A Lotta Bottle
A bag made from recycled ring pulls is carving a 3D-printed, waste-conscious niche on Regent Street and beyond.
If you ever wondered what becomes of your recycled plastic bottles, you should make a trip to 84 Regent Street in Central London.
Behind an original John Nash-designed, 200-year-old Portland Stone façade, the shop’s interiors are entirely 3D-printed using plastic from around 60,000 recycled bottles.
This is the home of Bottletop, a handbag brand that has products no less extraordinary than its flagship store. And for a luxury start-up endorsed by Naomi Campbell, David Bailey, Annie Lennox and Livia Firth, you might expect something special.
Using ring pulls and bottle tops rescued from landfill, handstitched with certified zero-deforestation leather, Bottletop’s bags and belts are the ultimate guilt-free, gorgeous accessories.
While the brand was officially launched in 2012 by Oliver Wayman (34) and Cameron Saul (37), the seeds of the company were sown a decade before, as a charity campaign run by British luxury handbag maker Mulberry, making bags from recycled bottle tops in Kenya.
Mulberry was founded by Cameron’s father, Roger Saul, and Cameron had been based in Uganda working on the project. He brought with him leather off-cuts from Mulberry for the artisans to use in their work.
The idea for the company then grew quite organically, explains Wayman. He and Cameron met at a Mylo gig in Brighton and realised they had much in common. They had both recently lived in Africa doing non-profit work, Cameron in Uganda and Wayman in Ghana. “So, we became great friends and decided to work together.”
Taking the charity campaign run by Mulberry in 2002 as a starting point, Cameron sourced the original wireframe bag from Uganda. Then Wayman set up an atelier in El Salvador, Brazil, in 2007 to recreate a product made from recycled ring pulls, which his mother had drawn his attention to.
“Together we launched the Bottletop fashion company in 2012, and our atelier has since grown to employ 25 people from one of the poorest favela communities in Brazil,” he says.
It was from then that they felt they were breaking new ground, adds Wayman. “The moment when we took on our first lease at our atelier in Salvador was incredible. Our staff were now able to work in a clean, safe environment away from the growing gang violence in their community. They all looked so happy,” he recalls.
Seven years on and they are making thousands of products a year, predominantly at the atelier in Brazil and, more recently, in Nepal. Best sellers include the Morela Mini Tote (£295) and the cross-body Helena (£195), crafted from vibrantly hand-painted ring pulls in coral, buttercup and caramel shades.
Bottletop sells unisex leather backpacks (£495) and crocheted ring-pull belts (from £65) and sumptuous leather laptop cases (£395). The next step, says Wayman, is moving into other recycled and zero-waste products.
“The ring-pull collection has become our signature line but we see this as a foundation for a much larger collection of ethically-made luxury accessories,” says Wayman.
The Regent Street store has been essential, he adds, to demonstrate that the company’s entire ecosystem, both the collection and retail environment, is created from the lowliest upcycled products to incredible effects.
“We wanted to create an environment that encapsulated our brand values of sustainable high-end design and pushed the boundaries of design, using new technologies,” he explains.
The store, which employs 20, truly is dizzying to behold. Manufactured by robots at ground-breaking northeast London tech company AI Build, with design by Krause Architects, the shop’s undulating ceiling is created from 3,600 fizzy-drink cans.
The store was ultimately created through a company called Reflow, which supplied the recycled plastic filament, using the equivalent of 60,000 recycled plastic bottles in printing.
“It has been great to see the traditional artisanal handwork juxtaposed with the futuristic 3D-printing of the store interior, in a zero-waste process using robots,” adds Wayman.
What has been most satisfying is the success of the foundation run in conjunction with the brand, which has raised more than £1 million through fundraising and events. The foundation empowers disadvantaged young people in Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa, to take control of their lives. It tackles issues including the prevention of HIV/AIDS, unplanned teenage pregnancies, substance abuse, gender inequality, low self-esteem and vocational skills deficits.
The running costs of the foundation are covered by Bottletop, enabling 100 percent of all funds raised to be spent on empowering young people and their communities.
“Our vision is for all young people worldwide to be equipped with the necessary health education, transferable skills and self-confidence necessary to make healthy, informed choices and achieve their full potential,” says Wayman.
Bottletop is set to open pop-up stores in Hong Kong (August 2019) and New York (early 2020), with the potential for a permanent space.