While searching for environmentally friendly accessories for myself online, I discovered Vancouver-based Pinto Bags. The business reuses what companies consider ‘waste’ and transforms them into unique bags and wallets. Ashley Jestin, (pictured below) the creator of Pinto Bags was kind enough to share her passion (and a special offer for CAC readers!) for turning non-biodegradable billboard signs into durable, colourful and practical accessories.
Where does the name ‘Pinto Bags’ come from?
The Pinto Bags name comes from our 1973 Ford Pinto Station Wagon, which we’ve grown to love and rely on during all our road trips around B.C. The Pinto Bags logo is the exact colour and model; it even includes the wood paneling and trims! It’s funky, unique and no one else I know has one! The vinyl interior still looks brand new and despite its age, it still grabs everyone’s attention at farmers’ markets.
How did the business idea about making green-friendly bags/wallets start?
I admit that I’m not the first to think of this; I give most of the credit to a local skate shop Thriller in Vancouver. Internationally, our biggest competitor is Freitag, which is based in Europe. They’ve been reusing truck tarps since the ’80s and their line is incredibly popular. I see more of their bags than ours being worn at farmers’ markets. I dream of becoming as big as them one day.
Does anybody help you run Pinto Bags?
My devoted husband, Chris, my retired mother and a few close friends occasionally will work for product, but mostly I run Pinto Bags myself.
What does your studio/work space look like?
The location changes quite frequently. Right now we have a shipping container heated and insulated to hold the sewing machines and hydraulics. The shipping container was intended to be a secure storage option next to our home, but we realized that it would make a great studio space, so we invested money into keeping it properly heated and wired.
What is the process you go through to make one of your products?
There are so many steps, where do I start! The materials are most important. We dive into dumpsters to acquire the vinyl, bring it home to our 36’ x 12’ porch that has no railings and is custom made to lie out billboards. After, we wash them barefoot using eco-friendly products like Greenworks dish soap and a long scrubby, bucket and hose. The washed materials are then hung to dry, followed by cutting and sewing.
What is your most used or most important piece of equipment?
Our 25-ton Hydraulic Clicker Cutter! Before the clicker cutter, we would trace a cardboard pattern onto the vinyl, then cut one layer at a time by hand, which took about 10 minutes per piece. Now it takes 10 seconds to cut 15 layers!
How do you balance your personal life and business?
What personal life! A date with my husband would start with a lead on a full dumpster. He fires up his truck and we go dumpster diving together. It’s like that IKEA commercial “start the car!”
Where do you get your inspiration?
Most of the online inspiration comes from Etsy & Freitag. The most inspiring place to go and think is Tofino, B.C. Watching the waves set, surfing and beachcombing helps me appreciate the amazing places we have just a few hours away.
Do you have any favorite places in the city to go for inspiration?
I used to go to Stanley Park to blade around the seawall, but lately I find myself enjoying walking on the sand in White Rock. All I need is my Chinook wool sweater and my Timmies coffee and anytime is beach time.
Do you have any formal art or business training that you incorporate into your business?
No, I learned how to sew vinyl by starting small. I started sewing too enthusiastically as a teen; I remember sewing gortex snowboard pants in high school which ended up being 4 inches to wide and 6 inches too short. I failed, but I learned a few lessons from it, that’s for sure!
When people ask you what you do, which labels do you use? Professional, artist, crafter, etc.?
Designer / Artist. Sometimes when I send emails, below my signature, I write ‘Head-Hon-Show’.
What are your 2012 goals for your shop?
Well, we would like to launch one more design by spring, and three more designs by winter. (The new messenger bags — pictured below — are finished and will be listed in the next few weeks. Stand by! )
Do you plan on sticking to using only vinyl highway billboards, or do you plan on integrating other recycled products as well?
Oh yes! We’ve started recycling neoprene wetsuits from rental shops in Tofino, and plan on integrating them into bags as insulation, even making tablet sleeves. Other materials we use include neoprene wetsuits, old shoe laces, cereal boxes, corrugated plastic, corrugated cardboard, bbq covers, popped air mattresses, seat belts, re-used zippers and clear plastic table cloth covers.
Do you practice veganism and/or recycling outside of your business?
Some say I’m not a vegetarian because I eat bacon, but I consider myself vegetarian mostly. When I have it, I eat veggie bacon instead, but I can only buy it in the states — well, the good stuff that is.
Any craft or business advice you want to share with aspiring crafters?
What’s a cupcake without the icing! The fine details and finishing are what sells your product. I don’t want Pinto Bags to resemble the shopping bags you can purchase for a buck at big grocers. Instead, Pinto Bags are stitched one way, and then turned inside out and top stitched for added support. All of our straps are long so they make a complete circuit around the entire bottom of the bags so the weight is properly distributed, not just on the vinyl itself. Plus we line our wallets with other recycled materials like ripped nylon tents, broken nylon umbrellas or denim. We are all about finding uses for almost everything we can get from corporations as waste. We are always looking for a challenge. Our latest one is looking for a supplier for bike inner tubes.
To celebrate being featured as CAC’s Monthly Maker, Pinto Bags is offering CAC readers two special discounts. Thanks Ashley!
** Pinto Bags will be at Make It: Vancouver, April 20-22 and December 6-9 & Make it: Edmonton, May 20-22. **