Eco-totes

Jenny Gabruch

It’s one of Miss Cayman’s favorite go-to bags.
Tonie Chisholm is a big fan of the Siggy Bag, a made-in-Cayman product that is catching on with locals and visitors alike.

“I love it,” she says. “I use it for everything; for my groceries, my workout gear or just to pack up stuff on-the-go.”

The bags are made by recycling animal feed bags to create an assortment of fun, funky and eco-friendly totes and shopping bags. Colorful and eclectic, they come in a variety of sizes and are adorned with such animals as chickens, goats, dogs, cows and horses.

“It’s such a great idea,” says Tonie. “I’m all about sustainability, and any little bit anyone can do, helps. It’s inventive, it’s useful – and it’s cute.”

Home workshop

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The Siggy Bag is the brainchild of Caymanian Emile Levy, an artisan, inventor and entrepreneur who launched the business in spring 2015. He and his wife, Lyn, make them by hand at their home workshop, Camp Buttonwood Recycle, in Midland Acres.

“They are very versatile,” says Emile.

“People use them for shopping, for groceries, to take to the beach, for gifts, to carry on the plane, as laundry bags – they can be used in so many ways.”

The bags are strong, durable, waterproof and reasonably priced – ranging from $5 to $12, depending on the size.

No two are exactly alike, and their unique designs make them an eye-catching accessory.

The idea for the bags came when Emile bought some feed for his chickens.

“I said to my wife, ‘maybe we ought to take this bag and make a shopping bag out of it,’” he recalls. “And she did.”

At the same time, he noted supermarkets were charging a levy for plastic check-out bags, a trend that is growing worldwide for environmental reasons. Some cities have banned non-recyclable plastic bags outright.

Emile saw both a niche and an opportunity. He approached the Department of Agriculture for information and assistance and then began contacting local farmers about collecting the discarded feed bags. Around 1.9 million animal feed bags are brought into the islands each year.

He bought two sewing machines to do the stitching in their workshop, where the bags are cleaned, cut, stitched and stored.

“We stitched for three months before we sold one bag,” he says.
Outlets

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The couple first began selling the bags at Saturday’s Market at the Grounds in Lower Valley and later at the Wednesday Farmers and Artisans Market at Camana Bay.

They have now expanded to include a spot on the waterfront in George Town that caters to the cruise ship market. The bags are showcased outdoors on a small patch of sand outside of Juana’s Fashion and Gift Shop, next to the Craft Market.

And tourists are tickled with the bags, picking them up as a unique made-on-island souvenir or gift.

Emile isn’t simply a vendor, however. The outgoing entrepreneur serves as an ambassador for the Cayman Islands, warmly welcoming visitors to the islands as they stroll by his outdoor shop and also helping out by giving directions and recommendations of island attractions.

It comes second-nature to Emile as he operated his own tour company, Cayman Islands Native Fun Tours, for 15 years. He has also been involved in promoting the islands through such programs as the Go East initiative and the redevelopment of Coe Wood Public Beach, among others.

Emile was raised in Cayman and moved to the United States with his family when he was 14. He spent six years in the U.S. Armed Forces and 20 years as a master jeweler at Diamond Exchange in Philadelphia before returning to Cayman in 1995.

Passionate about the island and the natural environment, Emile is a big supporter of recycling. He is continually looking to re-purpose cast-off materials, creating a variety of products such as swing sets fashioned from construction materials and barbecue smokers from oil drums.

Artisan

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He is also an artisan, carving parrots from birch, brooms from coconut trees along with an assortment of works made from such materials as shells, wood, metal and glass.

But The Siggy Bag is one of his showcase products. Emile and Lyn have made more than 5,000 bags so far, and have expanded to the product line to include “Siggy” aprons and raincoats.

They’ve also had special requests. One custom creation, for example, was a pair of “Siggy” slippers featuring chicks on the top.

The name “Siggy” comes from Emile’s middle name Sigmund, named in memory of a German entrepreneur who operated a turtle-processing business on-island.

“My father worked for him, and his name was given to me out of respect for him,” he says. “So I named the bag Siggy, not just after me, but to keep his memory alive.”

The bags have caught the attention of not only of such high-profile supporters as Miss Cayman but a number of government officials and departments, including the Ministry of Tourism and Department of Commerce and Finance.

Robert Hamaty of Tortuga Rum is also a fan, selling the bags at his factory outlet in Industrial Park.

“The people of these islands are giving us great support,” says Emile. “It’s been very positive.”
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2 COMMENTS

  1. These people should be in charge of implementing recycling in the Cayman Islands.
    While CIG is working to develop a new strategy to deal with the landfill and is drafting another waste management plan, these folks already doing it. Necessity is the mother of ingenuity,ingenuity is the driving force of economy. Or something like that.

    Mr. Schubert and Ms. Ahearn might want to hire them as consultants. I am sure for the love of the Cayman Islands they will do it for free.

  2. I remember visiting with Siggy when he had just a pile of the bags in his back yard. He said to me Cus, I am going to make shopping bags from these feed bags. As an artist myself I say his dream, and knew his passion.
    I said to him it was a great idea and would be a good invention. Things got quiet until one day he turned up to my home showing me some of his first bags.
    They are just awesome in every way. Colorful Strong water proof, interesting, artistic, and a must to have one or two.
    Siggy, I think you have done well, and I congratulate you on a job well done.