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It Works: Boats to Backpacks

On the Greek island of Lesbos, Dutch designers Floor Nagler and Didi Aaslund are turning discarded boats and lifejackets into bags for refugees. The two have together founded It Works, a volunteer organization giving workshops on how to upcycle these materials into much needed items of value and utility such as bags.

As one of the main gateways to Europe, Lesbos is currently facing a humanitarian crisis with an estimated half a million refugees reaching the island by boat in the past 12 months with the hopes of finding a new life in Europe. Most are smuggled in rubber boats that are filled beyond maximum capacity, forcing the refugees to leave their bags behind in Turkey or throw them overboard. As a result, there is a huge shortage of bags for the next part of their journey. Meanwhile, boats and lifejackets are left as waste on the beaches and disposed of in a Lesbos landfill, where they currently amount to an estimated 30,000 cubic meters of unused, waste material. In this situation, It Works sees opportunity for a positive change, however small.

The idea for It Works began when Floor Nagler, a textile student, visited Lesbos as a humanitarian volunteer. Noticing the large amounts of waste materials and connecting this to a lack of bags, she brought 20kg of boat and lifejacket materials back to her native Amsterdam with an idea in mind. Together with fellow designer Didi Aaslund, they began to brainstorm designs for a bag. Each of their bags is made from one piece of folded boat material. The openings are held together with rivets and they clip shut with buckles salvaged from discarded lifejackets. According to Nagler, the bags costs approximately $3 each to make and their production requires no energy.

Beginning February 29, 2016, the two began a weeklong workshop teaching refugees how to make their own bags at an improvised tent camp outside the Moria reception centre, which is near the capital city of Mytilini.

Over the coming months, they plan to convert their former Military Police van into a mobile workshop space. It will contain sewing machines and other necessary tools to up-cycle materials that the refugee crisis leaves behind as waste. Meanwhile, It Works will continue collecting rubber boats and life vests from the beaches of Lesvos and plan to drive the van to Greece this July, where they will host several more workshops.

To get involved or learn more, you can visit the facebook page of It Works here, and their homepage here.