The Place: Regent Street, London
The Story: Ring pulls from cans turned into luxury bags. What’s not to like?
Sorry, did you say ring pulls? I did.
Did you say luxury bags? I did.
In the same sentence? I did.
OK, just checking: The germ of an idea, which began in 2002 as the Bottletop Foundation, part of a collaboration with Mulberry (more of that connection later) and others in Africa, Bottletop the shop was actually founded in 2012 by two men by the names of Cameron Saul and Oliver Wayman. They are passionate about upcycling and recycling and all other things eco.
But who collaborates with ring pulls? Listen up, with your non-sustainable ways, this kind of weaving or crocheting of thrown away ring pulls into a kind of chain mail is totally a thing in many countries where people make a lot more use of their rubbish then we do. Saul and Wayman did not invent this. Wayman explains to us: “The special woven technique has existed in Brazil for a long time and we happened to be working there after developing a Brazilian music album.” But what they have done is take it to the next level.
The more expensive one? The more luxury one and added the design element. And these bags are not just practical and beautiful, they are virtuous. Wayman says: “There is a definite change in consumer consciousness and people are increasingly seeking answers to the product’s materials and their supply chains.”
Well I can’t deny that. But the shop looks a bit wowzer too: Not that many brands open their first unit on Regent Street but that’s what has happened here. And not content with their wares scoring high brownie points for sustainability, the shop fit-out does too.
Tell me more: Firstly it is apparently the world’s first 3D printed store. AI Build’s doing. All done with robots.
Blimey, I didn’t know you could do that: And secondly, the interior material is made by Reflow, which is impeccably green. They identify a waste plastic source, break down the plastic, use their special tech to produce a new filament material, and then boom! Away you go designer people.
And the result is: Amazing. And the customer reaction has been “very positive, people have been fascinated to see how such a futuristic technology can be producing a beautiful aesthetic using upcycled materials”. Undulating plastic curves made from the Reflow material and a ceiling of hundreds of re-used drinks cans. It’s classic Bottletop – ethical design all the way along. The flooring is repurposed old tyres too.
I expect customers feel virtuous just walking in to that shop: You certainly can do. But this shop is on a serious tourist route and most of the trippers will probably be blissfully unaware of the use of waste plastic in the shop walls. What they are interested in, however, is ring pulls.
And who is that core customer? Ah. Now this is a surprising one. According to Wayman: “We have quite a wide demographic, especially from fashion and design-led customers, and those who have an interest in the story behind the product.” Sales staff also confirmed that a lot of Arabic women are particularly interested in Bottletop bags. They appreciate the artisan workmanship and the metallic finish and lap them up. Also the Chinese consumers who examine the articles very, very closely for imperfections, don’t find them, and then buy.
Considering they have to use the same material which could be limiting, the range is pretty impressive: Too right. As the company says: “Our clients buy our product first because they love the aesthetic. Our sustainability and ethics are an added bonus.” But it’s definitely a very important added bonus and before we forget, can we add that the leather on all these products is zero deforestation leather from Brazil.
You can. What is the most wanted? Easy. Wayman confirms it is the Luciana clutch purse. Retailing at £125. Also among the top sellers is the Bellani bag. But although it is a luxury brand there are plenty of easy access points and the belts and purses are very affordable.
You know what I’m wondering… What the future holds for Bottletop?
It wasn’t. But as you’ve mentioned it: More shops for one thing. Wayman tell us Japan opens later this year and then New York in 2020. The online market is a growing one for the company and a series of pop-ups will open at the end of this year and beginning of the next to expand the international side of things.
It was: these bags – where do they get these blinking ring pulls from actually? Finally, you want to know about the important stuff. The ring pulls are collected by homeless people in Salvador, Brazil who are paid a good wage for their services. They get them from landfill and just from the streets, wherever they can find them really. After that they are given to a proper atelier for production.
Err. Atelier – remind me: Just a posh word for a workshop. Around 25 ladies work here and do their artisan thing. But the company is also working on collections in Nepal, Indonesia and Kenya.
Could you use anything else though? The founders admit that “the ring pulls defined the basis of the collection” but add “we are constantly challenging ourselves to use new and pioneering sustainable materials and techniques”.
And another thing, why is it called Bottletop when they are in actual fact ring pulls? OK, now this is going to take a bit of explaining. Remember at the beginning I talked about Mulberry.
Vaguely: Well, Cameron Saul’s father Roger is the founder of Mulberry – and it was those two that originally launched the Bottletop Foundation to fund various aid projects. And the central idea was launched around a handbag made of recycled bottle tops from Africa coupled with Mulberry leather from Europe.
Got it: Cut to a short time later and the other founder, Wayman, discovered the whole ring pull thing going on in Brazil. The bag that was created after that discovery ‘the Bellani’ created such a kerfuffle in the fashion world that it led to the whole Bottletop as a fashion brand concept in 2012.
So, essentially you are saying that if the ring pull artisans had been discovered first it would have been called Ringpull instead: Probably.
Know what – whatever it’s called. I’m in: Me too.
PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe