I sewed a backpack out of recycled trash from Uganda and Germany. The backpack contains parts of a yoga-mat, many plastic bags, a plastic lid, recycled African fabric, and a bunch of other “trash”. I am not a seamstress, most of the sewing is rough, and some things are not sewn at all. So, “freestyle building” is the more appropriate term for what I was doing. It took several days, lots of trial and error, and a deep cut on my thumb, but the backpack is done!
I’ll admit: I didn’t use any measuring tools other than relative eyeballing and my hands/fingers (“3 fingers wide”, “as long as the last thing”, etc). I ended up having to take apart and redo several things:
- Side pockets: they were made well, but weren’t flexible enough to accept bigger things, like a water bottle. I cut out the bottom part and added 3 elastic straps. Now the pockets work well!
- Front panel: the material was too wide, which made it bulge out. I pinched it in the middle and turned it into a design feature: a decorative fold to accentuate the front pouch.
- Back straps: these weren’t attached to the top of the bag at the right angle. This made it so the straps were too tight around the neck, and they were crooked, too. Now the distance between the straps is appropriate, but it’s still not perfect: one strap is wider than the other, so it looks like one strap is closer to the edge than the other. This can’t be changed, it’s just something to accept.
So, it took several detours. The result is still imperfect. But as the German YouTube builder Laura Kampf says “Every defect gets respect!”. This backpack has “defects”. It wasn’t what I expected. But it’s still beautiful and practical. And can we just appreciate how cool it is that this was literally made from trash?!
All in all, I love it. And who knows, maybe it will fall apart in a few months. But it taught/reminded me of 4 things:
- Detours aren’t (always) bad: I’m not romanticizing detours: Sometimes things are just awful, and all you can do is survive them day by day. But other things may not be as bad as we think. What if things don’t go as planned, but they lead you to a new idea or a new connection, or you learn something about yourself? It won’t always happen. But I like to keep my eyes open for when it does.
- Appreciate the “little things”: the things we use day-to-day are actually quite complex. Even something like a backpack has several layers, materials, attachments, etc.
- Respect the “little people”: A seamstress may not seem like an important person. Some of the seamstresses I know in Uganda never learned to read or write, they don’t necessarily know how rain is formed or where India is on a map. But they could make this backpack way better than me. They know how to design a pattern, cut and align many pieces of fabric, how to use a sewing machine and how to do all of this so accurately that they can tailor the piece to the measurements of the client. Every one of those steps take time to learn and perfect, and they require a person who is willing to use that skill. So, don’t look down on “simple people”, even if they say “ignorant” things. They have something to give to the world.
- Don’t overlook the “trash” – Unlock potential: I made this backpack out of literal “trash”. That idea is part of a holistic attitude towards the world: What potential are we missing, what people are we ignoring, what problems are we allowing, all because we don’t see beyond how it is “now”? Plastic waste is an environmental hazard, health risk, it takes up land and water space that could be used otherwise, etc. It’s a problem. Bu I think we could rather say “it’s a problem now”: It’s a problem “now”, we don’t deny that, but it doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe the difference between “trash” and “treasure” is a matter of how we apply it. Fire can burn down houses, but it can cook, too. Water can flood a city, but it can also power a power plant. Plastic waste can cause enormous environmental damage, but it can also be turned into useful products. We can’t magically fix everything like this. Some problems are just problems. But we can fix a lot and hopefully improve life for everyone involved.
So, what do you think? What “detours” may you not be done with, and what detours may actually contain good things? What “little things” could you appreciate, even if they aren’t perfect? Are there “little people” you looked down upon and could show some respect/support to? And could some (not all!) of the “problems” you face actually be hidden potential? Leave a comment if you like, and have a great day!