SUNDAY TIMES - Rubbish to runway-worthy: Durban designer turns old tyres into mod handbags
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Sunday Times Fashion By Shelley Seid, 2017-05-18 00:00:00.0

Rubbish to runway-worthy: Durban designer turns old tyres into mod handbags

Babaliwa Dalane with her rubber bag.
Image: JACKIE CLAUSEN

Developing a business and creating employment from waste, Durban entrepreneur Colleen Deetlefs believes it's only rubbish when you throw it in the trash

At the World Economic Forum held in Durban at the beginning of May, Edna Molewa, South Africa's minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, sported a stylish handbag that she described to the press and passing delegates as "rubbish".

She wasn't being rude; the bag was literally made from waste - the inner tube of a tyre, to be exact - that should have ended up in landfill.

Thanks to Durban entrepreneur Colleen Deetlefs and her company, Innovative Waste Design (IWD), that particular piece of waste will instead spend much of its time in parliament.

Deetlefs worked in her family-owned cut, make and trim factory until her mother died. She then spent 13 years as a clothing buyer.

"I eventually got fed up with the corporate world and I wanted my creative spirit back. I love designing and I particularly love creating something from nothing."

She began transforming inner tubes into bags about four years ago - and it's no easy job.

"Firstly, the tubes have been on the road for thousands of kilometres; they are filthy and have to be cleaned; we have to cut them by hand; they are difficult to sew; the needle heats the rubber; and because they are round we have to be careful to follow the patterns."

They manufacture mostly for companies - backpacks, laptop bags, wallets, cooler bags and conference bags. But it's their handbags that catch the eye. Funky fringe bags, easy sling bags, some incorporating shweshwe fabric.

It's hard to believe the trendy objects hanging in the hall were once filthy rubber.

"They're lightweight but sturdy, and they wear beautifully," says Deetlefs.

"The more you use your bag, the nicer and shinier it gets."

The company is also involved in training. Deetlefs has partnered on skills training with Chris Whyte, founder of Use-It, an NGO that creates ways to divert waste from landfills and create employment.

In 2014 she teamed up with teacher and entrepreneur Jean De Dieu Uwizeyimana. Together they're taking the business forward, manufacturing on the one hand and running skills upliftment classes on the other.

Says De Dieu Uwizeyimana: "We're trying to solve two problems at once. The problem of waste, and the problem of unemployment."

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• For online orders go to iwd.co.za

This article was originally published in the Times.