Event Banners Get New Life as RetroActif Fashion Accessories
Take a walk through any major city, and you’ll see tall banners fluttering from light poles or hanging from rooftops on the sides of a museum. Most are colorful and attractive. Some are splashy, with eye-catching designs. Nearly all are time-sensitive, advertising this month’s music festival, tomorrow’s convention, or next weekend’s exhibit.
Because banners have to survive the elements day and night — often for months at a time — the material they’re made from is generally not biodegradable. So what happens to these used banners? Do they retire to a storeroom to collect dust, or make a one-way trip to the landfill?
Thanks to the creativity of Monica Shuman, co-founder of Florida-based RetroActif, the number of discarded banners is rapidly dwindling. Shuman turns retired banners into fashion handbags, hats, backpacks, purses, and more. She and her husband, Ziad, established RetroActif in December 2006 and have rescued tons of used banners. The company has partnered with a manufacturer in Florida, who supplies them with used banners, which Retroactif repurposes into fashion accessories.
Two and a half years after establishing RetroActif, the Shumans have transformed their company from an idea into a thriving business. The couple divides the business between retail accounts and corporate accounts. The company uses retired banners to create stylish fashion merchandise, which they wholesale to boutiques around the world.
If you’ve ever visited a rare museum exhibit or attended a festival or convention, you are sure to have noticed vibrant banners hanging throughout the area, drawing you to each event. RetroActif uses attractive banners from events such as these to create special collections. Each collection is made from banners for a specific event, which may number as few as 10 or more than 100.
Sample items from RetroActif’s collections are displayed on the their website, but can only be purchased through a retailer or by contacting the company directly. RetroActif also works with a wide range of corporate clients, who are looking for unique, eco-friendly giveaways for their events.
FROM RETIRED BANNER TO FASHION ACCESSORY
Cleaning a banner may sound simple, but some of the banners RetroActif receives have been exposed to nature’s elements for many years. Because of their size and the materials they’re made from, they can’t be washed in an industrial machine; each banner must be hand washed and dried. After being thoroughly cleaned, the banners are then cut into pieces for assembly.
In addition to banner material, each item may require cotton, straps, zippers, and lining from other manufacturers. Shuman says that RetroActif tries to uses as much banner material as possible. “If the bags need reinforcements, we’ll put an additional layer of banner between the lining and outside banner for extra support. We are very good about that,” Shuman says.
What’s the end result to this labor-intensive process? Not your average handbag. Each item features a unique design that has been carefully placed to highlight interesting elements of the original banner, while not revealing any copyrighted corporate logos or branding.
Because banners are made to withstand weather, the finished bags are resistant to nights caught out in the rain or the accidental rendezvous with a puddle. If a bag does happen to encounter nature’s elements, all it takes is a quick wipe down with a wet cloth and possibly some mild detergent, and the bag will be as good as new.
Monica Shuman reminds customers that the key to keeping their bags in good condition is simply to handle them with care. As proof of this, she mentions that she is still using bags she made when she started the company three years ago. Some banners are made with ink that will fade faster than others, or scratch more easily. Some are thin, while others are thick. Regardless of the banner material, the stitching is dependable, Shuman says, and if customers are kind to their RetroActif accessories, they will get years of use out of them.
WORKING WITH CORPORATE CLIENTS
RetroActif has experienced rapid growth as consumers have begun to appreciate the benefits of repurposing banner material. Shuman’s handbags and other fashion accessories are for sale in almost 100 stores around the world. The company recently expanded its wholesale operations to retailers in Canada, Australia, and Europe.
For the past year and a half, RetroActif has been working with corporate clients to develop prizes, presents, and giveaways for their specific needs. “We make a variety of items for our corporate clients. The types of clients we serve are so different: Banks. Museums. We’re working now with the Miami Heat. We worked with Four Seasons. We don’t just make bags; it’s amazing the variety of things they want us to make for them,” Shuman says. RetroActif offers a wide range of eco-friendly gift alternatives, such as backpacks, computer bags, and notebook covers.
Corporate customers have the option of providing their own banners or choosing from banners in RetroActif’s stock. For example, when Bank of America approached RetroActif about making a giveaway for a conference in Miami, they had no banners of their own to work with. They selected a theme for their conference, found banners in Shuman’s stock that fit their theme, then attached their own labels to the finished items.
I asked at beginning of this post what happens to banners when they are no longer needed. According to Shuman, many manufacturers were simply storing used banners for their clients.
But as the popularity of banners rose, the manufacturers began to run out of storage space. They were faced with the unpleasant task of informing their loyal customers that they would either have to pay for storage or send the banners to the landfill.
Shuman provided a welcome alternative, and their supplier now offers customers a third option: Donate retired banners for use in RetroActif’s custom accessories. This arrangement provides a winning scenario for everyone, including the environment.
The Shumans are committed to sharing their success and have adopted the non-profit organization Room to Read. A percentage of every RetroActif purchase is donated to this worldwide cause, which partners with local communities to establish schools, libraries, and other educational infrastructures. As Shuman says, “Our eco-conscious philosophy goes hand in hand with Room to Read. We believe that educating today’s children will eventually benefit our environment in the future.”
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