BIDBI has come a long way from when the founder used to print bags in the back of a lingerie shop, with 25 staff and a flourishing bag manufacturing business running alongside its decoration arm
It’s an unexpected leap, moving from a lingerie shop owner to a bag printer and manufacturer, but it’s precisely the route followed by Julia Gash, the founder of Bag It Don’t Bin It (aka BIDBI). It’s also, when you dig a bit further, not nearly as much of an unexpected career change as one might imagine. Julia’s father was a printer, she studied art and printmaking at Central Saint Martins (college), and while running the lingerie shop she printed the business’s bags in the back, as well as oneoff T-shirts.
A natural entrepreneur with a strong creative streak, Julia quickly realised that there was an emerging market for printed cotton bags and set up BIDBI in 2008. She started off in he garage in Sheffield with one member of staff, buying blank stock from Fairtrade-accredited factories in India. Shortly after, BIDBI, now with three members of staff, moved to its first proper premises complete with a manual four-head carousel and a small second-hand tunnel dryer.
Within three years the stock had taken over the ground and first floor and it was time to move on again, into the company’s present premises in Rutland Road, Sheffield, and into automated printing with the purchase of an eight-head M&R Diamondback screen printing press (along with a six-head manual M&R Chameleon carousel).
BIDBI is still growing at a fair old rate, and four account managers have just been hired to help expand it further. The introduction last year of the 5p bag charge further boosted business, confirms Arnika Bhupal, who works in BIDBI’s sales and marketing department, with the company seeing a big increase in enquiries and orders.
Right from the start, it has been important for the company to offer only Fairtrade bags. According to Arnika, one of the factorie in India employs women who have been in abusive relationships, and it is helping them to develop skills as well as providing them with fairly paid work. “It’s very important for us to be ethical in the way that we make things and to make sure our factories are paying their workers properly.”
Designer Richard Robinson adds: “We have used our partner factories in India since the beginning, initially just buying the blank stock from them, and then developing a complete made-to-measure service where we work with our clients to make bags, or any other cotton product, from scratch. We are very strict when choosing a supplier, making sure all the correct accreditations are in place. Communication is also very important as projects and shipping can be very complicated.”
The printing factory at the company’s headquarters in Sheffield is also Fairtrade, and the company is in the process of going for living wage accreditation. Each of the 25 staff is paid a living wage, and BIDBI also invests in young talent by offering apprenticeships.
The Diamondback is used for the bulk of the company’s printing, while the manual carousel is used for smaller jobs or those that require a more hands-on approach. According to Richard, the M&R auto has been the company’s best capital investment thanks to it doubling BIDBI’s output as well as increasing the number of printable colours.
The company also offers vinyl, litho and laser transfer printing services. “We have four heat presses that take care of heat transfer and digital printing,” explains Richard. “Two of the presses have double platens for increased efficiency and two are the more traditional swing presses.”
BIDBI also uses a Clean Burn double width tunnel dryer, which is billed as being “one of the most efficient dryers in the world”: this neatly ties in with the company’s emphasis on positive environmental values, as well as increasing production efficiency.
All of the bags used by BIDBI are biodegradable, made from cotton in the Fairtrade accredited factories in India. Plastic bags are a big no-no and only bags that measure up to its strict eco credentials are allowed. Leather handles, for example, are not advised because of the pollution created during the leather dyeing process. BIDBI uses mainly water-based printing inks from both Fujifilm Sericol and MagnaPrint inks, and the company recycles its waste ink.
BIDBI offers an eco solution for all, as Richard explains: “We cater for businesses of all sizes, from small creatives to blue chip brands. One of the fundamentals of BIDBI is that we are equipped to deal with all of our customers’ specific needs and are able to produce the quantity and quality required. Our account managers all come from different employment backgrounds and specialise in different market sectors, such as publishers, fashion, food and drink, etcetera.”
The BIDBI bespoke service now accounts for around 30% of its business, although Richard says this proportion does fluctuate. Made at the Fairtrade factories in India, the bespoke bags have a lead-time of 12 weeks once artwork is approved, although this reduces to six to eight weeks if airfreight is selected over the more cost-effective sea shipment option. As well as bags, customers can order tea towels, aprons and T-shirts.
There is a minimum order of 1,000 for this service, while BIDBI’s off-the-shelf business has a minimum order of 200. Following requests for smaller quantities, Julia has now established Doodle Bag, a website that allows customers to design their own T-shirt or bags with a minimum order of one.
As for the future, there is bags (pun intended) of potential. “Our systems here are good, and the business runs very smoothly, but there are always improvements that can be made,” says Richard. “Within the next year we want to be number one eco bag manufacturer in the UK. We want to be able to cater for any size business and give the best customer service and order management in the industry.”