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Turning rags into riches and helping others along the way

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image A local company that creates bags and totes from vintage clothes and employs disadvantaged single moms, Flip Market sold more than half its inventory at the recent St. Pete Folkfest.

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

By Kevin Brady

Clothing that would otherwise be headed for the landfill is getting a new lease on life thanks to two local women who are also providing jobs to single moms along the way.

Flip Market creates one-of-a-kind products by rescuing vintage clothes and creating totes, bags, clutches, leather goods, ‘man’ bags and iPad covers. The Brandon-based social enterprise employs disadvantaged single moms.

The brainchild of Stacey Efaw and Eleanor Saunders, the company has already sold more than 100 items at outdoor markets around the Bay area. Retailers are also taking note. Flip’s purses are now on sale at the Florida Jean Company in Ybor City.

“It really came about because Eleanor has always been into ‘upcycling’ and we know there are people out there who need jobs,” said Efaw.

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

“The purpose is to help people and help the planet, taking products that just would have gone to landfills and using them while at the same time we are helping single moms and disadvantaged people; most of the money goes to them. It’s really just a fun thing for us.”

Buying vintage clothing from thrift stores and estate sales, the company creates one-of-kind products, each with its own story, literally. Using old ties, men’s coats and vintage designs reminiscent of the 1970s and ‘60s, the end product also includes a short note written by Saunders detailing how the bag, say, was created and what materials were used.

The items range in price from $20 to $45.

The company currently employs three single moms to create the products.

All the single moms who work on the bags have fulltime jobs. They learned to sew and create the bags for extra income.

“We give the opportunities to people who just need a little extra money. They get most of the money,” said Efaw who has served as the executive director of the nonprofit Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) since 2002.

Founded in 1987, ECHO serves communities from Gibsonton to Brandon and has helped more than 140,000 area residents, more than half of them children, with food and clothing.

“It’s something we see at ECHO all the time. People want to work. They just need the opportunity.”

While marketing for the company’s products has been limited to local arts and crafts fairs, demand is already outstripping supply.

“The good and bad thing is we get to the shows and we sell out of all of our products. The biggest surprise at the shows is that it’s the men who are bringing their wives over to see the bags. It’s odd to see a man drag his wife over to buy a purse.”

Flip Market has also had orders for custom-made bags created for a family member from clothing worn by a loved one who has passed away. The company’s iPad covers are also a hot seller, and they have now started to branch out into accessories for their bags, such as coin purses.

Standing out in a sea of often anonymous, generic bags with handmade, unique products has helped the fledgling company, Efaw believes.

“You can go anywhere and buy a purse but I think when people wear these products they know they have provided a few hours of employment to a single mom, they know it’s made from something that would have been thrown out. It’s a feel-good thing all the way around.”

Efaw, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Florida, would like to see how the company does before applying for nonprofit status.

“It takes two years to get a nonprofit license so right now we are just kind of testing it to see if it will work.”

Find out more about Flip Market by visiting the company’s Facebook page, search for “Flip Market.” Products will also be on sale starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 1 at the FishHawk Fresh Market, 16132 Churchview Drive in Lithia.

To donate, volunteer or enquire about the services at ECHO visit the group’s web site or office at 507 N. Parsons Ave. in Brandon or call (813) 685-0935.

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