There are two kinds of shoppers: those who like to spend a lot of money on just a few select purchases and then the bargain shoppers, those who like to fill up the big bags with their 75%-off goods. After my recent admission of shopping in Milan, and now this, you won’t believe that I am usually the third type of shopper: the type who spends just a little bit of money on just a few select purchases. I have never bought a pair of shoes for more than $50. Clothes I buy at thrift stores whenever possible. This shirt I’m wearing now, $5. Up until last year (when the shirts finally disintegrated), the majority of my clothes came from raiding my grandpa’s bags of old clothes.

So why then did I spend $120 on a messenger bag made out of used bicycle innertubes while I was in Budapest? I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I loved the idea first and the bag second. Here’s a young woman, a Turkish immigrant to a European city, who has managed to make an upscale design business using materials that would otherwise be thrown away. Here is someone going from cycle shop to cycle shop trying to convince the owners to give her their used bicycle tubes instead of throwing them away. And with that so-called garbage, she makes something both stylish and useful.

We live in an age of build, buy, and discard. Every month we buy things we think we need only to throw them away next month. I spent $120 on this messenger bag in part because of what it represents: creatively re-using what we already have. Plus, it’s truly waterproof … something I haven’t found in other messenger bags. Here’s an interview I did over email with Ipek Türkoglu, the founder and designer of Balkan Tango.

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DS: How did you come up with the idea to create messenger bags out of bicycle tubes?

IT: It was something like love at first sight! What particularly appealed to me was the silky way the tubes felt to the touch (after being polished ;). Along with this came the thought of making something that at the same time is environmentally-friendly. These two aspects rolled into one made me come up with the idea of creating bags from punctured bicycle tubes. As I have always been designing and making bags for practical use, this was only too self-evident for me.

DS: Can you briefly describe how you go about making the bags?

IT: First is cleaning all the trashed inner tubes. Then certain parts of the bags are put together in our Budapest-based workshop. This is done to ensure that 100% of the bags is made from recycled goods. Once the bags are half-made they are then completed in a workshop outside of Budapest. Here three professional sewers who specialize in sewing rubber finish the rest of work. This way we make sure that each of our items is 100% hand-cut and sewn.

DS: Was it difficult to set up your own business?

IT: Well, in Eastern Europe, and with the present state of economic affairs, it was pretty challenging 🙂

DS: How did you introduce yourself to the cycle shops around Budapest? Do they like that their discarded tubes are turned into bags?

IT: Actually the owners of these shops had a very different attitude toward recycled design. At the beginning some used to kind of steer clear of this idea :(, but as time went by they’ve come to like it :). However, here in Hungary we still have a lot to go so that environmental consciousness is raised.

DS: Are their other recycled materials you’ve thought about working with in the future?

IT: We make bags from used LPs, but this summer we are making the last batches of them and from autumn on our focus is going to be on tarpaulin.

Balkan Tango bags come in various sizes. You can purchase yours from Supermarket.

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