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Single mothers turn used juice cartons into designer bags

Updated Tuesday, August 27th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
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The making of new handbags has lifted  three single mothers from poverty. Inset: Phoebe Akinyi with a table mat made form waste paper.[PHOTOS: JAMES WANZALA]


What do you do with a juice packet after drinking the juice? Probably, you throw it into a dust bin to be collected by garbage collectors.

But a group of three women in Mathare North, Nairobi County, is turning the waste juice packets into lucrative business. The innovation is resulting into durable and eco-friendly handbags.

“Initially we were twenty women but some quit saying the production work was tiresome.

Slum project

 We decided to soldier on and that’s why we are only three,” said Phobe Akinyi Owour, the trainer and production manager during the interview at their fist floor factory.

Handbag making is a project within the Mathare Children Fund Panairobi (MCFP), a Community Based Organisation (CBO) that operates in Mathare North.

 It sponsors destitute children from primary up to university within Mathare and the surrounding slums. “We saw it wise to start an income generating activity for the children’s mothers last year, most of whom are single mothers,’’ said Jophinta Abuoga, a social worker at the MCFP.

“It will benefit them by enabling them to earn income through handbag making.” Like an idea whose time has come, the making of handbags using waste juice packets came from the children at the centre. This was after discovering that bags did  not necessarily have to be plastic.  While the plastic bags are made from plastic material, their handbags are made from Delmonte, Orchid Valley, Afya, and Pick N Peel waste packets.

The process involves collecting the waste packets from homes, hotel dustbins and dumpsites. They wash them thoroughly.

They then cut them longitudinally with a paper cutter.

After cutting, the waste paper is sorted according to similarities in colour and then stitched with clear cello tape into different lengths according to the size of handbag being made.  The stitching, which involves lining, zipping and strapping, is done by sewing machine.

 The process is 90 per cent manual and only 10 per cent mechanised. In a day, Phoebe says they make about three bags with one bag taking about two hours to complete.

However, despite the project being less profitable due to lack of ready market and poor perception about the materials used, Phoebe says the handbag project has turned her life around.

 “Locally, the market is dull. It is not like overseas where donors visit the centre once in a while and buy the bags in larger quantities,’’ says Phoebe, a single mother of six.

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