Company alters old materials, giving them new life

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Company alters old materials, giving them new life


Whang Byung-hyun

For many people, recycling means little more than throwing away paper cups and plastic bottles in the right places at the right time. For Whang Byung-hyun, 30, however, recycling has become his life’s work.

His company, Alter, makes bags and pouches from materials that most people would consider as waste. Whang was the first person in Korea to introduce domestically hand-made products made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) tarpaulin, which is usually used at construction sites to cover steel and prevent rusting.

Before starting his company, Whang overlooked and managed several luxury brands at one of Korea’s top high-end department stores. While his initial plan was to become the go-to-person for luxury brand distribution and sales in Korea, he said that his plans changed when he had a revelation about what was needed to make a luxury product.

“When I was working with luxury brands two years ago, I suddenly had a new idea about what constituted a valuable product,” Whang said. “It wasn’t that the existing luxury brands, which were created by skilled craftsmen were not valuable, but I wanted to get away from having something disappear when products are made.”

This was when Whang turned to the material called PVC tarpaulin, after remembering the products made by a Swiss company called Freitag during a trip there in college. He jumped into the business, but said that the process was a tough one.

In Switzerland the material was circulated through the legal system, but in Korea PVC tarpaulins are usually incinerated with other construction waste or illegally buried underground.

Whang says there is no reason that goods made from the material should be considered as waste, because everything is selected, washed and made by hand. The straps on Alter’s goods are made with seat belts found at auto junkyards.

Alter currently has a lineup of backpacks, wallets, shoulder bags, iPad cases and pouches, and no product is identical due to the variety of the materials used.

Whang said that his work will continue until people see the true value in recycled products, and the fact that everything can re-enter our lives if people give enough attention.

“I want people to change their minds about recycled products - they are not dirty or low in quality, but something that can be a high value luxury brand,” Whang said. “I am planning to use the leather from old sofas, the glass from scrapped cars, and the rubber from worn out tires to create new products.”

By Jung Seung-hyun []
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