Turning funky bags into a piece of advocacy for sustainability

Turning funky bags into a piece of advocacy for sustainability
June 2020
Business Circular Economy Sustainability
How nature-inspired funky bags could become more than an accessory?

Interview with Dublin-born sisters and designers, Jacki Parker and Nicole McKenna on how they embarked on the journey of creating the Wild by Water brand to share their love of everything that is naturally wild and water-related.


We grew up beside the sea and spent summers on Killiney beach close to Dublin, where our love of all things coastal began. A lifetime of hiking, biking, and kayaking ensued, with trips to every part of Ireland. Luckily a keen interest in photography meant we took many pictures over the years and captured the essence of Ireland’s unspoiled natural beauty.

We both ended up working in the fast-paced world of fashion and design, which means deadlines determine your life. Escaping into the wild to recharge and revitalise became a regular and valuable part of our hectic lifestyles.

A childhood next to the see inspired designers to create the Wild by Water brand

Part of our philosophy with our own business now is that we want to highlight the simple fact of how important the natural environment is in our everyday life. And what if we could practically ‘carry’ this feeling with us wherever we are going? So we began by making a range of nature-loving bags, featuring the photographs we took on our adventures and escapes. Thus the Wild by Water brand was born. We had value-driven products which attracted like-minded customers, but we aimed for more.

While ‘fashion with function’ was our motto, we also wanted our bags to be meaningful.

We started to build up our supply chain with a critical awareness regarding the impact that any production has on the natural environment and society. It is important to us that we source the right materials and find partners and suppliers who shared our values.

We travelled to France to visit Premier Vision, the fashion and textile exhibition to research fabrics and materials. We were looking for allies who could work with us in meeting high standards of sustainable production. It was not as straight forward as we thought since many factors influence when would you actually say that it is sustainable.

A unique value proposition

Appreciating the outdoors plays a vital role in creating ‘statement products’, and it has become an essential part of our identity.

Image: Wild By Water bag

Our mantra in the making is to use patterns inspired by Irish landscapes; to make it functional and beautiful; and to deliver it as sustainable and ethical as possible. That gives a unique touch to everything that comes from us.

People who love nature and want to contribute to a more sustainable way of life find these features valuable when they purchase any products. We regularly receive feedback from our customers and partners, which in turn feeds back into the business and design process.

Sharing these visions influences thinking and practice, which encourages us to keep doing and improving what we are doing.

The fact that we have each other helps a lot. We have different backgrounds and experiences which comes handy at times in need. It can be simple things, like speaking a foreign language. Jacki’s ability to communicate in French proved to be very useful at an international exhibition and resulted in a collaboration that otherwise might have been out of reach.

In the making of something meaningful

Working this close to any project means your heart and soul is in it. In the last four years, we have met many challenges. They come in waves, some are exciting, some are less so. Truly believing in your mission makes you take more risks and endure failures with the commitment to keep working towards your vision. Any gains come on top of that as a sort of a triumph.

But besides challenges, you can find supports too, and we found exactly that at Dublin City Council and Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Dublin. We initially undertook the ‘Building Craft and Design Enterprise’ course with them to roll-out our business over their 12-week training. We also availed mentoring from Dublin LEO and did some other business training.

Also, we had the opportunity to show what we have been working on at the Showcase Ireland exhibition. It was great to get direct feedback from both local and international buyers on our product offerings and our business plans.

We quickly realised that offering custom-made solutions would make sense. One of the great outcomes of taking part in the programme was that we started collaborating with Dublin City Council.

Custom made bags - Wild By Water

We created unique designs for them to use on branded daysacks featuring waterside locations and activities across the city. Each bag was handmade from recycled and upcycled materials, water-resistant and built for longevity. In this way, they could express their branding by using sustainable and ethical promotional products.

It was inspirational to experience the level of their dedication to creating values at different levels and supporting a local business with a mission.

We are offering a choice to our customers to make a difference with their purchase and express their own beliefs.

We thoroughly enjoy the process of raising awareness and looking beyond the obvious. Which is in our case, to show that what might just seem to be a bag could actually be a message to change things for the better. There are no limits for us to combine creativity, sustainability and ethics.