wetsuit to the arrival of the bag.
What is also important to me to say: You can also order bags with me, which were not made from your own wetsuit . You can write to me via Instagram (Mr.Stitch_Bags) or by mail [email protected] and place orders.
SB: Great thanks to Daniel (or Mr Stitch if you prefer) for the chat. Sometimes the most interesting and viable things in life are also the simplest.
Just for a bit of context of this and the possible implications, here are some facts that are now 3 years old and can only be bigger and nastier in 2018. The biggest wetsuit manufacturer in the world is Sheico. They make 4.5 million suits a year and account for about 65% of the market. These are massive figures and make Daniel's idea, as I am sure you agree a very relevant one.
Never being people to do things by halves, we have just sent off an old suit from the office to get the Mr Stitch treatment. Look out for a follow up article on the bags made out of our very own salty ebomb coming soon.
For more info on Mr Stitch, check out his spanking new website here.