It’s Recycle Week – and this year’s theme is ‘Recycling. It’s in our own hands’. So what better way to explore this, than by talking to BEEN London – a fashion brand who create beautiful sustainable handbags and accessories from recycled materials, and are one of the companies on our Future 20 incubator programme. BEEN’s CEO and Founder, Genia Mineeva, was inspired to start BEEN London after watching a documentary about how much waste we’re all creating. Realising she could do something about it, BEEN eventually became a reality and she hasn’t looked back since.
Genia spoke to us about her innovative approach to reducing and transforming waste, and how her love for east London influences her designs.
What sort of materials do you re-use to create your products?
We turn materials that would normally end up in a landfill into products that you and I would want to use every day. Every material we use is a recycled material and has been something else in a previous life; a plastic bottle, a paper cup, or leather offcuts for example. The challenge is to turn it into a premium and practical product that will last a long time.
For our current line of handbags we use waste from the leather industry (milled and reconstructed into a new leather-like material) and recycled polyester (plastic bottles turned into lining and zips).
Before even coming up with a design, we think about its end of life; we consider how it can be disassembled for recycling, and whether we can make that easier by not gluing things together for example.
Can you talk us through the process from sourcing the materials, to finishing the final product?
I’m obsessed with materials and the stories behind them, so every recycling innovation I hear about, I try to get a sample and think about what could be made from it. So I guess I start at the wrong end!
We design everything in Hackney, London, where we’re based in our brilliant Future 20 offices at the Allia Future Business Centre. We then take the design to our manufacturing studio in Stratford, just 10 minutes away. This is where all our handbags are made entirely by hand.
What inspires your designs?
It’s definitely two things – first, London with all its energy and creativity, and second, nature. All the colours used in our collections are inspired by nature – rainforest green, white pebble, calm sea. I like that it brings a little bit of calm into a busy city life.
All your bags are named after areas of east London – why is that?
This is where the brand was born, this is where I live and this is where we go to work every day. And now, even the Future 20 office is based in London Fields, which is the name of our bestselling work handbag!
You use mostly square or rectangular designs to reduce fabric offcuts and floor cuttings – how did you come up with this idea?
We’re on a mission to help people reduce waste, so creating more in the process felt really wrong. I aim to design things in a way that all panels are rectangular. This allows us to bring floor cutting waste very close to zero.
It’s good for us as a society to consciously choose things made from post-consumer materials
This recycling week (23rd – 29th September) the theme is: ‘Recycling. It’s in our own hands’. What is your take on this?
Well, if it’s a handbag, it is in our hands quite literally! But seriously, apart from separating our rubbish and making sure it is recycled, it’s good for us as a society to consciously choose things made from post-consumer materials. You can’t even imagine what a huge difference to your individual carbon footprint this will make!
How do you hope the Future 20 programme will help BEEN to grow?
We’re starting our first investment round, so guidance from the Future 20 programme is crucial for this. Also, the potential for collaboration within the group is phenomenal, so we’d love to work with some of the other companies.
What’s on the horizon for BEEN?
Materials innovation is such an exciting space right now that I don’t even know where to start. We’ve got a few new lines coming up and are hoping to grow quite a bit in the next few months following our investment round. So it feels like an exciting time and place to be.
BEEN London package their orders in completely recycled and recyclable materials, and all the packaging and logistics are done by The Camden Society, a social enterprise that trains and employs people with learning disabilities
Find out more about BEEN London, and visit their shop at: been.london
Follow BEEN London on Instagram @been.london
The Future 20 programme is a bespoke incubator programme run by Allia Future Business Centre comprised of 20 of the very best UK tech for good and social ventures that are addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.