Design can change the world: Repurpose Schoolbags

Pupils wearing solar schoolbags in South Africa

Education is something we take for granted in Britain. But, in developing countries, school fees are beyond the means of many parents and we hear time and again from our artisans that they use the fair trade wages they earn to pay for schooling, uniforms and classroom materials for their children. Education can be the gamechanger for people in poor countries and that’s why we love learning about fresh ideas that give more kids access to schooling.

Repurpose Schoolbags has come up with a simple but innovative solution to help schoolchildren in deprived areas of South Africa get more from their education.

Solar panel school bag in South Africa

They’ve designed a backpack that incorporates a solar panel on the front flap, which charges up as the children make their long walk to and from school. At night, the kids can screw the panel into the top of a jam jar to make a safe solar powered lamp to use while they do their homework. A genuine lightbulb moment!

Lamp made from the solar panel on schoolbag

The bags themselves are made from colourful recycled plastic with the addition of reflective strips that keep the children visible and safe if they’re walking home after dark.

Making repurpose schoolbags

Aesthetics were also important, says Kgatlhanye, who is in charge of branding and marketing.  “We spent a long time on the design, asking ourselves what kind of bag we would be proud to be seen carrying.” They did not want to be like those people, she says, who give away blankets they would never sleep in themselves. “The decoration at the bottom of the bag is made out of cut-offs we used to throw away, until one employee came up with an idea of how we could use them. That adds an extra pop to the bag. These children also want to look cool.”

Sewing repurpose schoolbags

Like a lot of emerging social initiatives, Repurpose Bags isn’t a charity. Instead, the bags are paid for by corporations and organisations looking to give to philanthropic projects, partnered up with schools in deprived communities. It’s interesting to see the power of business harnessed for social good, especially at a time when charities are feeling the pinch and continually raising donations from individuals is becoming tougher.

School children with solar schoolbags

To find out more about this brilliant business, visit the Repurpose Bags website.

Small ideas really can make a huge difference if we share them, so if you think this is a story worth telling, please spread the word using the social media buttons below.

Our ‘Design Can Change the World‘ series will highlight innovative and ethical design ideas improving the lives of people around the world. If you’ve come across any creative ideas which make a difference and deserve to be shared, please let us know in the comments and we’ll write about our favourites.

[Photographs courtesy of Repurpose Bags]

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  1. Blair England says

    This is the most amazing idea and just love how innovative people are in Africa to solve problems, find solutions and make life better. We take things for grated in the 1st world without realising how lucky and priveledged we are. I miss living in Africa (Zimbabwe) and all the amazing people who live there!

  2. says

    wow this is exceptional use of fashion, and technology to help these beautiful children. I have South African family and they constantly tell me about the harsh conditions that some of these children must endure during the day and it doesn’t get much better when they get home. This will truly help the next generation of children to hopefully break out of the cycle of poverty in SA. I hope that this initiative is followed and supported by some big corporations because it should be a human right that every one should at least have the opportunity to education.

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