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The firefighter's handbag takes on fast fashion

Rugged materials being recycled into hip eco-minded carryalls

All the products of Mondo Design made from old tires are handmade.

TOKYO -- Old tires, air bags and firefighter uniforms that would otherwise make their way onto the scrap heap are instead finding their way onto hipsters' shoulders.

Japan, it seems, has a budding eco-fashion movement.

Bags made out of these rugged materials are becoming trendy, partly because the fast-fashion industry cannot easily reproduce their unique designs and textures.

Tokyo-based Mondo Design processes old tires into handbags and other products for sale under the Seal brand.

In June, the company launched a handbag with seven detachable handles; carriers choose which one they want to grab depending on the situation and mood of the day.

New bag of Mondo Design released in June reduces about 1,500 grams of CO2 emission.

Company President Yohei Horiike said the bag can do double duty, conservative enough for the office and "trendy enough for a weekend outing."

Mondo Design was founded in 2006 to recycle waste tires, about 60% of which are incinerated, emitting large volumes of carbon dioxide.

The company uses the price tag to also tell shoppers how many fewer grams of carbon dioxide were kept from our skies by recycling some of this material into the handbag they are contemplating.

Each of the bags released in June kept 1,500 or so grams of CO2 out of the air.

Horiike said the company's sales are growing at a rate of 30% annually.

The durability and water resistance of tire rubber make for easy care; dirt can be easily wiped off the bags.

More importantly, Horiike said, no two bags are alike. Because every waste tire shows different patterns of wear, each bag has a distinctive design element.

Another maker, Sally Label, in Nagoya, uses old firefighter uniforms, flooring, seat belts and other materials to make bags under the Modeco brand.

In June, it released new series of bags made of firefighters' old uniforms; men and women in their 30s have taken to the novel design.

Company President Hiroyuki Mizuno said the totes are meant to compete with the vanilla offerings from fast-fashion chains like Uniqlo.

He also hopes their eco-mindedness becomes a selling point.

Yoccatta Tokyo, a brand offered by Tokyo-based SD-Works, recycles air bags into carryalls. Before the brand made its debut last year, old air bags were either discarded or burned, a company representative said.

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