by valerie
Categories: Fashion.

UPDATE: We hear the bags sold out at the Columbus Circle store in 29 minutes! If you didn’t get one, remember, you still have a chance to win a bag through our “Save Valerie” contest!

If you’re a regular ‘Razzi reader you’ve probably had it up to here with our coverage of Anya Hindmarch‘s “I’m Not a Plastic Bag,” from the minute we watched it dangle temptingly from the elbow of Keira Anya HindmarchKnightley to the news that the recent limited edition releases in Asian cities have caused stampedes. Well, here’s just one more story for you, to get you primed for the New York launch at Whole Foods Markets at 8 a.m. tomorrow (unless you’re already on line)!

I had the opportunity to sit down for a woman-to-woman chat with the designer herself this morning in the intimate lobby of the Bowery Hotel. Anya looked gorgeous, despite her overnight trip from Japan (the launch there took place yesterday). She was warm, gracious and a little overwhelmed by all the hubbub; just like any of us would be, if a little idea we cooked up three years ago ended up causing mob hysteria and astronomical EBay listings!

Over coffee we chatted about her growing eco-awareness, what she’s learned from this project, her five kids, and of course, the mysterious and profound relationship between fashion and social change.

E: How long have you been a designer?
A.H.: I always knew I wanted to go into business and into fashion, which was my first love. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so it was quite simple. I was 18 when I started. I love it.

E: Why bags?
A.H.: Shoes and bags are kind of girl candy, in a way. There’s a tribal aspect to bags. And I’m fascinated by the way they can change your feeling of confidence…you can be looking like a mess at the gym and put on a great bag and feel fantastic…And you don’t have to worry if they’ll fit! It’s an interesting product to build a business around. I’ve loved building a brand and a company…it’s what I was meant to do. It feels very right.

E: How did “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” come about?
A.H. We were approached by a charity called We Are What We Do, a global social change movement. It really appeals to me because it’s all about personal responsibility, and I think that’s something that people have completely lost sight of. People endlessly blame the government, and the fact is, it’s up to us….It was with a group of very creative advertising types who realize that if it’s too onerous and heavy-duty and demanding of people, they’ll lose interest. And I think that’s very fundamental. They came to see us 2 1/2 years ago with this book called Change the World for Five Pounds. In the book are 50 actions of personal responsibility issues, and the first action was, wherever possible, refuse plastic bags. And they wanted to make the first action into a product.

Hit “more” to read more about the the explosion of the trend and Anya’s response to crisicisms about the materials and manufacturing of the already-iconic bag…

A.H.: I’m not a raving greenie to any extent. Like everyone else I was just beginning to think about it – I still am. I’m far from perfect….I thought that in this project we could use our platform of fashion to create awareness. Not give the perfect solution, but hopefully reach a tipping point where it will become everyone’s day to day behavior…We felt that there were several things to do: Make a great bag, obviously…Make it interesting in that the environment is becoming very fashionable (and I don’t apologize for that because I think that’s what makes people notice it)….And make it very affordable…We made it a limited edition, and in retrospect of course it was too limited…But we just had no idea of the volume…We weren’t expecting that kind of reaction.

We talked about the expansion of the release outside the U.K., their partnership with the English supermarket chain Sainsbury’s and the catapulting of the Anya Hindmarch brand from the fashion pages to the environmental pages. I asked her what she thought of all this.

A.H.:..It sparked a huge debate in the papers about taxing plastic bags…and every article cites that this bag was involved. And for me…I was standing at the shop the other day in line, and both people on either side of me refused plastic bags. And if everyone did that once a day, that’s fantastic! I have five kids. And I used to go to the supermarket and take 30 plastic bags, get home and put them in the bin. I didn’t even think about it! There’s one phrase that’s stuck with me through this project: When you throw something away, there is no away.

