Lonely Planet Writer

Refugee boats have been upcycled into eco friendly bags by this Berlin start-up

Eco-friendly fashionistas in Germany are scrambling to buy bags from a Berlin-based company which makes trendy accessories from rubber dinghies used by refugees to reach Europe.

The bags on the beach in Chios. Image by Mimycri

Vera Gunther and Nora Azzaoui founded the company after taking part in a beach clean-up on the Greek island of Chios during the height of the migrant crisis. The plastic boats were tricky to dispose of, so Gunther and Azzaoui began to think of ways to recycle them. The pair founded the sustainable fashion label mimycri intent on making accessories with real human stories of courage and hope attached to them.

One of the pair’s stylish designs. Image by Annika Nagel

“We wanted to find an innovative way to convey the message that people who arrive in Europe are human beings like us, with skills, dreams and ideas,” mimycri co-founder Nora Azzaoui told Lonely Planet. “Making bags out of the boats has been the best way for us to do this as our designs become part of everyday life – as a reminder and as the beginning of a new story.” The used dinghies are now sent to Berlin from volunteer organisations in Chios and on Lesvos. Shortly after arrival, they’re sewn and stitched into fanny packs, backpacks, and laptop sleeves.

Beach cleaning in Greece. Image by Mimycri

“We try to go at least once a year to Greece,” Azzaoui said. “For us, the beach clean-ups are part of the process of creation and transformation and represent the first act of realising that changing perspective can open up new possibilities. In this case to see resources instead of waste. It also signifies the idea that we all can do something and that in the end all those small actions (cleaning a beach, sewing a bag) are part of a bigger transformation.”

The workshop in Berlin. Image by Gordon Welters

In their Neukölln workshop, Azzaoui and Gunther now work with a small team including two refugees who fled to Germany from Syria and Pakistan, as well as up to 20 volunteers. “Whenever I see a dinghy brought in, with lots of dirt and mud on it, that scene takes me back to that journey I made, I get a flashback,” tailor Abid Ali told Euronews. “But then I start feeling good about how mimycri has helped me.”

The fashion label’s trendy items can be found at several stores across Germany, or at mimycri.de.