Troubadour’s Orbis Circular Collection marks a turning point for the way bags are designed and made. Created with recycled materials so the bags can in turn be recycled, this collection sets new standards in sustainable design.
We chatted with Samantha Jacob, Troubadour’s Creative Director, about what inspired her to create the Circular Collection, her passion for design, and striving for sustainability in everyday life.
The Circular Collection has been a real passion for you. Where does your passion come from – for your work generally, and more specifically for this project?
I’ve always been passionate about good design, and I’ve always loved looking at thoughtful, clever design.
That’s why working at Troubadour is so rewarding – everything we do is rooted in thoughtful design. When you've got an initial thought, you don’t know whether it’s possible to make it reality. Then you start the journey and it creates momentum, and you achieve certain things which motivate you to get to the next stage, and so on.
My passion for the Circular Collection grew throughout the design process, and now it's a massive thing for me.
Where does your passion for design come from?
I was obsessed with design from a very early age. When I was growing up, we lived next to my grandparents – my grandfather was a carpenter and I’d go and see him every day. He’d converted his attic into a workshop and I’d watch him create beautiful tables, chairs and cabinets – we’ve still got them!
He was incredibly thoughtful and painstaking about every detail – how it would work and what it would look like. That’s how I began to think about design in three dimensions.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
My health is really important to me, so I do some yoga every morning, then go for a run or take our dog for a walk. Being outside helps to clear my head so I can get stuck into my day’s work with the right energy.
My kids are really good – I think it’s really important for them to see me working and being passionate about my job, so they grow up knowing how important this is to me. I always show them what I’m working on, whether it’s a sketch or a photograph or a sample, and they love to follow the progress of a project.
Every day brings curve balls, so if I don't achieve everything I want to, I remind myself that tomorrow’s a new day.
What makes sustainability and environmentally friendly design important to you? Is having kids part of that drive?
Sustainability is a huge part of my outlook. We’re very lucky to live in the countryside and the whole family loves spending time outdoors. We try to be thoughtful about travel, asking whether we really need to make a journey by car.
I want my kids to live in a world where they won’t be fearful about the future, or their children’s future. So if I can help by creating products that are more environmentally friendly, making a minimal impact on the planet, that’s a small contribution.
How did you feel about the idea of circular bags at the beginning of this project?
A couple of years ago, we started thinking about creating a bag that would never end up in landfill. The big question was “How do we make a bag with less?” And the answer lay in simplifying and paring down designs and construction, rethinking every aspect of the process. I had no idea if it would be the start of something bigger, I just wanted to see how far we could get – and actually, we got quite far!
What were the high points of creating this collection?
Definitely the people I worked with, they made it all possible!
Tim Cross from Project Plan B is a mastermind at recycling anything. He’s a real pioneer and super-passionate about circularity – this was really inspiring. Likewise, Yuwen Linn, a brilliant materials development technician, helped us create completely new materials for these bags, sharing his connections in academia and scientific research.
Our suppliers, like YKK zippers and Duraflex fastenings, were really influential too, because they’re pioneering in their own spaces, working on exciting innovations for the future. Their passion and belief in sustainable solutions really came to the fore during this project, they worked really hard to overcome the barriers.
What were the biggest challenges?
The materials and the construction of the bags. If you think about a typical bag, it contains nylon, cotton, metal, polyester, microfibres, TPU, EVA – a long list of different materials, and these are often combined into a single component.
But to realise our dream of creating a zero-waste bag that would never go into landfill, it had to be made of just one material.
We discovered that recycled polyester would be the most durable and long-lasting material for making a recyclable bag. The recycling process doesn’t degrade the material, so it can be used again and again.
The recycled polyester leather was the hardest material to create. We had sample bags made and they looked really good. We ordered all the materials for production and then we heard that the factory which was supposed to make the recycled polyester leather couldn’t actually achieve this. We briefed three factories and one successfully ended up creating the leather. I wasn’t sure the Circular Collection would ever happen. But tenacity counts for a lot and we got there in the end!
The hardware presented further challenges. We’d been using recycled nylon to make the clips on duffles and totes, but we couldn’t use this for the Circular Collection – it would have been too much hardware to cut off before the bag could be recycled. So I had to design a completely new way of attaching a shoulder strap to these bags. This meant creating a loop system, using a magnetic buckle and recycled polyester webbing. Necessity is the mother of invention!
How do the Circular Collection bags perform?
I love using all the new bags. The two backpacks have a gusset in the laptop section so it opens wider than our previous backpacks – it’s like a filing system. I can easily pack my laptop and all my work things in this larger space, keeping them separate from my other gear in the main compartment.
I’m also really enjoying the tote, which has lots of hidden pockets that are discreet but easily accessible. And there’s a bottle pocket inside the bag, which I find very useful on day trips.
The Circular Collection is an industry first in terms of sustainability – how will you keep pushing boundaries?
No other brand has made bags like this. My biggest hope is that this collection inspires other designers to think about sustainability from the very beginning of the design process, and to try to find answers, even when it looks like there aren’t any!
We’ve learned that making this happen takes creativity, determination, and working with great people who share the vision. It’s so exciting to see these bags being made and enjoyed – we know it will make a real difference.
I really believe the future of product design is circular – creating circular products is literally going to save the planet.