The calling is strong for some.
In 2014, Lisa Siedlecki and Jennifer Silbert risked everything when they left behind their envious careers in fashion and architecture, unable to reconcile how much waste their respective industries were producing. The teamed up to found their sustainable accessories brand, Rewilder, with a mission to make "zero waste originals." Starting with bags.
Every single one of their products is made from 100% salvaged, high-performance materials and repurposed to create haute, one-of-a-kind accessories with a modern aesthetic.
And their new Airbag Backpacks take this to the next level.
We had a chance to catch up with the duo about how they started on this adventure:
Net Impact Los Angeles: How did the idea for Rewilder, and actually creating it come about? Did you ever plan work together and collaborate before realizing you both had a passion for ending material waste?
REWILDER: We founded Rewilder in 2014 after strong careers in fashion (Lisa) and architecture (Jenny). We witnessed industries obsessed with selling new and more, and were distressed by how much waste was produced in the process. As best friends, we were constantly commiserating, and finally got the courage to do something about it when we found this amazing material going to the landfill on a massive scale.
NILA: What has been the biggest benefit of being two co-founders from different (yet complementary) industries?
RW: We are both designers, but come from very different backgrounds. Lisa has extensive knowledge of large scale product manufacturing, and bag design details, while Jenny’s experience is in large scale architectural installation and material development. Collaboration leads to innovation, as we both have different techniques for problem solving which often lead to solutions that neither one of us could come up with alone. Working with salvage materials, there are not standards for many of our design challenges, and we are constantly having to invent tools / details / connections that we haven’t seen before. Our development process on a new material takes about 9 months, and you can find us jumping around the studio in joy when we find an elegant solution to a complicated problem.
NILA: What was the pivot like from your corporate jobs to starting this enterprise? Any advice you can share with other entrepreneurs about what you learned in this process?
RW: It’s scary as hell. All of our comforts - 401K, health insurance, money – were gone. Be ready for a serious commitment. Have a strong support system, including savings, to really commit to your goal. It’s taken a lot of foundation to make this work. We decided to boot-strap and slow grow Rewilder (not taking any large capital investment), because this is a new model for fashion and we needed proof that it works.
Look for other entrepreneurs that are doing the same thing. We have gotten help and advice from other creatives that have been on this journey, and were willing to sit with us and share knowledge.
NILA: How did you discover beer filter cloth as a material?
RW: Every new material is an investigation. We look for industrial materials that are trashed at a large scale, and are not recyclable. The first step is really just looking around and noticing things that are typically behind the scenes, and then starting from zero to find out more. It takes patience and perseverance to find people that want to help with this mission. Ultimately, establishing good relationships with large manufacturers is key to our success.
We first found beer filter cloth when Jenny was teaching Material Innovation classes at Art Center in Pasadena. The classes were centered on repurposed materials, and her research focused on unique industrial discard materials. Beer filter cloth stood out as a strong, durable, and beautiful material with design potential. Out of context, Lisa immediately recognized it as a perfect material for bags, and the idea for Rewilder was born. After discovering the material, it still took over a year to source it reliably!
NILA: Are there any plans to expand to other kinds of accessories (or even clothing) in the future?
RW: We have been in R+D for the past year on a new material from the auto industry. Our new Airbag Backpack is made from 100% salvaged airbags and seatbelts. Each year, over 100,000 tons (the weight of 250 airplanes!) of material is rejected, never used, and cannot be recycled. Rather than letting it go to the landfill, we are upcycling this amazing material into the best eco backpack on the market.
An airbag is built to be indestructible. The material is high performance, lightweight, durable, waterproof, and surprisingly so beautiful. It has its own modern performance aesthetic and a unique textured graphic line pattern from its first life. The straps are made with salvaged seatbelts – strong and comfortable.
The backpack is designed for adventure and an active lifestyle. The lightweight material is strong enough to take a beating – city commute / biking / hiking – and easy to clean. It fits a 15” laptop in the back sleeve, has two side pockets for water bottles, a front snap pocket, and a secret zip pocket for valuables. It’s a rad bag, handmade in LA from 100% salvage materials.