For Andrew Keller, president of Chico, California-based supplier ChicoBag Company (UPIC: chico), the journey to selling earth-friendly wares began not through market opportunity but by passion. After being laid off from a job selling software, Keller began a home-landscaping project that had him dropping off debris at the landfill. What he saw there inspired his next career move.
“What really stood out to me were all the plastic bags,” Keller recalls. “There were just plastic bags everywhere. Everyone throws things away in plastic bags; they even throw their plastic bags away in plastic bags. It occurred to me that I’m part of this problem. I wanted to do something to stop this seemingly unnecessary waste.”
Keller purchased a sewing machine and fabric and set out designing a reusable bag that people would actually reuse. For Keller, this meant folding the bag up into a small, attached pouch and fashioning it with a clip so it’s not easily misplaced.
“Our whole concept is to design a bag that’s unforgettable,” Keller says of his company.
Keller doesn’t just make bags people want to use; he educates them on why they should want to use them. Last summer, he traveled the country making appearances as Bag Monster—essentially a come-to-life pile of bags. Since research shows the average person uses 500 single-use plastic bags per year, Keller fashioned 500 plastic bags into a costume and wore it to promote awareness about the world’s disposable bag habit.
“I’ve been active and vocal out there trying to promote the use of reusable bags and to help people understand that something you use for moments but lasts for 500 years doesn’t make sense,” Keller says. “[Bag Monster] is a fun way to start a conversation.” He says that some are stunned by the amount of bags in the costume; others, though, insist they actually use more each year.
“Wearing the thing for 20 minutes is enough for most people—it’s hot, it weighs about 20 pounds,” Keller says of the costume. “On the lighter side, it’s a lot of fun because as soon as you put the costume on this alter ego is unleashed, if you let it. You’re the Bag Monster. You’re this creature that gets caught in trees, gets caught in storm drains and runs around blowing in the wind. You’re carefree.”
Keller loans out extra costumes to clients or groups looking to raise awareness, too. “We’ve had organizations use the Bag Monster and then give out their custom-branded ChicoBags,” Keller says. “Because people have that visualization of why they would want to use a reusable bag, it helps them get into the habit of using it.”