Heroines for the Planet: Upcycled Bag Designer Monica Ralli

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She’s a certified nutritionist, eco-entrepreneur, author and the reigning Queen of Green in the twitterverse. It’s no surprise that Monica Ralli, founder of Urthbags, is a Heroine for the Planet. Her wildly popular eco-bags provide jobs to underprivileged women worldwide as old, discarded objects are cleverly transformed into statement-making arm candy.

With her new book to be released this spring, I talked with the eco-chic bag extraordinaire about the fair-trade womens organizations with which she works, sustainable sourcing, and why she chooses to be a mouthpiece for the do-gooders in our world.

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Lindsay Brown: How did you hatch the idea of creating Urthbags?

Monica Ralli: The UrthBags Eco-Chic Handbags concept really stemmed from my ongoing mission to find the most innovative, effective ways to reduce the amount of waste in this world. Being an entrepreneur, my mind is constantly analyzing every creative business idea that comes my way. Back In 2007, before I had sold The OC Spa & Wellness Center, I was determined to introduce a creative, green and stylish product line into our retail store. One evening, while attempting to organize my somewhat chaotic closet, I realized that I had an apparent handbag and purse obsession! At first, I laughed, but then I began to notice how much synthetic, anti-eco, machine-made crap they were made from. Ugh. Then a light bulb went on in my head, and I thought: Why couldn’t I create a recycled handbag line made from all of the discarded materials out there? A purse with a meaningful “Eco” purpose that spreads a powerful message about the environment in a fun and fashionable way? After spending many months working through the logistics, details and challenges, UrthBags Eco-Chic Handbags was born and are now sold in retail locations nation-wide.

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LB: You provide jobs to underprivileged women around the globe. Can you tell us about the co- operatives that you work with?

MR: We partner with women’s organizations in the Phillipines and Indonesia. They are comprised of many underprivileged, hard-working and devoted women. Their environment is extremely motivating, instructional and supportive. We even accommodate our mothers with small children who need to work from home so that they can produce additional income for their family without worrying about daycare. The various aspects and standards of how these organizations are structured and operate include:

  • employment is freely chosen
  • the right to collective bargaining is respected
  • working conditions are safe and hygienic
  • child labor is not used
  • living wages are paid
  • discrimination is not practiced

LB: Urthbags are made using everything from phone books, newspapers, magazines to juice containers and hand-collected shells. How are these materials sourced?

MR: All of our materials are sourced locally and are either discarded scraps, post-consumer and/or salvaged from residences, commercial accessories shops (i.e. cotton and zippers), fabric shops and dump sites and trash collectors. They travel locally, within their own communities to hand-collect, sanitize and prepare the recycled materials for purse production.

LB: Have you seen a shift in consumer demand for fashion that is ethically and sustainably sourced over the last few years since launching Urthbags?

MR: Yes, most definitely. I’m thrilled by how the majority of consumers have embraced the many eco-minded fashion companies that have emerged over the last few years. This growing public interest has made an influential statement causing fashion manufacturers to create more eco-friendly options that reflect both their new environmental priorities and savvy style. To me, this shift truly validates the power of the people to direct what and how things are produced.

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LB: You use Twitter in a really admirable way in that you chose to promote the good deeds and work of others, and you’ve amassed quite the following. Twitter is actually where you and I met! By helping others, how has social media helped you spread your message?

MR: I truly love educating, inspiring and bringing the best out of people. With the majority of my experience being in marketing, extending my efforts to non-profits along with the good deeds and work of others is a refreshing, natural transition for me. Life gets busy. So many of us so easily get caught up in our daily routines, jobs and family responsibilities that we often forget about giving back to society in some way. I try to serve as a friendly reminder by tweeting about notable, worthy causes, charities and random do-gooders to break the chaos and bring attention to something philanthropic, selfless and meaningful.

LB: You have a book coming out this spring: “Get Green, Healthy & Lean.” What inspired you to write the book?

MR: With a huge passion for nutrition, fitness, disease prevention and the environment, I’ve spent most of my life researching and working in these fields. To give you a bit of background, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology/Exercise Physiology from The University of Southern California and have certifications in both sports nutrition and personal fitness training. In 04’ I founded The OC Spa & Wellness Center followed by UrthBags Eco-Chic Handbags in 07’. Currently, I am working on my certification in plant- based nutrition, writing, blogging and working daily to encourage and educate others on how to live greener, healthier lives.

LB: What are a few of your favorite ecological products?

MR: Now that would be one crazy long list! Rather than singling out a few and taking the chance on neglecting so many, I’d just like for us to begin learning more about how, what and where the things we buy are made and work towards replacing those that are either non-recyclable, disposable, unsustainable and/or toxic with those that are planet-friendly. Whether it be switching from bottled water to a filter, opting to use recycling bins, shopping at farmer’s markets more often than grocery stores or volunteering at an awesome non- profit, it’s the little things we all do that collectively can make an enormous impact on our environment and our lives.

LB: Where can Eco-Chick readers pick up a Urthbag of their own?

MR: www.urthbag.com or from one of our retailers nation-wide: http://bit.ly/ge5OvX

LB: What advice would you give to Eco-Chick readers who will soon graduate college and embark on the next phase of their lives?

MR: Most importantly, I would recommend taking the time to really think about what your true interests and passions are before embarking on a career or business venture. If you don’t look forward and feel a fire for it, it will most likely be short-lived or make you miserable down the road. When getting out into the work force, I strongly feel that personal drive, enthusiasm and dedication, along with a genuine desire to do the best one can, are the characteristics and qualities that shine the brightest.

LB: Monica, many thanks for this interview!

 

About Lindsay E. Brown
Lindsay is Eco-Chick's Co-owner and Managing Editor. She also works for CBS EcoMedia. She writes the weekly “eco roundup” at LauraTurnerSeydel.com and has written for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living Magazine, Edible, Cottages & Gardens, EarthHour.org, Eco-Age.com, Ecover US and Gather Green. Lindsay was featured on the Veria Living Network as a “voice for the planet’s health” and was named in Ecover’s “30 Under 30″ contest which recognized those who are making a sustainable difference in their local or global communities.

One Comment

  1. I’ve been following Urthbags work for awhile now but I missed the newspaper / magazine style bags seen here – I LOVE them!

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