It takes 144 plastic bottles to manufacture a large suitcase with the intention it'll survive 10 years of airport travel. That's the modus operandi for Adelaide businesswoman Vanessa Hushen who approached National Geographic to create an environmentally friendly luggage collection.
As the managing director of Courier Luggage, Hushen wanted to leave a sustainable footprint on her business model after taking over from retiring father Byron Martin eight years ago. What's more, she's proof you can be a small business tucked in the suburbs of Adelaide and build a global success story.
She switched her Adelaide factory to solar power, stopped working with toxic fumes and said no to foam. When it came to new luggage design, it had to be made from recycled plastic and no dyes would pollute water systems either.
"When I came up with this idea back in 2009 most people thought I was crazy, nobody believed I could actually have a positive planet impact and have a business," says Hushen.
"Recycling wasn't as big as it is now and I certainly had lots of technical hurdles," she adds.
"In my first year of experimenting, I tried to recycle plastic iPET bottles and had product that melted, then cracked. There was a never-ending path of problems.
"But I'm a problem solver and I wanted to make a difference. Given these plastic bottles are out there already, I didn't want to add to waste. I wanted to reuse them and give consumers the choice to choose luggage with a conscience."
How it all began
Hushen developed their first prototype in 2016 with various consultations with factories in China. She hit the proverbial jackpot with a design that withstood heat in excess of 65 degrees Celsius and strength equal to the strongest luggage on the market. She also found a way to include anti-scratch properties that didn't expose the product to extra films by other plastics.
When she met with the team at National Geographic's Sydney and Hong Kong offices, she knew she had a winning product they'd want to support.
"I could have joined a board or committee to help the environment, but it made sense to approach National Geographic, because they're committed to reducing landfill and saving our oceans and marine life like I am," she says of her bold ambition.
The recycled luggage range might save energy and reduces waste but it's also quite a chic addition to the travel market. The colour palette reflects the collaborative business partnership – with deep sea blues inspired by the Maldives and earthy neutrals in essence of sand dunes informing the greater picture.
Carry on ethically
The aim is to educate travellers too and to know that it takes 84 iPET plastic bottles to make a carry-on bag while 118 are needed for a medium sized one on wheels.
"Meeting Elie Mansour [Director of National Geographic Partners Australia and New Zealand] was inspiring on so many levels," explains Hushen.
"We both share a love of animals and the environment. We met four years ago and really ramped this project in 2017. For me it was about having an emotional connection, someone who understood the importance for change and taking small steps to make a difference," she says. "All other luggage is petroleum based – it's a double whammy for damaging the environment. This is the way of the future now, and we've proved it, and it's the beginning of the rest of my life."