From coffee sacks to shopping bags

Coffee is big business in the UK: in 2020, we imported approximately £762m worth of it. Oxted’s Maria Skelly, whose background is in fashion design, has developed a purposeful way to make use of the sacks it comes in:

“I was working with somebody in the coffee industry, and he told me that the majority of the empty sacks go to landfill. He asked whether, with my creative background, I could find another use for them. Many of them come from around the world, with beautiful designs on them, and jute is the perfect material for shopping bags, so I began experimenting. That’s how my business Sackito, which means ‘little bag’ in my native Spanish, started.”

Sackito coffee sacks and bags

While the idea took shape, Maria thought of her friend, a tutor at HMP Pentonville:

“He’d said they were always looking for people to run workshops for the men there: I realised the bags would be perfect for that.”

She started collecting empty coffee sacks from roasting companies and in October 2021 she began twice-weekly visits to Pentonville, utilising the textile room there to teach small groups of prisoners how to cut out patterns from the coffee sacks and sew them into bags. She has been impressed by both the skill and enthusiasm shown by her participants:

“Some are good sewers already, and others are keen to learn: they’re really engaged and are embracing the project. They came up with their own name, Re.Form Designs, which goes on every bag."

As well as upcycling the sacks, Maria’s initiative also gives the inmates the chance to earn a small wage, in line with the prison regulations, learn new skills and gain valuable work experience:

“My aim is to show them how much they have to offer society, and to hopefully help stop them reoffending.”

Maria sells the bags via word of mouth and her website, and some roasters even buy back the bags which feature their branding. She wants to interest retailers into stocking them as well, which will allow her to scale up the business:

“I’d love to start taking the concept to more prisons, as well as refuges and other community groups. Eventually I’d like a dedicated space where people can come to make the bags: I have so many ideas for different styles!”

For more information, visit £1 from every sale goes to Stand Out, a charity that supports people on leaving prison.

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