The Next Economy
United Upcycles Banners Into Bags to Benefit Re:new Project, Peruvian Forest Project

More than 20 large banners that encouraged United Airlines customers to “Fly the Friendly Skies” at Chicago O’Hare found new life; the airline worked with the Columbia College Chicago Department of Fashion Studies and the Re:new Project – a nonprofit that provides employment opportunities for refugee women – to transform the large fabric signs into 100 eco-friendly carry-on bags.

“United is committed to operating sustainably and responsibly, and that means finding creative ways to further reduce our impact on the environment,” said Angela Foster-Rice, Managing Director of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability. “As part of our Eco-Skies commitment, we are excited to give these banners a second life, and know our customers will enjoy taking home a piece of the friendly skies.”

The Challenge

United challenged the students at Columbia College to create a carry-on bag from the banner material that could:

  1. Fit under an airplane seat (9”x10”x17”)
  2. Be economical to make, yet attractive
  3. Be durable and wearable

After United selected the winning designs, Re:new stepped in to produce the one-of-a-kind, hand-sewn bags featuring distinct skyline images from the airline’s hub cities. See the video below for more on the design process and to hear from the students behind the designs:

Southwest Airlines embarked on similar socially beneficial initiative last year when it joined forces with Looptworks to upcycle 80,000 of its old seat covers into "LUV Seat" weekender duffle bags, shoes, soccer balls and more. The airline donated 43 acres of used leather to partners in Kenya, Malawi and the US for upcycling, creating jobs in these developing areas and keeping the material out of landfills.

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