Who knew a Spinneys bag could be so chic? Dubai woman's quarantine project turns into business

Using old fabric and discarded plastic bags, Christine Wilson makes eco-friendly bags

During her time in quarantine, Christine Wilson developed a line of eco-friendly bags using upcycled materials. Ian D Murphy
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Many of us have discovered our hidden talents while staying at home – cooking, baking, painting, writing.

Christine Wilson, who lives in Dubai, has spent her self-isolation period building a business with the help of YouTube and a sewing machine.

With her bedroom as her workshop, Wilson has created Peahead.eco, a line of eco-friendly bags and travel accessories made from upcycled fabric and plastic grocery bags.

When she bought her machine in January, she didn’t think she would get much use out of it. Maybe for a few clothing alterations and repairs here and there. She says that, being short in stature, means hems often have to be adjusted.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic. She found herself out of a job in video production and inside her apartment all day because of Dubai's 24-hour curfew at the time.

After several grocery hauls with her partner, Wilson noticed that the plastic bags began to accumulate. “They were piling up in our house … So I had the idea to find something useful with what was around us,” she says.

With her partner’s old clothes, plastic bags and numerous YouTube video tutorials, Wilson stitched together her first cosmetic bag. Then she just kept going. When she ran low on plastic bags, she asked her neighbours for some of theirs. When she needed larger fabric for a tote design, she dug up unwanted curtains from her closet.

Gradually, Peahead.eco’s products expanded to toiletries bags and belts. Nowadays, Wilson spends hours on her sewing machine. “It’s recently become my best friend,” she says.

Peahead.eco's Curtain Call totes are made from upcycled curtains and used plastic bags. Ian D Murphy

Wilson moved to the UAE from Ireland a year ago to join her partner, who works as a cinematographer in Dubai, after years of regularly visiting him.

She quickly noticed that plastic consumption was an issue that the UAE’s environmental agencies have been trying to address.

In 2019, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi stated that the average UAE resident uses 1,182 plastic bags per year, which equals more than three bags a day and nearly triple the global average.

"People love this planet and... are becoming more aware of their clothes, where they come from and how they're made," Wilson says.

That’s also why she chooses her materials carefully. A number of her bags feature cork leather, which comes in sustainable and durable sheets made from tree bark. Most of Peahead.eco’s zippers are brass not nylon. The interfacing, the part that gives the bag its structure, is made from recycled plastic, as opposed to cheaper options such as a foam or felt.

“I wanted not to contribute more waste, so I made those decisions, although I could have gone for something much cheaper. You want it to feel nice and you want it to be a product you would use, so you have to use the right materials,” she says.

Peahead.eco is still a one-woman operation, which means the items are made in smaller quantities. So far, her Curtain Call series includes 15 totes, priced at Dh300 each and 30 cosmetic bags at Dh80 each. She has made 50 Fuse Box toiletries bags at Dh100 each. To help promote recycling, Wilson says that she would offer discounts to those who provide used clothes and plastics as material for their customised bag orders.

Ideas for her next designs are already on the horizon. After volunteering at dog shelters, Wilson noticed that many of the rescued animals had collars that were frayed or falling off. “I noticed that the shelters were asking for donations for small things like dog leads and collars … I think that’ll be the next thing. I’d like to make a doggy line and donate the proceeds to dog shelters,” she says, adding that she’s testing some prototypes on her pet.

As Dubai’s restrictions loosen and the businesses open again, Wilson is considering where she will take her newfound skills.

One option, she says, is working with brands “who are contributing to the greener side”. In the meantime, she still sees potential in transforming trash to fashion. “All this stuff that is wasted actually has great value, and if you can repurpose it and you have time to do it, why not?,” she says.