Eco-Designer of the Year 2008: Red Flag Design
With its hip reclaimed-fabric bags, Red Flag is having a banner year.
Sustainability-minded types say that the greenest product is one you don’t buy, pointing to eco-friendly and recycled products that merely feed our consumption habit (see: recycled paper jacket for disposable coffee cup). Barnaby Killam and Stuart Sproule have focused on upcycling, turning discarded materials into products with a higher utility or function than they had in their previous incarnations.
Their process is inverse to the industry standard. Work isn’t mass-ordered and created; every piece is a limited edition. Materials are sourced locally and reworked by sewers and assistants in a Vancouver studio. Recognized with a British Columbia Creative Achievement Award and hailed in Dwell, Red Flag was also part of local design exhibit Movers and Shapers this year.
Sproule and Killam, 33, met at St. George’s School in Vancouver and both went on to study art. After graduating, they wanted to collaborate but didn’t have a firm idea in mind. “We wanted to make things that people use every day. We also wanted to be part of the new economy—taking care of the environment, focusing on materials that would be discarded,” says Sproule.
They procured some old sails, so their first product was a series of spare, handmade sailcloth tote bags, distinguished by their impeccable styling and craftsmanship. In one batch, colour blocks from sail numbers are carefully placed, providing striking graphic detail; in another, streaks of rust from a particularly degraded sail perfectly criss-cross the body of the bag.
They’ve also experimented with old military tent canvases purchased at auction. The resulting bags debut this fall; in the meantime, they created an ingenious, if serendipitous, by-product. The tents arrived at the studio last winter with their distinctive reddish-orange T-shaped pegs still dangling. With a slight adjustment to the angle, they functioned perfectly as bottle-openers.
“The greatest innovations are often the most stunningly simple,” says judge Helen Goodland. Adds judge Len Laycock: “They did what all good designers do: they saw things differently.”