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Servadelic Spotlight.....Trash to Treasure: How the Reyes Sisters are Making Beautiful Products out of Recycled Materials and Giving Hope and Steady Income to Women in Uganda
July 2, 2014
You have to love the two traveling sister-explorers Amberle and Andrea Reyes who went to Uganda in 2007 and decided to create a cross cultural exchange that results in beautiful, hand made products made out of waste plastic and other sustainable materials.
The sisters provide steady income for almost 100 women, many of them single and from war torn areas of the country. A. Bernadette organizes Voluntourism trips to Uganda, providing an eye opening experience for the adventurous traveller who not only sees a majestic Africa but participates in on-ground activism which creates hope and cross-cultural dialog, awereness and understanding. Importantly, The Reyes Sisters help create jobs for the disadvantaged and umeployed and produce useful products made with materials taken out of the waste stream so they do not have to be incinerated or buried in a landfill.
Please read our interview with Amberle and Andrea Reyes below and make sure you go to their web site and buy one of their awesome, sturdy, waterproof bags woven with waste plastic for your summer outings.
Amber (left) and Andrea Reyes.
NYGA: What was your initial inspiration to create products out of waste plastic?
REYES SISTERS: Necessity is the mother of invention. Our love of up-cycling waste materials is three fold. First, we love to be purposeful, functional, and meaningful. Each one of our products tells a story. Achiro's Strap bag is made from plastic packing straps which would be incinerated if not collected by our ladies. Not only does this bag not add to our carbon footprint but it also is super durable. We use it for carrying wine, plants, vegetables, and even a garbage can. No worries on getting it dirty because you can wash it out with soap a water. Lastly, this bag has meaning behind it. Its named after Achiro Emily, one of our founding members. Emily is a fascinating woman who has lived a very interesting life. One time under a jackfruit tree she started to tell the story of her trip to Spain through a UN program. We spoke about our love of the Gaudy and I realized we have many more similarities than differences. Emily, just like myself wants the best for her family, wants to eat good healthy food, and get an education. These are universal rights that we spark conversations about.
Andrea Reyes in Uganda
NYGA: Did you have an environmental epiphany of sorts?
REYES SISTERS: Our environmental epiphany came when we first visited Uganda. There is no home depot, there is no Walmart, there is no container store and we love it. The garbage does not get taken away and kept out of sight as it does in America. You can smell the burning garbage in Uganda, you can see it in the streets, and you can see people using it to make innovative products. The cost of using recycled materials is minimal if not zero, the amount of creativity needed is grand and the positive implications is endless.
Amber Reyes in Uganda
NYGA: How did working in Uganda come into the equation??
REYES SISTERS: We are explorers first and foremost. We are lucky to come from a multicultural background where our only obligation is to help people and come back to tell our parents about it. Andrea first visited Uganda in 2007 after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology with her degree in pattern making. There are tailors all over Uganda that make one off pieces. Andrea felt with her knowledge and background she could make a big difference by teaching a group how to scale their work creating products with high quality standards in a efficient way. Next came the culture. Uganda is often described at magical. It is complex, tropical, messy, and fascinating.
NYGA: Can you explain a bit about how the "African prints" are made? Are these fabrics also made in a sustainable fashion?
REYES SISTERS: A. Bernadette is committed to using recycled materials and therefore started the Kanga Recycling Program. The women A. Bernadette work with all wear Kanga's, a square piece of fabric that is multifunctional, used to tie around their waist, hold their babies, and wrap around their head. A. Bernadette buys new fabric and exchanges it with the women for slightly used Kanga's which have become softer with wear. Thus, we get softer fabric for our prints instead of chemically treating and using excessive amounts of water to soften fabric. Almost 100 liters of water is used to process only 1 kg of textile goods. Most people do not even think about the number of "bathes" their jeans have gotten before falling into their hands. Not only does this program save water but keeps our women looking "smart" at the same time.
Bracelets and Hair Braids from A. Bernadette made out of recycled plastic
NYGA: Do you have distributors for your products Besides your web site how ti you sell them?
REYES SISTERS: We participate in a lot of markets. We are turning 1 year old this July and have taken our first steps towards having a permanent location to sell. A. Bernadette in June started organizing, in collaboration with the Urban Garden Center, Flea Marqueta, a mixed event retail space in East Harlem. A. Bernadette is organizing vendors, food, music, and workshops to create a space where education, community, and creativity are paramount. Walk into the Urban Garden Center and you will see A. Bernadette's items made from recycled materials on one side and beautiful pepper plants, palm trees, and azaleas on the other side. Grab some food and sit down at one of our dinning room tables with a neighbor to listen to some jazz or visit with some of our Fair Trade vendors. Its not all about shopping.. its about shared experiences.
A Bernadette Dress and Bags, NYC
NYGA: Are you considering doing any manufacturing here in NYC or in USA?
REYES SISTERS: Manufacturing is not a word we use often because it sounds so mass. We create everywhere. Sometimes products start in Uganda and are finished in the US. For example we were given these Chinese fans from Wix lounge, our website service, in NY. We brought them to UG and had the ladies cover them with Ugandan newspaper. We than brought them back to the US where we are hand using the pen & ink technique to draw "Explore the Unknown."We also work with Uganda artists here in NY. Mu Gadu, a Ugandan photographer based in BK and Kalulu Kids, a children's apparel company, making items from traditional East African fabric, on a variety of projects.
NYGA: One last Question. Where Does the name A. Bernadette come from?
REYES SISTERS: A. Bernadette comes from sister, Andrea Bernadette Reyes, the head designer. Andrea always knew she wanted to create her own fashion line and at age 15 her mother encouraged her to buy ABernadette.com. Knowing her daughters tenacious personality she encouraged Andrea to dream about start her own business someday. Bernadette, coincidentally, meaning brave like a bear, also speaks volumes to the companies culture of exploration, fearlessness, and courage.