Local company gives new lease of life to old taxi seats
Reporter: Matthew Leung
It is black, it feels like leather and it has a distinctive smell. You have seen it somewhere before, and more than once. It may have taken you a minute or so, but eventually the penny will drop. You will recognize the materials of these bags are sourced from local taxis.
Founded in 2010, Handsome Co. designs bags and accessories that are made of useable parts of discarded taxis such as vinyl seat covers and seat belts.
It all started when co-founder Billy Potts was walking around Tai Hang one day and noticed there were lots of garages fixing taxis, leaving behind many spare parts. He saw some upholsterers changing seat covers that still looked useable, so he bought two seats from an upholsterer and experimented with them.
Potts, a lawyer, teamed with his friend architect Joseph Ng Sheung-yi, and scavenged for suitable discarded taxi materials after work. They decided to do something for the environment and the community.
According to Potts, there are about 18,000 taxis in Hong Kong and a seat lasts for an average of one to two years. Even if only a small portion of a seat cover is torn, the whole cover needs to be changed.
Unfortunately, these vinyl seat covers do not get recycled but end up in landfill sites. “They are valuable resources around us that we are wasting,” says Potts.
Potts and Ng want to give this waste a second life. After a process of trial and error, they decided to make simple bags and accessories. They first cooperated with the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association since they had the skills and were willing to try. “We liked the idea of something made in Hong Kong.” Says Potts.
Once they understood the properties of the vinyl covers, they sourced the right lining materials and designed the company’s logo. They produced their first salable product three months later.
Potts describes their products as “very subtly about Hong Kong”. Their bags are mainly composed of vinyl covers, locally sourced lining and seat belt straps. The lining and stitching come in three colors, namely red, green and blue, which echo the colors of our local taxis. “When people think about it gradually, they will sort of realize it is like very Hong Kong.”
It was never their intention to turn one kind of rubbish into another kind of rubbish. Therefore, when it comes to environmental issues, they take a lot of factors consideration, including the right use of materials, functionality, durability and even the environmental impact when the product is disposed of.
Handsome Co. is a company with stories to tell. These stories have attracted different customers. “Some people come because of the environmental reason, some people come because of the taxi, some people come because the like Hong Kong and some people come just because they like design,” Pott says.
Today, they are moving to a larger scale production but still cooperate with local people and Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association still make the prototypes.
The products do not come cheap, starting at US$45 for a book bag, and go up to US$120 for a messenger bag. But they are all locally sourced and made, are environmentally friendly and each one has a story.
Handsome Co. bags are made in Kowloon and are available online at www.handsomeco.com, where you will also find a list of stockists.