What do you do with millions of pounds of dirty, used-up irrigation hose that farmers have thrown away?
Most people would dump it in a landfill. But a Selma broker of agricultural waste has turned it into something completely different: Fashionable purses, flip flops, belts and more.
The Landfill Dzine brand is being sold online and its owners are marketing it to boutiques and at retail trade shows. The line is riding a wave of shopper interest in sustainability and recycling in fashion.
It’s almost hard to believe where purses like the little clutch with a gold and bamboo clasp come from. Its roots are in a recycling yard in southeast Selma. The 5-acre slug of land on Golden State Boulevard is packed with stacks of discarded PVC pipe, plastic covers that once stretched over grape vines and piles of empty bottles.
“This basically all looks like trash out here — it’s not,” says Heather Carpenter, co-founder of AJ Industrial.
In its day-to-day business, the company finds other uses for the materials. The vine covers, for instance, will be ground up into pellets and made into trash bags.
But the millions of pounds of the lay-flat irrigation hose farmers use to water their fields turned out to be a bigger challenge. It can’t be recycled because it’s a blend of rubber, plastic and nylon that can’t be easily separated.
“It just gets thrown away,” says Joshua Carpenter, Heather’s husband and company co-founder.
The blue and green hose is dirty and usually shows up in 300-foot sections, varying in width from 4 inches to 12, sometimes with little sprinkler parts sticking out of it. But with so much of it, Heather Carpenter cringed at the thought of dumping it in a landfill.
“We had to do something with it,” she says.
At first, they bundled it into bales weighing 2,500-pounds, using them as barriers in the yard to separate piles of materials.
It took months to get there, but now Landfill Dzine is turning it into little purses with a yellow chevron print, sturdy beach bags with bamboo sides, gym bags, wine bottle carriers, flip flops, bracelets, belts and more.
If turning trash into trendy purses seems like a study in contrasts, so is Carpenter herself. Most people wouldn’t think that someone who makes a living in agricultural junk would wear sparkly earrings and jeans with blinged out pockets. When she goes into the yard, she swaps dressy shoes for sneakers and a hard hat. That style is a key part of what inspired Landfill Dzine.
“I’m a high-end handbag type of person,” Carpenter says, which got her thinking about making the irrigation hose into purses.
She carries all the bags herself to test them out for comfort, along with her three fashion-minded daughters ages 10, 9 and 5. Husband Josh sticks to testing out the flip flops.
Landfill Dzine is getting off the ground just as the fashion industry is turning its attention to how much waste it produces and as consumers continue to get into the upcycling trend.
“It’s definitely good timing,” says Pamela Hutton, a fashion merchandising instructor at Fresno City College.
Singer Pharrel Williams just launched Raw for the Oceans, a clothing line made from plastic garbage pulled from the ocean. Levi’s has jeans made from recycled bottles, and a company called Dirtball sells clothing made from all recycled material.
“Sustainable fashion is now big business,” Hutton says. “Designers are looking for new ways of creating merchandise and this is an actual recycler that has created the fashion, which is very fun, and fun that it’s local.”
But this is no get-rich-quick scheme for the family — or get rich at all, for that matter.
At first, Carpenter spent months schlepping the material to bag manufacturers, asking if they could turn it into handbags.
“Everyone said ‘no,’” she says. “One person said, ‘No, we’re not going to make anything out of your trash.’”
She had more luck with manufacturers in Asia, but faced another set of challenges: Companies complained that the sturdy hose broke needles and flip flops makers required minimum orders of 1,000 pairs.
Carpenter kept working through the issues, chatting over Skype and emailing. The time zone difference and the fact that Landfill Dzine is a side business — they still spend their work days running the waste brokering business — meant those conversations happened after work, stretching til midnight or 1 a.m. some nights.
The bags aren’t cheap to make. The lay-flat hose is cut and cleaned here before being shipped overseas. Landfill Dzine pays customs fees on the way there and the way back on the finished product. And they’re limited to mostly blue and green because those are the colors the hose usually comes in.
Prices on the finished products range from $395 for a two-in-one handbag to $20 for a pair of flip flops with straps made from the lay-flat irrigation hose and the footbed made from recycled PVC. Most bags range from $33 to $73.
The Landfill Dzine brand, which started selling online last summer, is slowly coming into its own. Carpenter gets strangers asking her where she got her handbag and gets to say with glee that she made it.
In February, they’ll be featured as an example of innovation at the World Ag Expo in Tulare and sell their products. That same month they’ll participate in one of the world’s biggest fashion trade shows in Las Vegas, in hopes of finding retailers who want to carry the bag.