The Deals and the Dish on Where You Need to Shop
Jul 23, 2010
10:26 AMWindow Shopping
Buckle Up—In Style
About two months ago I received a press packet on a product called Maggie Bags. Now, I receive a lot of press materials—and I do try to peruse each one. When I opened the packet on Maggie Bags I discovered that this particular line of handbags was made out of seatbelt material. Instantly, I was brought back to my middle-school days when, yes, kids would wear belts that were made out of actual seatbelts. Hastily I almost dismissed the press packet, not wanting to revisit the days of grunge (ick!)—only this time in a handbag. But since we were doing a “green” focus in our August issue and I was working on a green product spread, I decided to take a second look on their website, and boy, am I glad I did.
Instantly I was seduced by Maggie Bags’ fuschia clutch (shown) and was wowed by their stunning array of really cute totes, and even a little wallet. I realized that looks were deceiving—these really stylish bags were eco-friendly! I decided to investigate further and called Maggie Bags’ director of marketing and public relations, Margaret Grigsby, for the scoop on the bags, which, by the way, appear in this photo spread in our August 2010 issue!
What is the history behind Maggie Bags?
Maggie Bags started in March 2009 and is owned by Tennessee Webbing, which has been buying and selling rejected seatbelt materials called webbing for about twenty years now. Tennessee Webbing also owns other lines like Bednet, which is a truck bed net made of webbing to tie down whatever’s in the back, and Scout, which makes harnesses for deer stands. [These products are all] reclaimed webbing. One of Tennessee Webbing’s owners, Woody Dew, wanted to name wanted to name [Maggie Bags] after his daughter.
You said you use “rejected” webbing. Why is some of it rejected?
Webbing is rejected by automakers for a number of different reasons. [It might not pass] safety standard tests or, usually, it’s because of the color. [Automakers] are very specific about the color they want—if there’s even a little bit of variation they’ll throw it to the side. The problem with that is that [the webbing] lasts forever, landfills don’t want to take it, and it sits on top of biodegradable product. So, Woody and his brother Steve saw an opportunity.
Some of your bags come in very surprising colors, like lime green and fuschia, which you don’t see in cars. Where does that webbing come from?
[The] lime green color was intended for FedEx truck drivers so that their supervisors and the general public could see they were wearing their seatbelts. Bright orange is used with the U.S. Postal Service for the same reason. Some of the colors we don’t have a clue! It could be a special run for someone who does custom auto work or someone who’s making tie-down straps for a truck and they didn’t need the rest of the webbing. We like the stories when we get the specific colors. But any of the big automakers are the bread and butter of where we get our webbing—Saturn, Toyota, any of those.
Obviously it’s very green to reuse the webbing.
In all honesty in the beginning it was more like, this was money going into a landfill! It didn’t start of that way, but it became that way. It’s a good time to be in the green business. It feels better to do something that does good. And it keeps stuff out of landfills!
What kinds of customer comments do you hear?
Usually people are surprised when they realize it’s seatbelt material. They’ll see the bag from afar and think ‘that’s a cute bag.’ Once you say it’s recycled seatbelt material you see the look on their face and they want to know more about it. We try to make them fashionable above all else—it doesn’t matter how green it is, you’re not going to carry an ugly bag!
Since the webbing is recycled, is it hard to keep a certain color in stock since you never know what you’ll get?
Well, we buy the webbing from all different sources. But yes, one of the downfalls is that being a recycled product we can’t guarantee what we have. Just because we have red in a certain style we can’t always guarantee we’ll get it in, and we want to avoid dying the webbing if at all possible.
Any other philanthropic efforts?
We did an initiative for Earth Day—for every bag we sold we planted a tree. Another general thing we have is the USA Tote/Help for Haiti tote. All of the proceeds from those bags are donated to Doctors Without Borders for the Haiti relief fund. So that was a social responsibility thing.
Where are Maggie Bags sold?
Five hundred retailers nationwide, including Overstock.com, NeimanMarcus.com, MaggieBags.net, Neiman Marcus catalogs, QVC and boutiques all over the country. (Editor’s note: in Madison, Maggie Bags are sold at Olivia’s Gift, Madison College’s gift shop).