Did you ever wonder what happens to billboards after they are taken down? I didn’t think they’d reuse them for advertisements again but always thought billboard vinyls would make great materials for something before they ended up in landfills.
Well, I guess I wasn’t the only one thinking that because Jennelle Marlborough thought the same thing and started a business called First World Trash (FWT), where she makes functional accessories out of discarded billboards. First World Trash products are handmade almost entirely from items found in the junkyard, mainly billboards and seat belts from cars, all manufactured in NYC. First World Trash bags are tear proof, water-resistant and built to last.
Let’s see how she started her company.
When did you start selling your bags and wallets? How did your business start?
I started selling First Word Trash products about three years ago. I started it when I saw some guys removing an old billboard. I thought to myself, I could really do something with that if I could get my hands on it. One year later I got my hands on my first billboard, and that’s where it started.
How do you find your materials?
I do whatever i can. its [sic] hard to find a market for materials that don’t really exist as a raw material. I kinda have to make it up as I go.
Where do you produce your items?
I produce everything in my studio in Long Island City, NY. It’s really important for me to produce everything in the states; I would never manufacture out of the USA.
How do your customers react when they find out where you got your materials to make the items from? Do they notice?
One thing I have really noticed is that customers need to be told what they are looking at. They notice that it’s a material that they are not familiar with, but most people don’t know billboards are made of vinyl. They usually think they are paper. I usually you have to explain it twice to really sink in. Once they understand the material they love it. But it’s definitely a learning process.
What are the demographics of your customers? Are they especially seeking your products because they are eco-friendly? Do they get turned off when they learn where the material came from?
No one is turned off by the material. Well, that’s not true. There are always ‘nay’ sayers. But most people really like that it’s re-purposed. What they like more is that it doesn’t look like its recycled. My customers are definitely people with a sustainability lifestyle but not exclusively.
Who else carrys your products?
Twenty-six Blick Art and Materials across the country, 12 stores called “The Good Things” in Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia, 13 or so stores around the United States. Sustainable NYC, Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store in Brooklyn.
Where do you see your business in five years, 10 years?
In five years, I would like to have a store in NYC and in my hometown New Orleans. That’s been one of my goals from the beginning. I would really like for First World Trash to grow to the point where I can open my own factory. The one thing I feel I am missing as a business at this point is more of a social mission. I want to open a factory where local disenfranchised people can train in FWT, work for FWT, and move on to do their own thing or stay on at FWT to produce, manage, or whatever. I’m helping the planet but it’s really important to me to do as much good as I possibly can. For me, that means opening a factory in my home town. I don’t think I need to say much about how and why people are disenfranchised there. New Orleans can use all the help it can get.