29 Sep 2016
Beirut, Lebanon
Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management, Sustainable Textiles & Clothing

Nour Kays is a Lebanese designer on a mission. A mission to change the way we perceive and use “waste” materials: She collects and repurposes used plastic carrier bags into a new material that she uses to create a collection of fashionable, eco-friendly and handmade bags, pouches, and accessories.

Everyone has a space or a drawer where they collect the plastic bags that accumulate at home. For Nour Kays, this place was under her kitchen sink, when she was living in London and finishing her Masters at Kingston University in 2013. Like many of us, she was annoyed with the amount of plastic going to waste and she started experimenting with ways to use it for other purposes.

Her experiments led her to develop a new material which is light, water-resistant, and can be used to produce new products. It is made of 30 used plastic bags per square meter, and each piece is as unique as the mix of plastic bags that are used for it. From this material, she creates handmade and stylish designer bags that are quickly gaining fans not necessarily because they are ecological, but because they are beautiful, useful, and each of the unique bags tell a story. This is how NK by Nour Kays started.

In 2014, Nour joined the SwitchMed Green Entrepreneurship program, designed to support enterprising individuals looking to build their own sustainable startup. She received comprehensive training materials, coaching from local experts and the support of the SwitchMed infrastructure to develop her product and attracting her first customers.

In addition to her product strategy, NK aims to raise awareness about waste, inspire upcycling, and encourage reducing waste and pollution in Lebanon. They inform and educate people about the environmental consequences of plastic and leverage social media to spread messages about plastic bags, sustainability and the environment among their fans and followers. They also regularly attend fairs and schools to speak about the amplitude of plastic waste on our environment.

We believe in “incremental growth” allowing each individual artisan to progress at a rate of production that is in harmony with their personal lives.Nour Kays
Upcycled designer handbags in Beirut | The Switchers

How does NK build a better environment?

NK reduces the amount of waste polluting nature, harming (marine) animals, or going to landfills by taking the waste material and turning it into a new material to use for new products. This is a brilliant example of the upcycling principle: Traditional recycling is usually a process of “downcycling” – meaning that after each cycle, the material becomes less and less valuable. The result is that eventually, the material will end up on the landfill anyway, the process has only been delayed. Upcycling on the other hand gives material a more valuable use: In this case, NK turns a very low value product (single use plastic bag) into a high value items such as stylish designer bags and pouches. Furthermore NK doesn’t use raw materials, and does not mix materials, making it easy to disassemble and recycle at the end of life of the product.

In addition, NK has several environmental considerations in their operations. For example, rather than throwing away the small cuts from bigger items, they reintroduce into the production process to produce smaller items, e.g. key chains that represent the animals endangered because of the plastic bag waste in the ocean. They also minimize transportation by only working within a small radius and not shipping their produces.

How does NK care for the community?

Each piece is handmade. NK works with local artisans and technicians to produce the bags and pouches, creating jobs and building relationships for continued economic prosperity in the local area. They follow a partnership strategy of fair and equitable growth that aims to allow each individual artisan to progress at a rate of production that is in harmony with their personal lives.

Nour Kays is also part of Recycle Lebanon, a hub for sustainable development initiatives in Lebanon, where she is part of the “EcoSouk”, an alternative shop for the community.

Upcycled designer handbags in Beirut | The Switchers
NK by Nour Kays Upcycled designer bags
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