The first reason most people notice our bags is that they are exceedingly cute. Our customers often tell us it was an emotional response and it wasn't until after they read the tags or learn a little more about us that they realize the bag is not just cute but also different from the gazillion other lunch bags in the marketplace. Dabbawalla Bags believes fun and function don't have to compromise manufacturing ethics or environmental stewardship. As moms ourselves, it is important to us that what we put out in the world is not only functional but also safe for our children, safe for the workers that sew our bags, and good for the environment.
When we naively jumped into launching our company in 2008, we thought that neoprene was the best possible material out there because it was long lasting, insulated, durable, and best of all, machine-washable. Machine washability meant that lunch bags would hold up year after year and not get all stinky from the inevitable smashed banana. And actually, neoprene is a fantastic material if you are a diver or firefighter where protection from extreme temperatures is necessary for saving lives. But not to carry your apple in.
Shortly after we launched, we went to visit the factory that actually produces neoprene in its rawest form. Quite simply, we were heartbroken. We knew we did not want to be part of that environmental process, where workers without good ventilation used potentially carcinogenic materials to create a durable rubber that can withstand extreme temperatures.
We spent countless months soul-searching and rethinking our business until we came upon a better alternative. Seems we weren't the only one out there who realized neoprene is one of the dirtiest materials to produce. Developed a decade ago by shoe manufacturers looking for an alternative to neoprene, TPE rubber was being produced in small batches by an innovative company in Taiwan who was fully committed to manufacturing a green alternative.
TPE is similar to neoprene in its versatility but lacks the harmful chemicals and odor that is associated with neoprene. Substances such as lead, PVC and formaldehyde can be found in neoprene but are absent in TPE, making our products completely toxic free. There are also people who are allergic to neoprene for whom TPE is a safe alternative. Neoprene also cannot be reshaped after forming which leads to a lot of waste during production, whereas TPE can be reheated and reshaped, making it completely recyclable. And best of all, TPE is completely degradable, so it will not outlive generations to come in a landfill. That was a legacy we didn't want to be a part of.
Parents spend a lot of time and effort packing lunch with healthy options. And the next time you drop an apple into their lunch bag, you can feel good knowing that from start to finish, the material and crafting of that lunch bag was done with the utmost concern and care for the workers, the environment, and especially the little hands that will grab that apple at lunch...even if the only reason you bought it was because your daughter begged for that pink kitty.