Rareform Converts Old Billboards Into Unique Bags

It’s no secret that the fashion industry is fraught with environmentally treacherous practices that pollute the planet and aggressively consume our natural resources. That’s why it’s always encouraging to see a company making products by recycling materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Unfortunately, it’s still all too rare.

Rareform's unique handbags, made from discarded billboard materials, make for the perfect outdoor travel gear.
Rareform’s unique handbags, made from discarded billboard materials, make for the perfect outdoor travel gear.

The California-based Rareform is the result of two brothers with a passion for the environment. When one of them, Alec Avedissian, was living in El Salvador, he observed the locals using old billboard advertising materials as roofing tarps, and the signs couldn’t have been more clear: billboards made for a terrific durable and waterproof material.

With product ideas churning in his head, Alec headed home to secure his brother’s help in creating a surfboard carrying sleeve. The two then began calling billboard companies who were more than eager to ship truckloads of used billboards to their home.

Knowing that the typical billboard only remains roadside for an average of a month or two, Rareform can count on a consistent material supply. Plus, turning a usable material into something useful is a business model that gives the vinyl billboards new life instead of just sending them out with the trash.

The Rareform team works hard to take apart, wash, and sort all the discarded billboard material they receive.
The Rareform team works hard to take apart, wash, and sort all the discarded billboard material they receive.
The Rareform team hard at work.
The Rareform team hard at work.

Six years after the brothers set off on their venture, manufacturing has moved out of their parents’ house and the product line continues to grow. Production in their plant is almost completely streamlined, beginning with the sorting and washing of hundreds of billboards daily. The materials are sorted by thickness and color in order to match the a wide array of preferences for different products. Pieces are then hand cut and inspected before being sent out for final stitching. Even the smallest scraps are incorporated into manufacturing, resulting in minimal waste. Once stitched, each bag is individually photographed for an accurate representation of how the pattern lays out in the final product.

To date, the brothers and their team have converted 2,710,252 pounds of billboard material into one-of-a-kind backpacks, duffle bags, crossbody bags, messenger bags, and briefcases. Unique totes and purses come in a variety of options, with a new lunch tote being the most recent addition to the lineup. The good news is that when it comes to using up all those scraps we mentioned earlier, a ton of products fit the bill. Choose from wallets, toiletry bags, wristlets, pouches, and even fanny packs. Planning on traveling sometime soon? Pick up a passport holder, luggage tag, or key chain. If you’re looking for something more casual, just grab a fun tee or hat.

A vivid yellow backpack from sustainable surf apparel company Rareform.
A vivid yellow backpack from sustainable surf apparel company Rareform.

Rareform may be all about sustainability, but they still realize we live in a modern world, accordingly churning out heaps of laptop sleeves and iPhone cases. Don’t worry though, Alec’s passion for surfing hasn’t waned one bit, and his initial long and short board surf bags are still considered staple products six years later. They also produce change pads, which are perfect for handling the wet and sandy conditions the beach provides.

Two young girls beam with joy wearing their upcycled Rareform fanny packs.
Two young girls beam with joy wearing their upcycled Rareform fanny packs.

While Rareform continues to pick up vinyl billboard waste (and we salute them for it!), the newfound spotlight on the ad industry’s bad habits is causing some changes around them. More specifically, new technology in printed billboards allows makers to reduce their carbon footprint with the use of water-based adhesive vinyls and 100-percent recyclable paper. On top of that, many billboards are now digital, taking away the waste but not the resource consumption. Digital billboard signs do create a host of other environmental problems though, including energy consumption, light pollution, and disposal at the end of usable life.

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