With Rachel Powell, the Founder of Boomerang Bags Sydney Inner West volunteer group, about Boomerang Bags and starting a new volunteer Community.
Boomerang Bags was started by Tania Potts and Jordyn de Boer from Australia in 2013. Their mission was to reduce the amount of single use plastic in Australian homes by making free reusable fabric bags. Since then the initiative has grown to over 490 communities in Australia and the world. And they have been doing an excellent job because so far Boomerang Bags volunteers have made more than 134,500 bags from donated fabrics.
The idea behind Boomerang bags is simple and extremely efficient. Imagine a group of people of diverse backgrounds and skills who get together every month. They have a friendly chat, eat some home-made goodies, drink tea and sew bags. Bags that last and are made by volunteers who enjoy making them.
The process of manufacturing the bags is clear but what actually happens with a boomerang bag once it’s finished?
In the Inner West of Sydney we have a few retailers where bags can be purchased with a gold coin: Manmaru and the Larder in Dulwich Hill and Village Wholefoods in Marrickville. We gave out over 1000 bags in 2017 at local community festivals and pop-up events.
At the Women’s March last year we made a pledge and amongst other things, we committed to volunteering in the local community.
The original concept of Boomerang Bags was such that people would borrow them and bring them back, how did it work?
Unfortunately, the Borrow and Bring Back concept for Boomerang Bags has not worked in more established communities than ours. The concept now is that we give out a bag and have a conversation with people about moving away from single use plastic. This is a more powerful way to change attitudes and habits.
How did you find your way to Boomerang Bags?
At the Women’s March last year we made a pledge and amongst other things, we committed to volunteering in the local community. At the same time the Facebook page One Million Women did a feature on Boomerang Bags. A life long love of the environment enabled me to revive a long lost love of sewing.
What arrangements did you need to make to establish a new volunteer community in Sydney’s Inner West?
I worked with my friend Dare Kavagnah, CEO of Reverse Garbage, and planed a campaign. We decided to begin with Dulwich Hill as a small local community, which might be receptive to the idea of Boomerang Bags. Reverse Garbage provided us with a space and with Natasha Doran we planned the first sewing bee which we promoted through Social Media. We were thrilled with the turn out of the first Bee in May and with each one we have grown in numbers and in strength.
Can anyone start a new Boomerang Bags community?
Anyone can start a Community, but it is hard work! It sometimes feels like I have two full time jobs.
What keeps people coming is the sense of community we have established where people are making genuine friendships with like-minded people.
How many members does the The Inner West Boomerang Bags Community has now? And how do you make decisions?
I would say there are 10 hard core members who are sewing regularly and have committed their time and energy to projects over and above making the bags: social media, accounts, staffing the stalls, designing the leaflets. At each Sewing Bee we have about 30 volunteers. people. We also have nearly 500 Facebook followers on our public page and 64 contacts on our mailing list. Key decisions, such as changing our name from Dulwich Hill to Inner West, was suggested on Facebook and in the email and people responded if they wanted to.
What motivates people to join?
People are motivated to join by a desire to see an end to this environmentally devastating dependence on single use plastic. What keeps people coming is the sense of community we have established where people are making genuine friendships with like-minded people.
If somebody had never touched a sewing machine, but was keen to start volunteering with you, how could they help?
There are lots of jobs in the bag making process: screen printing, cutting, ironing and sewing. Plus we are always keen to see more pop up events which involves holding a stall for one or two hours outside a shop that uses a lot of plastic bags. The job there is to give out bags and leaflets to people and talk to them. Furthermore, we are always open to any suggestions about other projects we can adopt.
What other activities besides organising sewing bees and making bags do Boomerang Bags volunteers do?
Further to the above and understanding that we have to educate the future generations, we would like more representation at School Events. Last year we had a stall at the Camdenville Public and the Wilkins Public School events and both were really well received.
Remember that each Boomerang Bag not only stops the use of about 6 plastic bags a week, but also they are made from fabric that would otherwise end up in landfill.
Your volunteers often present at community events. How do you get invited?
It’s mostly through word of mouth. We are always keeping our ears and eyes open for new events. We enjoyed the Randwick Best Gift Markets which was an ethical market and we only got to hear about that because we had so many beautiful bags which our best sewers had made and we really wanted an opportunity to sell them. We sold over 250 bags that weekend! And more importantly, I think we got a few new sewers as well.
What else do you do to promote your activities?
Social Media is key here.
Thank you and may your finished Boomerang Bags last for ages!
Remember that each Boomerang Bag not only stops the use of about 6 plastic bags a week, but also they are made from fabric that would otherwise end up in landfill. Our volunteer Sabena worked out that in 2017 we saved 0.5 km from going to landfill. That’s amazing!