Comparing Notes on Socially Responsible Production, With Our Friends at WAYKS.

We caught up with our good friend Leonie, the co-founder of sustainable backpack brand WAYKS, who shared with us her experiences delving into the world of socially responsible production.

“We wanted to make products you can use in different ways,” Leonie tells us over a coffee one rainy Berlin afternoon. “Not something that’s just used once a year but a thing you could convert into something else and use in your daily life”.

To Leonie and Fabian, the brother-sister team behind WAYKS, versatile functionality goes hand in hand with sustainability. And we couldn’t agree more.

In reality, the more functional and high quality a product is, the less likely you are to discard it and buy a replacement. WAYKS not only embodies this philosophy but has taken it a step further. 

Through the magic of ‘modularity’, the backpacks have adaptable functionality that can be altered to fit the given situation; essentially serving as several products in one. A 45L travel backpack can be converted into a 25L day pack which can then become a 7L camera case or food cooler. And what’s more, the padding, buckles and straps can be customised to further accommodate the function required.

Functionality doesn’t come at the cost of style however, as WAYKS’ lowkey and sleek designs can complement most outfits. Whether it be for the daily commute or the yearly hike, all the backpacks are “designed in a way that match your daily wardrobe, but they also work outdoors”.

Leonie and Fabian exemplify an interesting intersection here, between sustainability and minimalism. This is an important thing to consider for us all, as by being mindful of the functionality of the products we buy, and only purchasing things we know we’ll use, we can reduce our overall consumption. This is, of course, great for the environment, but pretty nice on our bank accounts too.

The sibling duo each had their own reasons for pushing to realise their vision with WAYKS. While Fabian was inspired by The True Cost - an indie documentary exposing the ugly underbelly of the fashion business, it was Leonie’s experience working in the fast-fashion industry that tipped her over the edge. “I kind of realised that I just didn’t want to contribute to that industry anymore”.

Fulfilling the stereotypes of travel-obsessed Germans, they both found themselves encountering the same issue of struggling to find a travel backpack that they could use for more than just travelling. So at dinner one evening whilst both living in Australia, they decided they’d fill that market niche, and so they set out to create a sustainably made, multi-functional travel backpack.

As a stand against the ever-growing issue of discarded plastic, the pair chose to produce their travel packs from PET fabric - a material made from recycled plastic bottles.

“The labels, glue and caps of the bottles are firstly removed,” she describes. “Then the bottles get shredded into things called ‘flakes’ which are melted into ‘pellets’ and pushed through a funnel with heat”. The product of this process is a kind of film which is similar to polyester and can be spun into a yarn which then becomes the PET material - a resilient fabric that can be dyed.

With each backpack produced from PET as opposed to the industry standard virgin polyester, 31 plastic bottles are saved from potentially ending up in the ocean, 465ml less Oil is used, 84L less water and 1820g less CO2 is emitted.

Whilst the outer material of the packs is 91% PET fabric, the inner lining is 100%, and the zippers and buckles are made from plastic offcuts that the factories would have otherwise discarded.

And thinking more broadly than just the materials and production, the duo have considered their social responsibility following their travel gear’s life-cycle. “Our long-term goal is to not just have the bags made from recycled materials, but to have them recycled at the end of their use”. This is an important concept called ‘cradle-to-cradle’, and you can learn more about it here.

In the same way that we at HUNDHUND opposed the traditional framework of the Black Friday consumption culture by planting 768 trees over the shopping weekend, WAYKS took a stand by not participating altogether. “We decided not to take part because it doesn’t reflect our philosophy of mindful consumption”.

Surprisingly though, just a couple of years ago, Leonie herself was an avid hunter of Black Friday steals. “It would really ‘lure’ me into buying things I didn’t need”. During her time working in fast-fashion however, after gaining a behind-the-scenes look into Black Friday on the production side, she couldn’t help but reevaluate her buying habits. “The amount of products that are sent back is incredible. It’s mind-blowing. And that to me shows that people are just buying because of a discount. Because if they don’t buy it they might lose out. So they just order stuff to then return it”.

Looking ahead, the WAYKS duo have a lot of exciting new plans. They intend to release an even bigger travel backpack, a bum-bag, extra add-on accessories, and eventually, sustainably made clothing. Every season they’re attending fabric trade shows to learn about new innovations in sustainable production that might allow them to improve their environmental responsibility.

WAYKS’ manufacturer is certified by independent organisations FairWear and BlueSign, but if you need more evidence of their attention to fair working conditions, we encourage you to watch their Instagram Story highlights, where you can follow the journey as they fly out to visit the factory and document the entire production process.

It’s a super exciting time right now, as more and more socially-responsible brands, like WAYKS, are slugging it out against the fast-fashion giants. And the great thing is that it’s working. It’s a slow process but people are slowly waking up. However, there are certainly still trade-offs to consuming sustainably.

The unfortunate reality is that buying from sustainable brands costs more. Supply and demand is a huge factor, and because the majority of the global market still isn’t demanding sustainably-produced goods, suppliers willing to produce them are rarer, and consequently more expensive.

There is light at the end of the tunnel though, as the more we keep the discussion on sustainability active, spreading awareness of environmental issues and their solutions, the more we can understand the benefits of navigating our lives and our consumption in a manner that’s considerate to our planet, and those we share it with.

Thank you to Leonie and Fabian for your insightful thoughts and important work.

www.WAYKS.com / @wayksberlin

Words by Ewan Waddell.