Suffolk

'Handbag Oscars': Bag made from seatbelts wins for Suffolk designers

Bags on a rail
Image caption The company says its bags are "a symbol of how waste can be rejuvenated into new products"

Two friends have won an award for making bags from old seatbelts - using the proceeds to feed homeless people.

The Leka tote was created by Charlotte Bingham-Wallis, 29, and Maria Costa, 29, who first met while at Sudbury Upper School, Suffolk.

It has won the Best Green Bag of 2019 category at the Independent Handbag Designer Awards in New York.

The tote was created from 10 metres of refurbished seatbelts, eight plastic bottles and scraps of old fabric.

"Our winning bag is a symbol of how waste can be rejuvenated into new products," said Ms Bingham-Wallis, From Belo's director designer who also works part-time as a physiotherapist at Ipswich Hospital.

Image caption The pair manufacture in Brazil where Maria Costas (right) lives

She set up From Belo - a crowd-funded start-up - with her friend Maria Costa in January 2018.

They manufacture the accessories in Brazil, where Costa now lives.

"We are just school friends inspired by working in poverty-stricken areas that wanted to find a way to elevate a poor community," said Ms Bingham-Wallis.

A percentage of the firm's profits go to a charity located in Belo Horizonte, which From Belo said helps feed about 250 people a day,

"This is the same city where our team of artisans are based who create our products," said Ms Bingham-Wallis.

Image copyright From Belo
Image caption Profits are used to fund meals at a homeless charity in Brazil

Women make up 82% of its co-operative workforce and are paid a salary above the living wage.

"We believe in strengthening the community with fashion and not taking advantage." said Bingham-Wallis.

"Kindness does not stop at the people but is also heavily focused on the environment as well."

From Belo reckons it has re-used almost one mile (1.6km) of seatbelts, 518 lbs (234 kilos) of fabric and 2,907 plastic bottles.

Image copyright From Belo
Image caption A machinist stitching the refurbished seat belts into a bag
Image copyright From Belo
Image caption The designer Leka tote bag sells for about £200 with some profits going to a Brazilian homeless charity

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