The countless lifejackets abandoned on Greek beaches are today helping to build careers for refugees in the Netherlands through the power of upcycling.
Recycled life-vests are providing a second lifeline for refugee arrivals
Dutch social enterprise Makers Unite hires refugees to upcycle abandoned lifejackets into attractive and sustainable products, giving both the newcomers and this waste material a second chance. Each life vest has its own story, and now these stories can continue with Makers Unite unique range of products and the careers they’re providing to those who make them.
Makers Unite: connecting people by making products with a story that matters
The life vests worn by migrants on their way to Europe have become a symbol for their journey to a new life. Together with newcomers, refugees and locals, Makers Unite create sustainable products that bring a powerful positive message of connecting across cultures.
The sales of these products provide working opportunities to the participants and fund a social inclusion program. Each of their products, by their very nature, carries a unique story.
The Programme: a 6-week course: Makers Unite connects creative newcomers to the local industry through the power of making, and they have designed an effective social inclusion programme based on collaboratively creating sustainable products.
Those behind the programme say making together leads to dialogue and trust: stories are being shared and while participants get to know each other, they discover their talents and ambitions.
In six weeks Makers Unite are able to connect newcomers to new opportunities in the creative industry. Through this programme, they say they are paving the way towards social inclusion.
Now that you know the long journey of these unique pieces, from life vest to being upcycled into a sustainable product, you should also know that it’s helping connect creative newcomers with a refugee background to the job market, leveraging on their talents to build a new life in The Netherlands.
When you become part of this movement by buying a bag, you don’t only carry a product with a story — you create an impact and give stories a new beginning.
Nothing created, or destroyed, only transformed: how the bags are made
To prepare for their new form, the life vests are first sent to the laundry, and then taken apart. The team found that’s the most fun part of the production process; when the tailor team and the program participants have the opportunity to talk to each other in a relaxing atmosphere where they develop trust and friendship.
The secret of any well-made product is an excellent pattern to start with. After ironing the now torn apart pieces of the life vest, it’s time to select the materials and trace the pattern. To come up with the handcrafted design and elegant look, Makers Unite have carefully developed unique patterns for the different items in their Collection.
When the pattern, strap, velcro, and foam are cut, they’re ready to be sewn into a tote bag, travel pouch, or laptop sleeve. The cushion and padding of these items are also made from the original cushions and padding from the life vests.
Don’t forget, the items in the collection are made from life vests that were left on the shores of Greece when newcomers arrived in Europe — a combination of sun and seawater had time to act on the material and create distinct hues and variations.
Beyond nature’s action, Makers Unite’s tailors make sure that each piece has different features from the original life vest. Black straps, reflectors, and safety instruction tags are used together with the multiple hues of fabric to create unique pieces their new owners can enjoy and be proud of.