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The Cat's in the BAGGU: Emily Sugihara Talks Sourcing and Collaboration

L-R: Emily Sugihara and BAGGU creative director Ellen Van Der Laan | Image credit: BAGGU

Named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People this year, Emily Sugihara is the founder of BAGGU, a line of environmentally conscious bags. The eye-catching yet simple designs have caught on with J. Crew, West Elm and others. We caught up with Emily, who co-founded BAGGU with her mother, Joan, to learn more about what’s behind the bag.

What is your mission and how does fulfilling it impact the designing, sourcing and manufacturing of BAGGU goods?

Our mission is to make bags that fill many needs, are well-designed, are as affordable as possible and are produced in a way that’s mindful of the environment.

Fulfilling this mission impacts everything we do. For example, our nylon bags are designed to minimize material waste; they are assembled from one continuous piece of material, with the cut out portion used to construct its carrying pouch. Material that would otherwise be sent to a landfill creates an excellent container for our reusable shopping bags.

In our leather line, we assemble bags from two pieces of material, using the cut-out portion for leather zip pouches — a process very similar to the construction of our standard nylon BAGGU. Our leather line is produced in the United States in the heart of New York City, while our nylon and canvas BAGGUs are ethically made in China. We regularly audit our factories to ensure humane work hours and wages are enforced. We also work with factories that minimize the impact of production on the environment.

How does BAGGU's nylon recycling program operate?

We use high-quality, 100 percent rip-stop nylon, which is an infinitely recyclable material. Our nylon recycling program is simple; we offer $1 per recycled BAGGU towards a new nylon BAGGU purchase. Given the durable, strong nature of the material (which is also used for parachutes) we receive a very low number of bags back each year. The nylon we do receive back is then brought to a nearby textile recycling facility. Once recycled, it is used in the production of new nylon products, often for the auto industry.

In terms of design, what does the BAGGU team look to for inspiration?

We love what Patagonia and J.Crew are doing, and are inspired by everything from Japanese simplicity to graphic design from the 1960s and ‘70s.

How does BAGGU source cotton? How did this program come about? 

Our cotton is sourced by one of our supply chain partners from a mill in China. We only use 100 percent recycled cotton, made from pre-consumer waste. Recycling discarded fibers helps divert millions of tons of textile waste entering our landfills each year. There is no chemical or liquid of any kind used in its process.

The recycled cotton program came about when my mom designed the Duck bag — she thought it was the "paper bag" equivalent to the BAGGU’s "plastic bag." I did a lot of research into the greenest way to use cotton — recycled cotton was definitely it!

BAGGU has collaborated with J.Crew, West Elm, Fredericks & Mae and many others. How did these collaborations develop? What was successful or unsuccessful about them?  

BAGGU has done a lot of collaborating over the past few years. It’s really just something that happened naturally: between being in Brooklyn, which is a hotbed of design, and having bags in really simple shapes that lend themselves to being customized and altered in infinite ways, we’ve had a lot of awesome opportunities to work with other designers and companies.

BAGGU’s first joint project began when the downtown store and clog makers No. 6 approached BAGGU looking for reusable shopping totes for their store. The meeting resulted in a collection of BAGGU bags in five different No. 6 prints. Then came a partnership with Brooklyn’s beloved tie dye artist Shabd Alexander, who hand-dyed a limited edition of BAGGU’s canvas duck bags and backpacks.

Most recently, collaborations have produced standard BAGGU bags in custom prints and colors for J.Crew and a bag designed for toting damp wetsuits home from the beach, the Wetsuit Bag, with Pilgrim Surf + Supply who are also our neighbors!

As for the future? Look out for our mini collection of bags and hats we’ve done in collaboration with ALL Knitwear for the Holidays.

SB Issues in Focus For more examples of brands using sustainability as an innovation imperative, check out our Issue in Focus on #BrandInnovation.

Carola Beeney leads BBMG’s marketing communications efforts, including social media strategy and editorial outreach. Previously she developed and supported communications and event programming at ABC Carpet & Home.

[Read more about Carola Beeney]


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