sustainable leather buckleDepending on who I talk to, sustainability can mean different things.

If I talk to a farmer, for instance, it can mean one thing.

If I talk to chefs it can mean something else.

For me, it carries more and more components as I build my business.

Sustainability for me is Sourcing — getting as much green product as possible. But it’s also sourcing from within the US because I want my dollars to feed the infrastructure of this country. It’s finding materials that will last, not just in terms of static durability, but in terms of context. Heat, rain, snow, travel — all the things that can impact the longevity of an object.

Sustainability Is Also Waste Management

The bitter truth of building anything is that there is waste — there is scrap certainly — but there is also the waste engendered at both ends of the process — the manufacture of the raw material and the product’s own end-of-life.

Philosophically, then, it raises the question about what waste is.

For instance, a flower grows, pulling nutrients from its surroundings, it blooms, and it dies – along each stage, the flower creates some sort of waste — whether its soil depletion, the attraction of pests, and even oxygen could be considered “waste”.

I know — that’s a simplistic example — but it’s a decent model to start with when talking about whether “waste” is good or bad — or when and where that waste enters the environment.

fabric scrapsFor me, there is a lot of scrap — odd bits of cloth that come from cutting and the occasional mis-sewing of something. I have bags of the stuff. Eventually, I use t to stuff pillows and dog beds — I might even eventually release a line of pillows — just to address the sad remains.


There would be ways to recycle the material — for small businesses — not for bigger companies that can afford to process their waste and get new cloth — but us little guys who can still fill a garbage bag with stuff.

The Goal of Sustainability

A goal of sustainability is to create the smallest footprint possible — the least damage to the environment — both the ecosystem and the economy.

Patagonia, long seen as the flagship of sustainable manufacturing, is still very candid about the problems it faces. A recent series of studies showed that the poly fibers generated from washing outdoor clothing were in itself an irritant to the landscape. How then, does a company that prides itself on its smart solutions to environmental problems, pivot?

Patagonia has already pivoted, both philosophically and financially by asking its customers to buy less — and to use what they own longer. A little bit of a catch-22 in regards to poly cloths but an important message is there: change how you consume.

What I think about a lot these days is that consumer piece. First — making a product that will fit into someone’s lifestyle for a decade or more. Second — convincing someone that finding a product like that is a good thing.

Waste is one thing — design is another. How do you design something sustainable? Yeah — ok — sourcing the material and having a plan for the waste is one thing — but is the product I am making going to last both in terms of use and in terms of lifestyle? I can more readily answer the first question: Sure — if my QA is up to snuff, I can make a pretty bullet-proof product.

Sustainable by Design

In regards to the second question — we can tear it up into two views: Design and Consumer orientation — Am I able to design and build something that will not look or become anachronistic in a couple of years.

The way I try to solve that question is by studying and using classic design metrics and shapes — and by working with my customers to get them exactly what they want, within certain parameters.

What I have noticed about that last part is that most people don’t really know how to walk through that question.

When I pose the question — what do you need in a bag, I get some vague outlines and then I interject with — “do you want a pocket here”? “How about I change the strap so that it’s easier for you to ride your bike.” I see the light go on in their eyes, then. And delight enters into the conversation — more often than not I get “you mean I can have that? And it won’t cost extra?”

If I can tailor what I do to closely fit how you live your life, then chances are, my product will be relevant to your life for a longer period of time. If I can also provide a service where I repair any bag within its lifespan for free — if I can establish a one-on-one relationship with my customers, then I can provide a sense of security in the quality and use of the product.

From a business standpoint, it’s a terrible model for me because I am working against obsolescence.

TL:DR — Sustainable design is not just sourcing, managing waste and the act of design. It’s also the quality of support and communication. Sustainability is the quality and attention given to the lifespan of the product and to its environment.

Ben Trissel

Founder of Sidgl, 4th generation craftsman and designer of functional beauty.


Image Source: Mirøslav Hristøff

About Ben Trissel

Ben is the Founder of Sidgl, 4th generation craftsman and designer that believes in thoughtful design, sustainable manufacturing and functional beauty. Sidgl makes handcrafted bags that are designed to look good, feel good and above all function well.

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I am constantly in pursuit of my 3-goals for sidgl -- better design, greater sustainability and working with a community of like-minded individuals.  Join me as I explore this fashion revolution. --Ben


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