A statement in upcycling, these pannier bags are made from used lorry tarpaulins, making every one unique.
The UPSO Potters Panniers are simple enough – the super-tough lorry tarp is fashioned into a roll-top bag, with fittings from Carradice on the rear to attach to the bike. All the bags are unique, so each individual bag has to be shot and uploaded to the site to let you pick which pattern you want.
Back to the source
Interested? Me too. UPSO caught my eye a couple of years ago. When a friend of mine got hold of some for a tour earlier this year, I was really excited to finally take a closer look. I also got in touch with David Chadwick, MD of Carradice bags and creator of UPSO, to find out where these bags had come from.
UPSO is about recycling materials to make bags. We recycle truck tarps, fire hoses, and seatbelt webbing into unique bags. We try to keep the designs minimalist but practical and functional. Quite often the designs on the tarps are the stars of the show. We source the tarps and firehoses within a 40 mile radius of our factory and get them washed at a local industrial laundrette.
All the processing and manufacturing of the bags is done in house. We have a 10Kw solar panel system on the factory roof which powers the sewing machines during the day and puts the surplus back into the grid.
One of the biggest things I took from the conversation is how UPSO are putting in real effort to be eco-friendly. As well as using recycled materials to make the bags, a lot of effort goes in behind the scenes which isn’t obvious to the customer.
Someone more cynically minded might ask why you should bother when it’s not obvious to the customer, and be surprised that there’s more to a company’s ‘upcycling’ efforts than just using marketing to get money for old rope. I hope I was more tactful than that, but I was curious to find out. Here’s what David said:
I have an environmental science degree from Newcastle University and so I’ve always been sensitive to waste and pollution issues. We started out making bags from street banners with another local company.
The supply chain for street banners didn’t fit this business model so we looked around for alternatives. We found that lorry tarps made the best use of our heavy duty sewing machines and made up into bombproof bags with interesting one-off designs. We designed some smaller style bags to use up the offcuts left by the panels of the larger bags.
The proof of the pudding
It was really great to get some context from David, and what he told me was more than enough to convince me that the sister company to Carradice wasn’t just a marketing exercise.
So how do the panniers perform? Enter Lawrence. He’s had plenty of experience of owning the bags, so I’ll let him take over to share his thoughts:
After planning a week’s cycle touring, I was on the lookout for a traditional pannier setup. Seat packs and frame bags just wouldn’t suit, as my things were too numerous and too large.
I liked the idea of having two different designs and colours, for looks as well as practicality. For example, it would be helpful to know that my sleeping bag was always in the red pannier, saving some faffing about whilst out on the road.
Because the lorry tarps have been in use they have a certain worn texture that’s really tactile. They’re also definitely waterproof, as I’ve ridden in some deluges and things have stayed dry. Leaving them in the grass overnight wasn’t an issue when camping.
However, this super durable material means they don’t roll down as easily or as tightly as other brands. Saying that, they have become more supple over time.
For my first set of panniers, I’m pretty chuffed! They look great and because of the manufacturing process I know they are one of a kind. No one else will have one like mine!
Listening to Lawrence and David, and having had a really good look at and play with the bags, I think I’ve really been able to get a feel for the UPSOs:
Perhaps most importantly, they’re really desirable. The tarp material is really reassuringly heavy duty, and so are the proven Carradice fittings. They might be slightly less ‘neat’ looking than pieces from Ortlieb, but they look and feel far sturdier.
What’s more, the recycled lorry tarps look really, really cool. I’m yet to see one I don’t like, and a mismatched pair of these panniers, complete with patina, creates a brilliant aesthetic on your tourer/commuter.
It’s also nice to be able to make use of materials that might otherwise end up in landfill. Really, it beggars belief that it’s possible to save something from the rubbish, wash it, and stitch it into a pannier that looks like it could last longer than most. As much as the Potters Panniers are a fashion statement, they’re also a reminder that we’re all a little too keen to consign things to the bin.
What’s more, UPSO is a great example of how it’s possible for a business to be successful without completely ignoring social responsibility in the name of margins. In fact, it can even be a selling point. UPSO has found great success (I asked), with bags selling almost as quickly as they’re being uploaded to the site, and part of this must be because people actually care who they buy from.
Perhaps that’s the key. It’s one thing to make a piece of kit that performs, but it’s a far greater challenge to create something that lets us form a personal connection. You don’t need to go on a world tour with the Potters Pannier to feel a bit of affection for them – it’s included already.
Thanks to David Chadwick of Carradice and UPSO for his time, and to Lawrence for his time and his panniers for the photographs. You can find out more about UPSO on their site, upsobags.co.uk