Taking old trash and making new bags

Joel Stonington

A few years ago one of my brother’s buddies, Eli Reich, was working as a windmill engineer. It sounded like a pretty cool job and I told him so. “I like saying what I do,” he responded, “but I don’t like doing what I do.”

Soon after that, someone stole his bike messenger bag, and he started searching for a new one at Seattle-area stores. He wanted something he could bicycle to work with, something waterproof, cool-looking and environmentally friendly. He wasn’t satisfied with what he saw on the shelves, so he decided to make his own bag out of old inner tubes in his living room. At first, he just liked the irony of making a messenger bag from bicycle trash. But his friends liked it so much he decided to make a few more. The first 10 bags were born in his 100-square-foot bedroom in Seattle.Soon he was getting used inner tubes from bike stores and going to junkyards to cut out seat belts for the straps. He came up with a name, “Alchemy Goods,” and a logo with a small number on each product that shows the total recycled goods by weight.

He quit his windmill job and moved Alchemy Goods from his bedroom to his basement. Later it moved to a larger basement; now it’s in a Seattle warehouse with four employees. I bought one of the bags a year ago to use as a camera bag. So far, it’s been perfect. When I shoot photos at the Belly Up, it’s not a problem if I set the bag down in a puddle of beer. I just wash it off in the sink when I get home. And, of course, it’s a comfortable, waterproof bag to take bicycling in the rain. Reich has a number of other products including an inner-tube wallet and a bottle opener crafted from a seat-belt buckle, but perhaps the coolest addition to the Alchemy Goods line is the “Ad Bag.” Reich is always looking for new products and new materials but it surprised him when the Ad Bag material fell in his lap.

“A customer who owned a haversack [from Alchemy Goods] was in the business of doing the installation and also decommissioning the ad banners that hang on buildings,” Reich said. “She e-mailed me and said ‘we have this colorful vinyl mesh that we throw away.’ That was it – when I saw the material, I was sold.”The mesh is easy to work with, but it comes in rolls from 60-to-100-feet wide, and they’re often dirty from hanging on the side of a building for six months.Despite the challenges, Reich can’t make his products fast enough to keep them on the shelves. He plans to hire more people soon, and he loves his new job. For more information on Alchemy Goods, go to Stonington’s e-mail address is