Ecosilk Bags strive to provide affordable, functional, practical, beautiful, long lasting shopping and other bags to specifically reduce plastic bag use. There is no ‘inbuilt obsolescence’ involved in the design process – they are meant to last for as long as possible, and eliminate as many plastic bags as possible, whilst bringing great satisfaction to the user.
Ecosilk Bags were created in 1999 by Emily Hay, who was dismayed by the widespread acceptance of plastic bag use in society, and the lack of viable alternatives. Whilst this phenomenon has completely changed to date in 2019, with a variety of reusable shopping bags now available, back then there were almost no other options than to use plastic bags.
As a pattern-maker/fashion designer, Emily developed the basic design of a singlet plastic bag, using a durable nylon fabric called parachute silk and advanced sewing machining methods for strength. After trialling the bags for two years and finding them to be ideal in every way, she started the business – Ecosilk Bags – in January 2001, with some initial help from a friend. The bag production began on the kitchen table, where they were cut and machined by Emily, but by 2005 had grown to mass production in China. The first bags were sold in local health food shops, and then expanded to include gift shops, book shops, post offices and printing for corporate and government departments.
The business grew consistently and peaked in 2009, after which the impact of the global financial crisis resulted in steadily decreasing sales and financial worry. Ecosilk Bags struggled to stay afloat financially, and by 2013 Emily decided to go to university, and also got a part time job in disability to support the business and reduce debt. In June 2017 she completed a Bachelor of Social Welfare, applied for a job, but within weeks the supermarket’s announcement to phase out single use plastic bags on 1 st July 2018 meant increased sales, and a new shift in public attitude toward plastic bags. Emily has now returned to work full time in the business and put in a huge effort to be ready for 2018. The business has rebranded with an environmental theme highlighting the Great Barrier Reef and the impact of plastics in the ocean. Emily is focusing on Ecosilk shopping bags packs of six and new packs of four – with new colours and themes for 2019 – for Australians to use in the supermarket, with the intention of finally being plastic bag free.
The bags are sold throughout Australia and in a small number of shops in the UK and Canada, and small scale distribution in the US. The business is currently operated from Emily’s property in Barkers Vale, in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales, Australia.
All bags are sampled and trialled first by owner Emily Hay in Australia, then sent to manufacturers in China, where they are again sampled for final approval prior to large scale production.
“I was initially completely against manufacturing outside of Australia, but was faced with literally 100% rejection from retailers in Australia, who told me the bags were terrific, but could not be sold with the current pricing. Upon deciding to move the manufacturing to China, I was determined to find a company that had a high standard of workmanship, but of equal importance – treated their workers fairly and ethically. These issues were far more important to me than a low price. I asked many questions and requested photos of the working environments of the many manufacturers who approached me, and was satisfied with the one I chose, who fitted in with my vision. Below is the statement from the owner of the company, with photos of the workers in 2006, 2008 and in 2015, in a much smaller work space than prior to the economic downturn. Once I moved the manufacturing offshore to China in 2005, I passed on all of the financial benefits of cheaper labour to the retailers and customers, and suddenly the business was successful”.
Emily Hay, 2017
“I appreciate very much that you are concerned with Chinese workers working conditions. We don’t employ child workers, and our workers are paid fairly and never forced to work overtime. Our workers enjoy the holidays according to our government rules. Also the working environment is not very very nice, but it is not bad, either.”
Jenny Rong, company owner in China 2004