E: Did the creation of this bag open up other environmental issues that you feel the need to address?
A.H. It’s a drop [in the bucket] but we decided that to tackle this particular issue because we make bags. In England there was a lot of criticism about this project because it was with a supermarket and everyone hates supermarkets…and also because the bag was made in China. I’ve always been very up front about that. It wasn’t possible to do it for the price otherwise. I don’t think Chinese manufacturing is in itself unethical… We made sure there were fair wages, no child labor and it’s all carbon offset…and we couldn’t have done the project other way. And [other criticism came] because they’re not made from fair trade cotton…which, again, we tried to do but couldn’t…fair trade is a tiny industry that didn’t offer the capacity and quality control we were looking for…but hopefully these projects, even they’re not perfect, and if they’re not hit down too hard by the press, encourage other people to do things. I don’t believe that people believe politicians anymore. But I think they do latch onto things like this….If it makes it trendy, that’s great. It might encourage other people to do similar projects…it’s all baby steps, isn’t it?

E: Is it surprising that you’ve become a sort of environmental spokesperson?
A.H.: I don’t think I am at all. And I don’t necessarily want to be because I’m very far from the perfect role model. But I hope that I can be a spokesperson for people with businesses, where you have a platform to do something. [Back in 2001 she launched the “Be A Bag” campaign for breast cancer research.] I’m not so much of a massive green spokeswoman…but I hope I’m a bit of a voice of sense, saying “Let’s try and do what we can.”

We discussed the canceling of the launches in Beijing, Shanghai and Jakarta due to the stampedes in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Anya watched it on the news and was disturbed by the images of people getting trampled. She mused that if she had known that people would come out in droves, she might have planned things differently.

E: So once this launch wraps up, and the bags are distributed around the world, what’s next for you?
A.H. I’ve got to get back to business as usual! I have shareholders and employees to answer to, plus I have five kids so I’m very busy…literally frantic…I’ve got a lot on my plate. We’ve set out to create awareness, we’ve done it and it’s been amazing…maybe I’ll write a book about it! It would be very cathartic (laughs).

E: Beyond this project, what are some of your personal pet issues?
A.H.: I’d love to see more information out there about how to recycle. People are uneducated about how to do it. I am! I’m standing there going, tell me, what do I do with this piece of paper with wax on one side? Is it plastic or paper? What do I do? It puts you into a spin. And I want more education about where everything goes. Maybe a local, street by street, program where someone explains to you where your waste goes. And really nice bins for your kitchen, because I have plastic bags hanging all over my kitchen! Ikea doesn’t seem to do them yet (laughs). And you know, if we went to where all the rubbish goes, and where our water comes from…we’d think more about what we could do. They should do that in the schools. I think that should be part of general education.

E: Let’s dish about celebs! Do you read the gossip?
A.H.: Who doesn’t? I mean, sometimes I get really tired of it, but they are unbelievably influential. And what’s been lovely about this project is, they’ve been so supportive. They really do give a damn. I think those pictures of Keira Knightley, Reese Witherspoon, and Jessica Biel wearing that bag speaks a thousand words to a million people. And they know that. They’re generous with their time and involvement and that’s really cool.

Anya will be at the Whole Foods at Bowery and Houston in New York, bright and early tomorrow at 8 a.m. Find more details here.

About valerie

Valerie recently relocated to New York City from Sitka, Alaska, where she worked in community radio.

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  • sarah

    i’ve searched around Anya’s website and the we are what we do site and i cannot find anywhere that it says the percentage of profits for these bags go straight to the non-profit and how much goes to the designer. does whole foods make a profit off the ones sold in the us? can anyone supply these figures?

  • Valerie

    Great question!
    After talking with Anya yesterday, my understanding is that the bags aren’t actually making a profit. They purposely made them cheap so that they could be affordable and widely available; and their focus is on the viral marketing aspect – that people will actually use the bags, spread the word and reduce waste! My guess is that, in their view, they’re bypassing the traditional “proceeds” model to deliver the message straight to you and me. (Or rather, that the creation of the bags themselves is the “non-profit.”) How well that works, and how it’s reflected in their or Whole Foods’ books, I don’t know.
    -Valerie

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  • Patti

    These bags are great however, I would need at least 10 to be able to go on a regular grocery shop. They were sold in max of 3…. Didnt help me much………