Billboard Revisited From Roadside Attraction to One-of-a-Kind Handbags

Alison Grieveson was driving on Interstate 95 in Connecticut en route to her studio in New Haven when her eye caught the billboard “” superimposed over an unfurling American flag. “That vinyl would make a really cool bag,” she thought.

Grieveson and her friend Dayan Moore had just launched their handbag company GG2G and were always scouting for unusual recycled materials and vintage fabrics for their collection. Billboard vinyl repurposed as carriers had been done before, by such companies as Relan, which makes them into lunch bags and Vy & Elle, which makes them into totes and travel cases. But Grieveson and Moore designed their vinyl clutches to be “more fashiony” with fabric linings and hidden seams.

From a cozy two-room studio with high ceilings and glass-tiled windows overlooking a quiet New Haven street, Grieveson and Moore sit at sewing machines and create bags using recycled and repurposed materials—mostly the billboard vinyl and leftover fabric from interior design books. Lounge music plays softly on a stereo and two dogs poke around underfoot.

Connecticut-based interior designer Frank Giudice of FGR Interiors who supplies the fabric books says “It’s a great thing they’re doing. The handbags are really clever.” He says a lot of members of the American Society of Interior Designers are eco-conscious. “Designers all over are donating materials to [prevent] wastefulness,” Giudice says.

Grieveson and Moore use any leftover scraps to design handmade greeting cards, belts and accent pieces.

“We’re even in the process of breaking the fabric books down to try to use the plastic covers and backings,” says Moore. Once people fall into the sustainability habit, it’s addicting.

© Brita Belli

Each GG2G bag is one-of-a-kind, and each is named for a favorite “green” celebrity: the Angelina (for Angelina Jolie) is a vinyl clutch, the Cameron (for Cameron Diaz) is a reversible fabric shoulder bag. “There’s less malleability with the billboard material,” says Grieveson, “so the fabric bags have more details and are more technical.” Grieveson found an eco ally when she contacted Connecticut-based Barrett Outdoor Communications, the company behind the peace billboard. Brothers John and Bruce Barrett were always looking for new outlets for their vinyl. The stuff is huge—14″ X 45″—and heavy—75 pounds—and since the industry switched from painted to printed billboards more than 20 years ago, they can only be used once. “We have sought to find other uses [for the vinyl] ever since,” says John Barrett. “They are used as banners on street lamps, as construction covers. There are chicken coops roofed with it upstate, and we sent a truckload of banners to the island of Guanaja in Honduras for emergency shelters. “

The site carries an unbelievable assortment of creatively adapted materials turned to wearable art. There are bags from books, from sailboat sails, from juice boxes, aluminum cans, men’s ties, cigar boxes, skateboards, candy wrappers, chopsticks, soda pop tops and bicycle tire inner tubes. And all are impeccably sewn one-of-a-kind pieces.

Green accessories are finally drawing admirers from outside the environmental movement. Grieveson and Day attended the Chicago Green Festival last April and were amazed by the turnout: more than 30,000 people.

“I feel like this year, people are finally not going, “oh, green,”” says Grieveson. “It’s actually a selling point.”