SF Etsy Store Highlights: Eco-friendly Handbags Crafter Sarah Mones Friedman and the Story Behind Birdbags

The recent surge in manufacturing of upcycled and eco-friendly products is a clear evidence that people do not consider global warming and other environmental issues impersonal anymore. But while this may seem like a great advancement in sustainable trade, growing an eco-friendly business is not easy by any chance. The whole challenge boils down to one important factor — How to recycle products considered as waste into purchasable goods for the mainstream audience! It’s definitely a tough job to be creative with such products and that’s exactly why eco-friendly store owners deserve a round of applause for their commendable job that circles around recycling goods we often consider unwanted in our lives. Our latest blog series for the coming weeks will be primarily focused on featuring such innovative eco-friendly stores starting with Birdbags today.

Being based in San Francisco, we recently had the privilege of coming across several handmade makers around SF Bay who are building a craft business out of eco-friendly goods. With 18% of the locals completing 10+ eco-friendly activities on a daily basis, upcycling waste into useful products has become quite popular among Californians today. Birdbags, with an Etsy hosted online store, is one we came across at a pop-up event organized by SF Etsy and West Elm Emeryville. The store sells a series of handmade handbags, iPhone cases, clutches and accessories made from carefully chosen upcycled materials. Our today’s feature is about the interview we had with Sarah Mones Friedman, the crafter behind Birdbags, and how she has made use of recycled materials in crafting fashionable accessories worth using everyday.

Starting Days With Waldorf School Project Followed by Etsy

It was six years back when Sarah had moved all the way to the SF Bay Area from New York that marked the beginning of the craft business she built ahead. But the roots of the creative side in her draws back to her childhood days when she was first introduced to art in sewing patterns. As told in a previous interview with SF Etsy, she said, “Sewing was introduced to me in 4-H when I was about 10 years old. I have dabbled ever since. Art is in my blood, from my very talented mother who is an art educator in NY and practicing painter and ceramicist to my grandmother who has sewn, knitted, crocheted and painted for as long as I can recall.”

She has been an ardent middle school art teacher since moving out to the west coast which was one of the primary reasons why her heart went out to a collaborative project with the Waldorf School where she made tote bags out of banners previously used for pep rallies or other school benefits or events. These bags were given as gifts to sponsors such as local chefs that have provided to the school’s fundraisers as well as the school administrators. Some of her products were also sold at a store in the school that showcased handmade artists. The project was particularly meaningful in that it was for the school and that the bags were made out from materials otherwise considered as waste and of no good use.

Sarah was making bags for her friends and family and started selling them on Etsy in the fall of 2011 after a friend recommended her the website. Her activity on Etsy increased when she discovered the team of SF Etsy, who she emphasized are a wonderful community of makers that are not just online figments but present in real life too. Because of her work with Birdbags and teaching art at the school, she’s been showing her students how they might apply art professionally in the future. For example she does a unit on “practicality with arts” to teach students what they can do with arts that is practical. During Career Day, she would introduce students to her Etsy store to inspire them with the concept of selling their own artwork.

Having had quite a number of items listed for sale, the bestsellers on Birdbags are generally the tech-related products such as Macbook covers and iPhone cases. Once considered herself to be almost “anti-technology,” Sarah has now shifted towards adapting this new form of lifestyle through her innovative handmade designs. Foreseeing her own retail storefront in the future, her current goal is to buy an industrial sewing machine and to take her process of manufacturing upcycled products to a new level.

Choosing Appropriate Materials for Her Store is a Primary Concern

Sarah has been experimenting with the choice of materials since she had started Birdbags which is why you’d see a lot of variety in her creations.

  • Her first lookout for upcycled materials were the vintage or thrift stores because that’s where she would often find something worthy of use that would otherwise be in the trash. For example, if there’s a purse with good hardware but poor looks, she could buy it at a minimal cost and then fix it up with her own imagination creating a stylish product. Even today, this treasure hunting aspect of searching for reusable materials such as swatches, lace trims etc. in vintage stores is one of her favorite pastimes.
  • Another angle to her creations was using denim from her old worn-out jeans. She applied bleaching techniques to make them look better and since denim is strong as a material, it could be easily turned into handy bags for daily use. This technique was particularly well-received by customers who prefer vegan leather products.
  • Like the use of banners from the Waldorf school, Sarah also made use of old banners from her husband’s Sign-a-rama sign shop in Santa Rosa and made creative looking and stylish bags out of them.
  • Rebecca Saylor, the current team captain of SF Etsy, introduced Sarah and the SF Etsy team to FabMo, an organization in San Francisco that specializes in collecting end-of-the-bolt materials, samples, and swatches. Attending the FabMo events has been a great way to search for fabric. Swatches are really useful for makers who do not need too much of a single fabric and their availability at the FabMo events helped her a lot in gathering handy materials at a low price.

Challenges With Eco-Friendly Products

Creating eco-friendly products doesn’t seem easy since the materials used are mostly considered as waste. However, Sarah doesn’t find being creative with these materials inhibiting; she can usually visualize how the materials and samples can turn into a craft project. Instead, the major challenges with using upcycled material are that you just never know how your machine will handle it and whether the quality of the material is worth using in a craft or not. While recycling the banners from the school, she found some of them to be in bad shape because they were lying outside for a long time that needed extra preparation in order to use for crafting.

Essential Tips on Online Selling You Can Learn From Sarah

  • Product Photography: With a BFA degree in photography, Sarah is very particular with her product photos and mostly uses lighting or white backdrop to enhance the quality of the images.
  • Social Media: Her active presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with product highlights shows the importance she gives to social media in order to stay connected with her existing as well as potential customers. An interesting use of social media is that she often posts or tweets about her custom orders which portrays the appreciation she has been drawing from buyers consistently.
  • Pricing: Because the products are all handmade, she bases the price on the material cost and the time taken by her to make it. At the same time she tries to keep the product pricing tangible and worth a buy for mainstream customers.
  • Product descriptions: For each product description, she considers the keywords that people might be searching for in search engines. She places importance on how her descriptions might show up on advertising channels like Google AdWords and use proper tags so that her products get enough attention on search results.

While that concludes the story behind Birdbags and essential tips we gathered from Sarah on selling online, it’s time to dive into some of our favorite products from the store.

Lime Green Vegan Leather iPhone Wallet

The vibrant color usage makes this wallet quite a choice for night outs and parties. It’s got a built in key fob, two credit card pockets and a snap closure to encase your iphone. Handy case to carry with your absolute necessities during outings that mostly calls for a wallet with a minimal design.

Mint Wristlet Clutch

Again a marvelous choice in color with an ombre chevron print, like ripples in water. This has got enough space to fit your cards, cash & cell phone and is just the right accessory you might want to pair up with your dress during a wedding party or a simple night out.

NYC Bag — Reusable Market Tote

It’s been made with a colorful NYC themed print on a black base that’s actually an upcycled leather skirt. The bag has got a magnetic snap closure and long straps to be worn cross body style or over the shoulder. All in all, a perfect carry bag to school or day long outings with friends or family.

We certainly look forward to see more beautiful upcycled products from Birdbags in the near future. Till then, stay connected with Sarah and her Birdbags store updates on Twitter or Facebook.

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Originally published at blog.boxtiq.com on August 19, 2014.

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