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Best sustainable swag bag ever

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[With contributions from Molly Green Lieberman]

We live in a world where people accumulate too much stuff. And when we attend conferences we receive lots of fun swag (typically in a conference, branded “swag bag”) and sometimes you think “What a waste!” and sometimes you think “That’s brilliant!” and sometimes you think both. But earlier this year, I was at a conference where I received my favourite conference bag ever: Molly Green Lieberman’s swag bag for the Design Ethos 2012 conference.

Molly took on the challenge of designing a sustainable swag bag from locally sourced materials for the 360 people planning to attend Design Ethos 2012 Swag Bags in Savannah.

Heather Kochendarfer (from Savannah College of Art and Design, the conference host) discovered that a local hotel was redesigning, tossing out hundreds of curtains in the process. Molly realized that the grey lining of the curtains would be perfect for a conference bag.

But what to use for the handles? Molly rifled closets and discovered a box of old neckties from a relative. Old neckties: they’re everywhere, expressive, varied, fun, and just waiting for reuse.

Molly worked with Jane Zash to come up with a winning layout, and then the hunt was on for 720 neckties (two handles a bag). The call went out across the campus via Facebook and ties poured in —friends, neighbours, local business-people, including 200 from her high school librarian and historian.

Some of the ties donated to make the handles of the swag bags

Production was a bit of a scramble with the hemming, sewing, clipping, pinning and colour-matching, but with the help of many eager volunteers and relatives, Molly’s swag bags were ready in time.

A pile of completed swag bags

Molly sees this swag bag as a potential sustainable product, beyond the conference. She has decided to set up a program where she and her team will teach women from their community the skills to help produce future swag bags from home. The result: a business called Handmade Neighbourhood, facilitated through her ongoing community art program, Loop It Up Savannah (already based out of the West Broad Street YMCA).

It’s a fragile world, and when we all start seeing design and materials through the cradle-to-cradle lens that Molly does, it becomes a more hopeful world, and more fun too.

Actually I’d love to see a conference where we’re told to bring our favourite bag from a previousl conference. Okay, I realize that is branding Hell… hmmm… do we even need swag at all? I guess if we’re gonna save the world, we gotta have fun doing it. Just sayin’.

Molly Green Lieberman and her sustainable swag bag

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Reviewed August 22, 2012

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