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Project promotes sustainability by repurposing ASU banners into bags

The collaborative effort upcycles the banners and offers jobs to people with disabilities


Madison Ryan, a training associate at F.A.B.R.I.C. and TCH member, makes measurements to accurately sew the ASU banners into totes at F.A.B.R.I.C. in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

Instead of being thrown in landfills, the vinyl maroon and gold ASU banners that hang on buildings and poles around campus are being repurposed into totes and other bags. 

In collaboration with ASU's School of Sustainability and the Arizona Apparel Foundation, the bags are sewn by a group of women from The Centers for Habilitation and then sold at the ASU bookstore in Tempe. 

The bags are made by four young women with disabilities at F.A.B.R.I.C, the Fashion and Business Resource Innovation Center.

"There's nothing but good that comes out of this whole project," said Sherri Barry, co-founder of the Arizona Apparel Foundation. "It shows ASU pride ... and the city of Tempe, ASU, TCH and our foundation have all teamed together to create a community partnership to make this happen."

Barry said almost all of the $18 tote bags were sold within the first two hours of being available at the bookstore in January. 

Travis Buckner, a graphic design specialist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, said banners created for events and special departments are not recyclable and take several years to decompose.

"We're keeping a lot of banner material out of the landfill and giving young adults with disabilities a job and skills that can help them down the road," Buckner said.

Buckner said he proposed the idea to the Arizona Apparel Foundation last summer and hopes that it can inspire other people to make an environmental impact.

Ryan McAlister, TCH job coach, shows Madison Ryan, a training associate at F.A.B.R.I.C and TCH member, how to sew the ASU banners at F.A.B.R.I.C in Tempe, Arizona on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

He said individual bags cost around $13 to make and from that amount, $8 go directly to TCH and the rest is used to purchase materials. 

Kimberly Calvert, a volunteer for the Arizona Apparel Foundation who helps with training, said the bags need webbing to make handles, velcro and industrial thread.

Calvert said some adjustments had to be made such as placing an elevated seam guide and simplifying the stitching for the TCH members to sew.

Jim Hodges, the employment development center manager at TCH, said the bookstore recently ordered 48 bags, including new designs such as briefcase style bags, beach bags and backpacks.  

He said plans are in the making for students in ASU's special education department to intern at Arizona Fashion Source and help the TCH members improve their sewing and productivity. 

“Projects like this one give (people with disabilities) an opportunity to enter the workforce and prove to society that they have a lot to contribute," Hodges said. “If more people are aware of these possibilities for employment in the community then their loved ones or friends who have disabilities will reach a higher potential.”

Ryan McAlister, a job coach from TCH, works directly with the four women sewing the bags. He said people with disabilities need help finding and keeping a job.

The latest order of the bags is expected to be completed in three to four weeks and will be available for sale at the bookstore, he said. 

"We're just really happy to be here and that (Arizona Apparel Foundation) decided to support us without asking for anything in return," McAlister said. “And then came ASU — they could hire sewers who can do it a hundred times faster — but they chose us, and we're really thankful for that."

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