Alchemy Goods: Turning Rubber into Gold

Posted on February 16, 2015, 8:49 am
7 mins


It’s a new golden age for the age-old practice of upcycling, and Seattle’s own Alchemy Goods is among the savvier companies leading that trend and keeping used but usable materials out of landfills. Innovative individuals have always repurposed worn and broken objects, especially before mass produced goods allowed people to simply throw away one thing and a buy a new one, but turning a reuse concept into a full-scale operation is a rare feat. Alchemy Goods has developed its own magic formula for consistent and dependable products made from reclaimed materials: used bicycle inner tubes.

“Turning useless into useful” is the motto of Alchemy Goods—Ag for short, cleverly punning on the periodic table’s abbreviation for silver. Even the way the company began is a lesson in resourcefulness triumphing over a bad situation. Founder Eli Reich was working a s product engineer and commuting by bike in 2003 when his messenger bag was stolen. He had a cache of used bike tubes on hand, and decided to create a replacement bag out of this material. The result was so desirable that he soon had orders from friends…and then from friends of friends. In August of 2004, he quit his job and launched Ag on his own. In 2015 the company is still a modest operation based in SoDo that employs a little over a dozen workers, but its distribution is international.

The Wedgwood Purse by Alchemy Goods

The Wedgwood Purse by Alchemy Goods

The use of rubber tubes is a revelation for urban commuters, especially in rainy Seattle. The material is sleek and durable and water resistant. What would end up being shipped in piles of rubbish (often to other countries, increasing the carbon footprint and the human toll) becomes a practical and stylish accessory that is also animal friendly. Each one is unique, as it is made of a patchwork of tubes that may have distressed edges or markings—and, in case you are wondering, yes, all the material is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before being sewn into the sheets of rubber that are used to make the bags.

The Dravus Messenger Bag by Alchemy Goods

The Dravus Messenger Bag by Alchemy Goods

The designs are versatile and many are tailored to the tech-based commuter, who has multiple devices to carry. The Dravus bag released last year is made for ease of travel on bikes (or on foot), a reflective strip for safety at night, a padded strap made from upcycled seat-belt, and its interior has a 15” sleeve for laptops, plus other pockets. The Brooklyn backpack is one of the more popular products and also has a laptop sleeve and multiple dividers.

(Oh, and that isn’t referencing Brooklyn, New York. It’s referencing Brooklyn Ave in the University District. All of Ag’s bags are named after Seattle streets and neighborhoods. Represent!)

There are spacious totes and handbags like the Rainier and Wedgwood, plus the little zippered Portage pouches and many wallet options. The Queen Anne is clutch-sized, while the Dexter is a slim, horizontal three pocket. For the fellow who needs a heftier wallet, there is the Jackson, which is made from sturdy, reclaimed truck inner tubes.

Rainier totes with fun colored linings: Aqua, Blueberry, Daffodil and Green.

Rainier totes with fun colored linings: Aqua, Blueberry, Daffodil and Green.

Initially, Ag was able to get all of its used tubes locally from participating bike shops, but as demand for the bags increased, the local supply would not be enough. The company thus initiated a recycling program with shops (now over 550 in the United States) and cycling events, including the west coast’s annual AIDS Lifecycle Ride. Half a million tubes have been reclaimed and upcycled since 2004.

As the product line grows and diversifies, so does the alchemy involved. That is, new recycled materials have been added, such as used bike valves turned into sturdy, industrial zipper pulls, saving heavy metal from the landfills, too. Meanwhile, the ad bags provide unique bursts of graphic color. Vinyl advertising banners are cut and resewn as lightweight bags perfect for hauling groceries or going beach side. The blown up images become graphic statement pieces all their own, and each and every one is unique. If there’s one thing I like to see get blown up, spliced and turned into something useful instead of an assault on the senses, it’s massive advertisements.

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You can now find Alchemy Goods products on their site, as well as larger online sellers (like Etsy and Amazon), bike and sporting goods stores (like Trek and REI), and many chic boutiques. Ag is part of a larger movement among corporations to be responsible and try to solve ecological and social problems through better business and ideas. (It shares B Corporation status with other responsible companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Warby Parker. Like the latter, it helps to address some of the issues of fast fashion (the ecologically and socially damaging aspects of the fashion industry’s mass production and supply chains), without sacrificing style. In fact, Ag’s aesthetic qualities are only further complemented by its good stewardship.

Whether you are a vegan looking for leather alternatives, or a fashionista looking for accessories with edge, or a commuter who just wants something that is functional and sturdy, the bags and accessories at Alchemy Goods allow you to look good and do good and that—as they say—is as good as gold.

Order from Alchemy Goods online or find a retailer near you.

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.