If I'm honest, as a design student I struggled to see potential in upcycling. Although designing for longevity was very important to me, I had a subconscious notion that to be innovative and fresh, directly re-using material didn't fit the bill. It would need to be recycled, but not look 'too' recycled. To carry environmental values, and look new, but not 'too' new in order to have character. This mindset completely limited the potential I saw in materials.
In the meantime, as a diver, it was hard to find accessories that suited me practically and aesthetically so would make do using purses and drawstring bags to keep things separate in a dry bag. When I returned from Divemaster training in Gozo, I loved playing with the form and structure neoprene provides, knowing from experience it's durability. I initially experimented with new neoprene sheets on a small scale. It finally clicked when I realised the scale and potential of wetsuit waste - why not use what we already have?
It is estimated hundreds of tonnes of wetsuits go to landfill each year in the UK alone. It's hard to fathom just how much waste this is. The leading global wetsuit manufacturer sells 4.5 millions wetsuits per year alone, each with a lifespan of anywhere between 1 and 10 years. Some organisations have been conscious of this, making waves by creating sustainable wetsuits, or exploring recycling neoprene.
After collecting the first batch of wetsuits, I was surprised at how much of the neoprene was in great condition. Working with such a thick material was a challenge and took extensive sampling, but using upcycled neoprene provides depth and character. Each pouch is slightly unique, carrying their own story.
For me, Mindful Manta pouches also have nostalgic qualities, reviving memories of what I love doing; swimming in the sea, diving holidays and a summer spent on the island of Gozo in turquoise waters.
I hope they do so for you too.