ANYBAG featured in The New York Times!

by Alexander Dabagh

July 30, 2022

This article is part of a series examining Responsible Fashion, and innovative efforts to address issues facing the fashion industry.

“Plastic is not going anywhere anytime soon,” said Alex Dabagh, who started the company Anybag, its name a play on the ubiquity of plastic bags and an ode to his hometown, New York City, two years ago.In kitchens the world over, often there is a cabinet or pantry door hiding a plastic bag stuffed with other plastic bags. And behind the doors of Mr. Dabagh’s office in the Chelsea neighborhood is a factory that makes plastic bags — totes in different sizes — woven from plastic bags like these.The staggering sight of all the single-use plastic bags that came through the doors of his primary business, Park Avenue International, a 6,000-square-foot leather goods factory that specializes in producing handbags for brands including Gabriela Hearst, Altuzarra, Proenza Schouler and Eileen Fisher, became too much.

“It’s crazy how much virgin plastic we get in here from shipping companies, packaging companies or a demo company,” Mr. Dabagh said. “They’ll go into a building to clean it out and be like, ‘We just found these boxes and piles of plastic that haven’t been separated. Do you want them?’ I’m like, ‘I’ll take it, that’s gold.’”

“Every shelf has scraps of leather that we just collect,” Mr. Dabagh said. “We don’t throw anything out. It’s something I learned from my father. He was like, ‘This is all worth money. There is value behind everything.’”At the start of the pandemic, when Park Avenue International’s core leather business slowed down, Mr. Dabagh decided to double down on Anybag. He trained his 40 employees to use the looms to weave plastic bags out of trash instead of leather goods. “I was like, ‘We’re going to try this out.’ They all thought I was crazy.”Two years later, Anybag is roughly 10 percent of Park Avenue International’s business. Mr. Dabagh said that revenue from the bags tripled in the last year. He acquired a new loom devoted only to weaving plastic for Anybag, and is developing automated looms that will allow him to quadruple output and cut costs.
His staff can weave five to seven yards of plastic a day, which makes about 20 totes. Each bag is sturdy, with a crinkly texture that can hold up to 100 pounds. They’re trimmed in colorful canvas with straps in pink, fluorescent yellow, royal blue and black. The bags come with a lifetime guarantee — the plastic will outlive us, after all — and free repairs.The bags are sold through the company’s website.

There are three styles, the Classic, the Mini and the Weekender, ranging in price from $98 to $248. The Classic and Mini are shaped like typical shopping totes; the Weekender is akin to Ikea’s well-known Frakta shopper. Mr. Dabagh has teamed with Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Beyond Meat and Miranda Kerr’s cosmetics line, Kora Organics, customizing bags for media events and for the brands’ own internal use. But for the most part, a typical Anybag is made from whatever is around — plastic from packages of Bounty, Cottonelle or bags used to wrap DHL shipments or copies of The New York Times.“We’re slowly realizing we’re a recycling company,” Mr. Dabagh said. With more investment, he sees an opportunity to scale up and develop hubs around New York City, and eventually the country. But for now, Anybag is a proudly local operation.As Mr. Dabagh said, “It’s all handmade, handcrafted by New Yorkers, in New York, using New York City’s finest trash.”

A version of this article appears in print on July 31, 2022, Section ST, Page 8 of the New York edition with the headline: Single-Use Plastic Bags Get a Second Act. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe