Fracking fashion: Argentine designers turns shale sand bags into handbags

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An Argentine fashion firm has found a new source of inspiration – and materials – in an unlikely location: oil industry burlap plastic sacks from the country’s huge Vaca Muerta shale formation, which they recycle to make shoes, bags and purses.

The firm founded by three sisters, Fracking Design – a reference to the controversial process of fracking used in oil and gas extraction – takes plastic “Big Bags” used for holding sand, which are then processed and mixed with waste leather.

Oil and gas firms in Vaca Muerta, a huge shale formation the size of Belgium, use thousands of the bags, which for the most part are not recycled but burned, releasing greenhouse gases.

“A well uses approximately between 30,000 and 40,000 tons of sand. That’s about 26,500 bags,” said Ornella Basilotta, 40, a clothing designer and one of the trio, who have partnered with energy firms in the area like state energy giant YPF (YPFD.BA).

She said some 40 families were now involved in the production chain and the recycled plastic was “equivalent to 1,100 trees that would be needed to absorb the carbon dioxide that these sacks would generate if they had been burned.”

The sisters came across the Vaca Muerta fields by chance while traveling through Patagonia in search of goat mohair wool.

The plastic waste-leather products – such as “Frackilette” sandals – have appeared in the design store of the iconic MALBA museum in Buenos Aires, are sold online and also used by local oil companies as sustainable corporate gifts.

Fracking Design is expanding into other industries and is keen to build on its work with the oil sector.

“Today we use 10% of what an (oil) well generates. In other words, we have a lot of work ahead of us to keep growing,” Basilotta said.