Tomorrow, today

Q&A with designer Tessa O’Halloran on rethinking plastic waste

by | Jun 19, 2020

Exciting things are happening in a small studio in the Karoo where plasticity. re-imagines waste plastic. This bespoke upcycling company based in Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape was founded by Tessa O’Halloran, her mother Helen and her little sister Erin in 2017. They make beautiful vanity bags and clutch bags from locally sourced waste plastic.


Why did you start plasticity.?

In 2017 I started thinking about making functional things out of discarded plastic, and plasticity. was born with the first tiny, hand-sewn hanging planter bag.

I’ve been environmentally conscious and aware of my footprint from a young age. I have always thought about the waste we create and about ways we can reduce this. The idea of a circular economy has intrigued me since I first heard the term and I want to contribute to building a more circular economy here, in South Africa. So I started with the waste materials I had and made quite simple products. My dream was to make a living that was also beneficial to the environment, had a positive impact, and created a community. I saw the overlooked potential of the beauty and usefulness of waste plastic, and began making things with it.



Besides plastic, what other materials do you use?

All our plasticity. products are made of discarded plastic, and we use organic hemp as the lining which we get from Hemporium in Cape Town. I absolutely love hemp and I think there is potential for this material locally. The plastic we use is bought from a local recycling company, donated from the community around us (we get donations from local schools) and sourced on our walks in and around town.


Is your manufacturing process sustainable and eco-conscious?

The manufacturing process is quite simple – we cut off the handles and bottoms the bags. We then fuse the plastic sheets and other pieces of plastic together using heat (an iron). Baking paper acts as a barrier between the plastic and the iron …

Is your packaging sustainable?

Yes. I’ve looked for a way to create a product as well as a buying experience that is as zero-waste as possible. We use mielie mailer courier sleeves which are compostable and we wrap our products with hemp or cotton twine and brown paper bags which are usually re-usable.

I try to keep the whole process circular. Off-cuts which can’t become a new design go into an eco-brick. Our organic hemp off-cuts are saved (I want to make paper with them) or they can go into the compost.

How do you colour your bags?

The colour on our bags is simply the different colours of plastic! My favourite part of my job is creating these colour products, where I choose, mix and match colours and create unique designs. Once I’ve arranged a composition with plastic, I fuse the pieces of plastic together and then add more plastic if needed to achieve our desired texture and ‘weight’. We also use clear poly bags which I get from local clothing retail stores – the amount of plastic waste from even a small store in a small town is huge!


How many plastic bags does it take to make one of your products?

We use anything from two to five bags per product depending on the thickness of the plastic. Some plastic creates a softer feel and some create quite a ‘crunchy’ feel once fused which can be difficult to sew. So there is a lot of trial and error with creating our plastic material. Luckily, we can usually create something else from a sheet of fused plastic if it doesn’t work for the product at hand, and it’s quite easy to fix a ‘mistake’ or patch up a hole in the plastic. It’s one of the most forgiving mediums I’ve ever worked with!

How did you learn your craft?

I learnt by doing – from simple trial and error. There is still so much for me to learn, and I’d love to incorporate other waste materials into our products. There is so much out there we can create with, and too much of it goes to waste. I want to encourage others to re-think plastic and other waste materials. Create with them and give them new life! The future is circular.

What is your bestseller at the moment?

We have quite an interesting mix of products at the moment, but I think our bestseller over time has been our large colour clutch or  cosmetics pouch. Our upcycled planters with hemp rope handles are becoming popular too!



Any up-and-coming plans in the pipeline?

Yes! I’ve recently fallen head over heels for natural and botanical dyeing… and will be launching another brand to create naturally-dyed organic hemp kitchen textiles soon called Toast Handmade. We’ve also got huge plans for an upcycled handbag range which I can’t wait to launch too.


  • Costing: R249.00 – R450.00
  • View more at Plasticity’s website
  • Images: Supplied
Share this article:

Related Posts

Our work is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production. Read More