RAREFORM makes bags and accessories out of repurposed vinyl billboards. I heard about them a while back, but was on the fence. It’s a creative use of materials but really, how much waste can billboards create? However, I needed a new wallet and their designs are pretty cool. So I went for it.
ABOUT THE PRODUCT
They offer 7 different backpack styles including one for kids, 4 totes, 3 duffles, 9 wallets, 3 pouches, 3 laptops, 5 iphone cases, 5 surfing-related bags, a fanny pack, a messenger bag, and 2 bike bags. Each item is one of a kind which means you pick the exact item you want and that’s what you get.
They are made from repurposed vinyl billboards. According to their website, the material is durable, waterproof, lightweight, eco-friendly and vegan.
I purchased the Madison wristlet and a surfboard change mat. They arrived super quick. The designs are exactly as they appeared on their website. They have this pop up that shows what item was just purchased and it was fun seeing my name and products pop up within a minute after purchasing.
The wallet feels very sturdy and well-made. The vinyl material has an interesting feel to it. It’s not exactly smooth but has a ribbing to it – under the surface. It reminds me of how cardboard feels under the surface. Not in a bad or cheap way, but just more textured than I thought it would be. I replaced a larger wallet so I’m still getting used to not being able to cram a bunch of receipts, cards, and other miscellaneous stuff in there. It can’t hold very many dollar bills but who really carries those anymore? It fits my most important cards and phone perfectly, and I love being able to just carry the necessities with me – like when I’m going to the store or leaving my diaper bag on a park bench and just keeping that with me. The material is waterproof which is really nice.
I ordered the surf change mat for my husband for Father’s Day. He is a surfer and this is a great gift item. And by surfer, I mean he was a surfer BK (before kids), so really, this will be used by the kids when we go to the beach. Happy Father’s Day to you! My current go-to changing mat for the kids is our IKEA shopping bag, which works pretty well I must say. We used the RAREFORM change mat at the beach and after swim class. It cinches at two sides and scrunches inwards, kind of like a taco at first until you keep cinching it and then it will sort of close up. It works well to keep the wet stuff in until you get home and is a good place to baby powder the sand off the kids. One downside is the silver lining you stand on heats up. When changing my kids at the beach I had to move it to the shade of the car after only a few minutes in the sun. The feel on this one is a bit more smooth. To be honest, I’m a bit on the fence on this item. I’m not sure it really improved my alternative.
The Madison wristlet is $54. The changing mat is $38. I think they’re reasonably priced for what they are. It seems generally with green products they are much more expensive than their counterparts. But these seem less so. Which might be more telling of the raw materials used than anything. They purchase the vinyl, wash it and cut it. The fascinating thing is that they are completely one-of-a-kind and not mass manufactured. They look at each one individually when making it.
BUT DO THEY LOOK GOOD?
Some of the designs are really cool, some are interesting and some are ho-hum. I like my design and there were several others that I liked as well. I love the idea that each one is unique.
You will not know which billboard your product came from. They specifically avoid logos, faces or other recognizable elements for their bags. My guess is that this is a requirement from their suppliers in order to reuse the material. Makes sense because otherwise they would need to pay licensing fees and brand owners would have concerns with corporate image. In fact, I contacted them about this question and was told in addition to licensing infringement concerns, it would also create a logistical nightmare. This is a total bummer because I think one thing that would make the product more interesting and drive collectibility is if you could see the original, intact billboard whence it came.
Perhaps just as interesting as the materials is the fact that these are one-of-a-kind. I personally think this should play more of a role in their marketing message. It’s close to being able to design your own. A wallet as unique as you are!
Another thing that affects brand appeal is availability. RAREFORM manages their inventory closely so they don’t offer too many designs at one time. Giving consumers choices but not too many is a tricky balance. No one wants to buy an item that has been rejected by many others.
WHAT PROBLEM DO THEY HELP SOLVE?
You read about straws, plastic bottles, apparel and all sorts of other items wreaking havoc on our environment but I have yet to read anything claiming that billboards are an environmental disaster. So how do these help?
Billboards have been controversial since the mid 20th century, sparking the Highway Beautification Act in 1965. Concerned over having our roadways littered with signs, President Johnson created the act which covered billboards among other things and aimed to reduce them and control the messages allowed to be shown. Although I do hate looking at billboards with jumbo faces of lawyers, doctors and if driving by LAX in particular, half-naked women (which I wasn’t sensitive to until having a daughter), living in LA it’s not like the billboards are blocking my views of tall trees and lush landscapes. So I do appreciate billboards that are attractive, funny or otherwise appealing.
There is a secondary market for used billboards. Who knew? There are websites where you can buy used billboards and reuse them for tarps, slip n’ slides, pool liners etc. There are an estimated 341,000 billboards up currently across the United States. Billboards are used anywhere from 4 to 52 weeks and then they move on. RAREFORM is repurposing 20,000 lbs of PVC vinyl from all around the country, each month for their bags and accessories.
And they are not the only ones. There are several companies that use billboards to make various bags and other products. Some companies, including RAREFORM, have partnered with artists to create billboards and then reuse them. In 2009, Target partnered with designer Anna Sui to recycle billboards used in Times Square for tote bags for a limited time. Not exactly saving the environment if you are creating the very vinyl to be reused. Target received some criticism for that campaign.
DO I RECOMMEND THEM?
Sure! If you find a design you like I think you will be happy with the product. It’s fun and if someone asks you about your bag, you have an interesting story to tell. The vinyl is PVC which is not eco-friendly but it’s nice that there is a secondary market for them and the material is very sturdy. They would make great gift items as well.
If you want to read about another fashion company doing a great job building a sustainable brand, see my review on Rothy’s shoes for women.