Design company takes billboards from the highway to the runway.
By Clare Baker
Salvaged billboards that might otherwise be shipped to the dumpster are now finding new life as reclaimed resources and fashion statements thanks to Vy & Elle. The eco-friendly design company intercepts billboards that have run their course and re-uses them to create stylish bags, totes, and accessories.
Founded in 2002 by Nicky Freegard and Robin Janson, Vy & Elle-a play on the word vinyl-has recycled more than 40 tons of its namesake. In June of this year, the Tucson, AZ-based company entered into a licensing agreement with MetroMedia Technologies (MMT), designating the print provider to be the exclusive supplier of billboards for general production of its designs.
In addition to MMT's concern for the environment and the high quality of the company's billboards, Freegard was also drawn to MMT because of its interesting printing practices. Paint, not ink, is the output consumable of choice for MMT, and according to Freegard, that technique results in vinyl that is ideal for long-term wear.
The process begins with MMT coordinating the pick-up and delivery of about 30,000 yd of billboard vinyl every quarter to a warehouse in Menasha, WI. There, the billboard material is unpacked and sorted for color and usability. Generally, 80% of the material is used in production. The leftover vinyl is recovered by other companies that work with reclaimed products, resulting in 100% recycling of all scraps and waste material. The vinyl to be used in bag and tote production is washed with soap and water, then hand-cut into 60-in.-wide manageable rolls to be shipped to a factory in Hong Kong where the final product is made.
The finished products are shipped to Tucson and sold on the company's online boutique or to other businesses for resale. Currently, Vy & Elle supplies its products to approximately 1000 specialty shops around the world. The company also creates custom work for corporations and organizations needing promotional products (the vinyl for these jobs is not necessary supplied by MMT). Recent clients have included HBO, Fox Sports, and St. Jude's Hospital.
In the past year, Vy & Elle has seen business almost double, and this fall, the company launched 12 new designs. Freegard credits the partnership with MMT as one reason for the company's success: "They have been instrumental in our growth. They have cut out the variables [that otherwise slowed production]." While this collaboration allows for the expansion and development of Vy & Elle, at the heart of it all, Freegard's basic goals for the company remain the same: "To increase the recycling of billboards and to educate people on their choices as consumers."
VY & ELLE