Lets begin by asking you one question: can rubbish be turned into gold?

For centuries Alchemists have tried and all have were met with utter failure. But what if they were looking at the wrong starting place? What if instead of coal, unwanted garbage was the key to succeed all along?

There is no denying that waste is a big issue in today’s world. The solution to this is often found in recycling. However, this method of dealing with waste product can sometimes cause more damage than good, as processing certain types of materials take up more energy to recycle then to just leave be. Furthermore, it takes specialised plants to recycle, which in themselves are not readily available globally. And what happens when recycling isn’t an option as the material just will not allow it (think plastic bags)?  What then?

This is where up-cycling comes into play: using a waste product as a primary material and turning it into something of use.

We have for you a tale of two Italians; Jennifer and Elisa, expats living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Through their business – Smateria – this dynamic duo have managed to take waste products and turn them into something which Italy is a leader of… fashion! More specifically, the girls are finding innovative ways of turning unwanted fabrics and leathers found in the wastelands of Cambodia, into high-end bags.

They use a wide range of materials which include offcuts of leather and plastic. But what is really cool, is how they upcycle fishing and mosquito nets – something which is highly available in Cambodia – into captivating designs which have character and funky textures.


Broken fishing nets provide the basis for Smateria's upcycled bag collection. [Source: Smateria]
Broken fishing nets provide the basis for Smateria’s upcycled bag collection. [Source: Smateria]
Smateria turns rubbish into fashion with their bags made out of broken nets. [Source: Smateria]
Smateria turns rubbish into fashion with their bags made out of broken nets. [Source: Smateria]
A small purse made out of mosquito nets. [Source: Smateria]
A small purse made out of mosquito nets. [Source: Smateria]
Upcycled Smateria bags come in all sizes and in vibrant colours. [Source: Smateria]
Upcycled Smateria bags come in all sizes and in vibrant colours. [Source: Smateria]
Weaving plastic is Smateria's way of dealing with the extensive plastic pollution found in and around Cambodia. [Source: Smateria]
Weaving plastic is Smateria’s way of dealing with the extensive plastic pollution found in and around Cambodia. [Source: Smateria]
Large bag made by up cycled weaved plastic by Smateria. [Source: Smateria]
Large bag made by up-cycled weaved plastic by Smateria. [Source: Smateria]


But what is even more interesting is that Smateria is not just another fashion brand. They are a philanthropic venture in themselves. As part of their business, Smateria advocates social enterprise, employing Cambodian women who have been displaced by the urbanisation of Phnom Penh and providing them with fair pay, comfortable working conditions, health insurance, training across the whole of the business and free childcare and schooling for their children. This is admirable and proves how fashion can be a vehicle to social engagement and empowerment.

We like the creative use of the different materials Smateria use and the ingenuity in the design of their many different accessories. Jennifer and Elisa manage to create beauty out of seemingly ordinary materials which would otherwise be branded as trash.

So there you have it: you can turn rubbish into gold. You can see all of Smateria’s creations on their website by clicking here.