Jennifer Wood of Dirtbags Climbing
In today’s throw-away consumerist world there has been a growing emphasis on the need to reuse and recycle.
One company striving hard to reduce the waste ending up in landfill is Dirtbags Cimbing – Recycled Rope Chalks Bags & Outdoor Accessories.
All their materials are locally sourced creating products that are one of a kind!
We got together with Jennifer Wood, Mother, climber & founder of Dirtbags to find out a little bit more, hear what Dirtbags is all about and Jennifers hopes for the future…
Tell us a little bit about yourself & your journey so far in creating ‘Dirtbags Climbing’…
We are both from West Yorkshire but now we are based in the Lake District – there is no way we would leave; with everything around us to keep our adventurous side quenched – lakes, crags, fells, rivers, the coast. I was incredibly lucky to be able to take a whole year out of my work at Lancaster University for maternity. As an outdoorsy person and as I got larger and larger….I got bored. Then James brought home a sewing machine he had found in a skip. You cannot do a lot of climbing when you have a human growing inside you so I locked myself away and got on the sewing machine. James is an engineer, and I, a wannabe artist. It grew from there, really. Bump and business.
Sustainability and recycling of materials is a hot topic at the moment, and rightly so. Where did the idea to use old climbing rope come from?
Quite simply, we had old rope and needed to dispose of it. I just did not have the heart to see it go. The more I spoke to climbers the more I found out about the hidden stash of old rope and harnesses etc. people kept in their attics and garages.
1. It is sentimental, that gear has been through a lot, and you have too!
2. Old rope will always come in handy, at some point. You never know when you’ll need a new washing line!
3. It is plastic, so won’t biodegrade, and no way can you pop it in your recycling.
The outdoor recreation industry is huge, and ever growing. Safety gear like climbing ropes need to be tested, and safe. This means that they have a finite life, unfortunately they are mostly made of plastics. We cannot stop the growth of the industry, nor the need for safety gear – but we can re-think how we use the things normally just thrown away. Dirtbags is only a small company but I really like to think we make a little difference, at least in Cumbria, when climbers donate their old things to us instead of contributing to landfill.
Your range of products just seems to keep on growing – What has been the motivation for this?
One look at our house you will see a Frankenstein’s monster of the reused and re-purposed. For example, James built our porch from used wooden pallets. We are makers, fixers and menders so only taking rope seemed wrong.
It is not just rope that goes to waste. I reached out to local outdoor companies, to ask them to let me know when they were having a clear out; and all sorts of plastic-based safety gear needs replacing. Bendrigg Trust had a huge pile of failed life jackets. All I could see was – webbing! Buckles! Waterproof fabric! I am currently working through that pile making wash-bags for an Etsy Made Local fair we are attending in Preston on the 2nd of December. The same goes for fabric waste from the manufacturing process. We are lucky to have friendly local outdoor manufacturers around us and they very kindly keep the off-cuts and scraps of material aside, and not in the bin, for us to pick up and to recycle.
Have there been any particular highs or lows which stand out since starting the business?
My favourite part of this job is being able to look at a pile of objects donated, and get the creative cogs turning. What can we make? How can we reuse this?
Customers love knowing that their handmade bag has come from lot of places, already had many adventures. Having people say that they have heard of us, before meeting us puts a huge grin on my face!
Naturally, making new things from old things means that networking is important and chatting to fellow outdoorsy people while we are out and about in the wild is vital to make sure we have a steady stream of ‘waste’. This is great; James is a wonderful conversationalist and loves chatting climbing and adventures, where I am more at ease with my head in a book or on top of a mountain. Therefore, this alone has been a big personal challenge for myself, to be open – to be confident – to put myself out there. I can feel myself growing as a person along with Dirtbags.
How have you found having your own business and being a parent? Would you have any tips for someone thinking of doing the same?
Our main worry about starting a family was actually more about ‘can we still climb’ ‘can we still get out’, and through ups and downs we have found a happy mix of everything. The worry of having a business and being a parent fell by the wayside. We just do it! Luckily, Dirtbags Climbing is part of all that, getting out having adventures and making stuff when we are not. I find it very freeing, to be your own boss and to be able to say – ‘stop – let’s go to the park’ or watch Disney movies all day knowing you can make up the lost time when he is safely tucked up in bed later on.
My advice is to do it! If it doesn’t work, so be it – but you tried. And of course to stick with your ideas and to be confident with your business and yourself. We know that what we do isn’t totally unique and there are companies who recycle and
re-purpose all over the UK, we just see ourselves as the Lake District branch and, well, ALL recycling is good – we help each other out! One main tip, which I think is a less obvious one and we certainly have benefited from it – that is to use the skills and experiences of people around you to help develop, both as a parent, and as a business owner. Never be afraid to ask!
What exciting ventures are you most looking forward to in the near future?
We have just built an eco-cabin in our back garden – all by our fair hand – where all of the Dirtbags are made. James is currently working on making it solar powered, which I am really excited about so we can say that we will truly be a zero-waste, eco business.
I am hoping to steadily grow, as we are designing more unique, performance based products. For instance, we now have chalk bags made solely from recycled fabric, without the rope, so they are much lighter. In the new year we will be exhibiting at the Keswick and Fort William mountain festivals and I am hoping to get more involved with local zero-waste and recycling events as we have some fantastic small companies right on our doorstep.
But really, more of the same please, we have had a truly wonderful year (not mentioning climbing injures, however) Enjoying family, adventure and progress!