Inspiring Gardens

Denman Home and Garden Tour—set for May 9 and 10— showcases the unique features of Island living.

“The Wags Bagz project provides multiple benefits for everyone,” says Bill Weston, at Wagz with his dog Fergus and some of the products created by the Beaufort Association with the donated denim.

Last fall, Bill Weston, Darin Bellham and Wendy Scott, co-owners of Wagz Lifestyles for Dogs and Cats, were researching options and kicking around ideas about how they could provide their clients with truly environmentally responsible shopping bags.  Despite the myriad of commercial products on the market today, Weston says they just couldn’t find a shopping bag that met all of their criteria.  None were really “environmentally friendly.”

“I think it is fabulous that people are becoming more conscientious about the number of plastic bags that are ending up in the landfill,” says Weston, “but I can’t help but think that, in some ways, with some types of re-usable bags, we are simply substituting one problem product with another.  Sure, many people are reusing alternatives to plastic shopping bags more than ever.  The problem is that many of these ‘re-usable’ bags are still being manufactured using chemical products.  They are not very durable [so they don’t last that long] and they ultimately end up in a landfill where they will never decompose, along with thousands of traditional plastic bags.”

One day, it dawned on Weston that he was, quite literally, sitting on a potential gold mine—his blue jeans!  Denim fabric is made of cotton, which is a 100 per cent natural and completely biodegradable product.  And, since old blue jeans are a finished product, there would be no need to use any chemicals to “manufacture” the “raw materials” to make a line of reusable bags for use and sale at Wagz holistic and raw pet food and accessories store in Courtenay.

Weston knew that many people have old jeans they no longer wear but simply haven’t gotten around to recycling.  Perhaps the “spare” jeans are tattered and worn.  Maybe they are part of someone’s “One day I’m going to lose enough weight to fit in them again” wardrobe.  Perhaps they’re simply out of style.  Whatever the reason, he suspected that there could potentially be hundreds of used blue jeans stacked in closets in the Comox Valley.

“We decided that if we could get people to donate their old blue jeans, we could re-manufacture them into reusable, durable shopping bags,” says Weston.  “In doing so, it would be one way that we could reduce our environmental footprint… or, in the case of Wagz, our ‘pawprint.’
“We contacted the Beaufort Association to see if they would be interested in developing an innovative partnership with us. They were already supplying us with pet beds and dog coats made from recycled fabric, so we thought it would be a great way to expand on that program.”
Susan Bunn, executive director of the Courtenay-based Beaufort Association for the Mentally Handicapped, was thrilled with the concept. “Wagz Bagz was a project I knew our people would really enjoy,” she says.

The Beaufort Association’s Quest program offers a variety of services focusing on personal development and community involvement opportunities for adults with mental and physical challenges.  Sewing facilities were already in place, so the jean bag idea was a perfect fit.
Considering that Quest is all about empowering people with developmental and other ability challenges, the participants are not volunteers.  They are paid for their work. (They are, however, assisted by a team of several volunteers from the community.)  Quest provides the participants with a place to work on various projects, then guides and facilitates their activities with the appropriate training, equipment and support.

Recognizing the vital contribution that the Quest participants would be making for this project, the people at WAGZ made the decision to donate all proceeds from the sale of Wagz Bagz directly back to Beaufort.

Quest participants Brian, Danya, Leona, John, Rae, Mary, Deb, Dave and others would look after the majority of the cutting, sewing, serging, silk screening, ironing and quality control processes used in constructing Wagz Bagz.  Andy McDougall, silk screen guru of the Comox Valley, agreed to provide technical assistance with the intricate step of silk screening the fabric.  A two-color silk screen logo was designed and would be applied using non-toxic, biodegradable, water-based inks.

Weston says that the finished product is carefully constructed and expertly sewn to last for many years. The team at Beaufort has set up a production process that ensures that no scraps of cloth, seams, zippers or rivets are wasted.