TRAVERSE CITY – A vinyl sign from last year’s play, 20 feet from the end of a vinyl roll, or a banner message printed too close to the margins.
The question of what to do with these items now has an answer: wrap it up, of course.
Britten Inc. launched Priorlife, LLC on Tuesday. The new company takes previously used banners, signs, displays and other event branding from its parent company and turns them into bespoke bags.
Britten employees shouldn’t be surprised to see Priorlife’s creative director, Jessica Reehorst, taking used banners and scrap vinyl from the bins at Cass Road facilities or happily accepting old materials from event, ready to turn them into one of three styles of tote bags.
“People see me looking around the little trash cans,” said Reehorst, who returned to the area a year ago after spending seven years in New York. “It’s funny.”
“It’s exciting because it’s a need – and green, recycled and reusable materials are important everywhere, but especially here,” Britten CEO Ryan Kennedy said at company headquarters. “We try to engineer this into raw materials before they even come in the door.
“It’s kind of giving everything a second chance, which is a cool story.”
Even Priorlife gets a second chance. The company started about a dozen years ago and had been active for about five years, Kennedy said.
“It’s just sort of eliminated,” Kennedy said. “There was still demand. There was simply no one to make it work.
This is where Reehorst, supported by some 24 talented seamstresses, comes into play. The Fashion Institute of Technology graduate started at Britten in November and runs the business.
“What Jess brought to the table was style and fashion,” Kennedy said. “It’s a step up from where we were before. She brought great design, the whole process.
Reehorst works with experienced seamstress Helen Carrell.
“We decided on the styles together,” Reehorst said. “I came with the model, the prototype, and then she helped me streamline what I had in the works, to help with production because she has so much experience here.”
“I just sewed,” joked Carrell, sitting in front of one of four sewing machines and next to a serger in Priorlife’s office. “It’s really cool to be able to get this thing off the ground. It’s funny.”
Reehorst said Priorlife previously produced tote bags from Marine Corps Marathon banner material. Reehorst said “they sold out immediately”.
“It was a similar product,” Reehorst said. “He was well received. The production model just needed a recalibration. We’re bringing it back in a newer, sleeker bag.
Priorlife offers three styles of tote bags: panel, uniform and patchwork. Uniform and panel bags are made from three pieces of material, while patchwork is made from nine.
Reehorst said Priorlife products will soon be in retail outlets.
“We’re taking orders right now,” she said. “It will be available in stores to buy.”
In addition to its upcoming retail component, Priorlife will also offer personalized business tote bags. Reehorst said these will be turned into promotional products, giveaways or even merchandise for businesses.
“We can print their logo on the white space,” Reehorst said. “They can even put their own design in there if they want.”
Kennedy said Priorlife is a way to keep these used Britten banners from ending up in landfills.
He added that it would be interesting to quantify it because Priorlife has a certain longevity.
“Campaign banners stay up for a while and 99% of the time they end up in the trash,” Kennedy said. “It will be interesting to check in a year and then we can quantify it.”
Kennedy said Britten will also be able to use lead and tails from his rollers. He said Britten often sells roll ends for $10 for home use and that in recent months he has started using a radio frequency welding process to attach the 10ft portions to each end of the roll. .
While Priorlife starts with tote bags, Reehorst and Kennedy don’t see it staying that way.
“There are a lot of ideas moving forward,” Reehorst said. “I would like to make backpacks, sports bags, large beach bags. There are thousands of possibilities.
Kennedy said he could even see Priorlife add staff beyond the 24 seamstresses working at its two production plants.
“We’re starting the manufacturing process here and we’d like to keep it as much as possible in northern Michigan,” he said.
Reehorst said the sale price for the bags is still being finalized.
She said personalized bags would be a bit more expensive, but businesses would get a price reduction for bulk orders.
“We’re going for an affordable product, but it’s also a specialty product,” Reehorst said. “It is also recycled. We do this for a reason.
And the reason is right in the name, giving a second life to a durable material that had a previous life.
“The material is super durable,” said Reehorst, who said his mom and roommate still have one of the bags from the first iteration of Priorlife. “They last forever; they stick around.
“People see me looking around the little trash cans. It’s fun.” Jessica Reehorst, Artistic Director of Priorlife