Bouncy castles and inflatables, while colourful and fun, these are tough and very complicated to recycle. Wyatt & Jack is a brand that upcycles textiles with incredible potential and designed by looking at each piece individually. Today they have saved over 60 tonnes of bouncy castles and 20 tonnes of inflatables. It’s a 100% circular business model as they have included an “end of life” + “inflatable amnesty” programs. The shapes, sizes and materials guide the design, which requires creative-thinking, labour intensive work, especially to minimise their waste to zero. The handbags? As you can imagine are fun, colourful and waterproof bags “especially good for British weather” Ah!
We interview Georgia, founder of Wyatt and Jack. She was upcycling materials even before that was a word, as she loved pushing and experimenting with materials that were too good to go to waste. Call her “crazy”, but she is the pioneer of giving bouncy castles, deckchair canvas and inflatables a second life. She explains her journey in this fun conversation, so let’s dig into the world of bouncy castles. Good brands, good fun!
Hi Georgia, tell us a bit about yourself and where this passion for upcycling came from?
I’m the founder and director of Wyatt and Jack, a brand of accessories made out of upcycled bouncy castles. I’ve always been interested in making things out of fabrics that would necessarily be intended for that purpose… I still have in our workshop a hat made from discarded sweet wrappers that I made while I was in college. It was never called ‘upcycling’ then… that’s a recent word. I was very intentional because I didn’t want to throw away fabrics that still had use and secondly, I loved to push materials to see how they responded and learn if it would work. Like a series of experiments I suppose?!
We have seen brands creating products from many materials, but never have come across bouncy castles and inflatables. How did you have this idea and why you made this particular choice and not something else?
Originally, back in 2010, I was working with discarded deckchair canvas, as I was sharing a workshop with a friends’ father and he asked for help with his annual removal and recovering of beach fabrics, from deckchairs, sun loungers and so on. I just LOVED the fabric and I knew it wouldn’t biodegrade, as deckchair canvas is woven from PVC coated nylon), so I made myself a bag. Also, nobody was using any of the fabrics we use for these purposes, so I knew it was a problem that needed solving (even if everyone else thought I was bonkers at the time!! haha!)
A great idea for sure. But how did you make it happen and what were all the steps you had to follow to create the range of upcycled handbags?
There were no ‘steps to follow’ as such, as nobody was doing it… so I had to go about setting up a new supply chain and building relationships with the people who were having to throw this stuff away. Then, when I realised it could be viable, I got the usual business loans while worked doing other jobs alongside it, until it became too large to do both. It was at that point I had to make the decision to work full time at Wyatt and Jack, which was REALLY scary at first! I worked 16 hour-days initially – and still do sometimes! I guess that’s pretty normal for anyone starting their own thing?
At what point is a bouncy castle no longer repairable? Are the bouncy castle fibres recyclable at all? What about inflatables, are these recyclable?
Bouncy castles are pretty tough and it takes a lot of wear and tear throughout the years to make them beyond use as a bouncy castle. In some cases, the PVC will sweat and cause the stitching to disintegrate, this means they are no longer safe for bouncing and have to be decommissioned, which is where we get involved 🙂
Or, they belong to a child or family that has outgrown them and they don’t want to send them to landfill, plus, we also use the waste products and offcuts generated during the production of them. This is why our products vary in colour and shade according to how used the fabric is. Bouncy castles, similar to deckchair canvas, is made from mixed fibres, which is what makes them so tough, but also unrecyclable, as the components can’t be separated out (this is why the same fabric is also sometimes used to line landfill sites). Inflatables CAN be recycled in the traditional sense, but this means there are other factors, like the energy used to melt them down and make other products, or the by-products that are generated during those processes.
We employ an ‘end of life’ policy, which means that when the bag ceases to be useful as a bag, we encourage customers to send them back to us, so we can reuse as many parts as possible, so the fabric is swerved from landfill for that little bit longer…
And how does the creative and production process look like for Wyatt and Jack handbags?
HAHA! I love this bit… we are very much guided by the fabric we have and, in the case of the inflatables, where damage has occurred, so we can’t be too precious about strict processes with regard to the cutting and design. We have to be less rigid, so we can try and generate as little waste as possible, which is also what makes it fun! Everything is made here on the IOW, in our workshop in Bembridge right by the beach.
We look at each piece individually, which is quite a time consuming, but essential. Salvaging fabrics is VERY labour intensive, there are no short cuts really, but the years of doing it means it becomes second nature, so we have just become faster and better at it!
Bouncy castles and inflatables compliment each other as fabrics as they respond in similar ways. They are also both waterproof, which makes them excellent as bags- especially in British weather!
We assume each handbag is unique due to the nature of the sourcing materials but is there any difference between the different designs, models of bags or seasons?
We used to bring our different bags for different seasons, but this isn’t a very good model when the main aim is to salvage as much fabric as possible and make the products accessible financially to lots of people. We want to be as inclusive as we can, so more people can access sustainable products. This means keeping the price point attainable (which hopefully we do) but means that again, we don’t function as a ‘regular’ brand in that sense.
The shapes are again, very much guided by the size, shape of the fabrics we receive. Keeping in mind that we want as little wastage as possible; when we DO generate offcuts throughout our processes, we send them to a few UK based makers, who then turn them into jewellery and other pieces.
We make use applique details (as in our antlers bag) around Christmas time, but that’s pretty much as ‘seasonal’ as it gets to be honest!
For what different purposes could we use Wyatt and Jack upcycled handbags?
We make everything! From board bags for surfing, right down to teeny tiny purses. Also, in our quieter months, we have a customisable service, so if people have an item with lovely memories attached to it, we can repurpose it for them, so they can continue to enjoy it! And we also do that with the inflatables we receive all year round!
Could you give us some data on how many kilos worth of material coming from bouncy castles and inflatables are thrown away each year on a global scale?
I know we have now saved over and above 60 tonnes from the landfill since we started in 2010. Probably around 20 tonnes or more being inflatables since July last year!!
What is the packaging used at Wyatt and Jack?
We use reusable stitched brown paper sacks to send our bags out to retail customers and our local grocery shop saves us their banana boxes. We use these to send the product to our wholesale customers/ stockists, sealed with kraft paper gummed tape.
You are based on an island in the UK. How does the social and eco-entrepreneurial venture look like there? Are there any exciting things and change for good happening in the country AND local area? Do you see people becoming eco-conscious?
There are not loads and loads of employment opportunities, in the traditional sense, here on the island, as its a rural area. So perhaps there are more people who are self-employed and trying new ventures. I think awareness has grown with regards to environmental issues, climate change, single-use plastics on a global scale, especially in the last 9 months or so… we opened our first shop in December and this also acts as a collection and drop off point for our #inflatableamnesty. In that sense, lots of people have been dropping off their items as they don’t want to send them to landfill. There’s a lovely handmade and organic skincare company here and there is a movement underway, to try and make the island as ‘single-use plastic’ free as possible.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
I think staring a business with ethics at the core of it, is really tough. The only advice I would give is to not give up! The mistakes are part of the process and we are still learning every day. Also trying to find sustainable solutions to problems as the ideas are sometimes way ahead of the ways to resolve them. As a company, we still have a long way to go- but little steps every day and we’re getting there!
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
I see lots of people saying much better things than I could! I would probably get Greta Thunberg to write it for me!!
Finally, where can we find you? Shops, online, worldwide…?
We have an online shop at www.wyattandjack.com or a ‘real life’ shop in Ryde, here on the Isle of Wight. If you want to send us an inflatable for repurposing- the email is email@example.com. And to follow the journey of the inflatables from the beach to bag join our Instagram.