Meet the Artist: Marty Stevens-Heebner

Radiant bursts of color, bold designs and geometric patterns are just a few of the characteristics of Marty Stevens-Heebner’s handbag designs. They’re also made from recycled materials and crafted by artisans working under fair labor conditions, which earned Green America’s Seal of Approval.

Marty’s Earth-friendly, and people-friendly, designs grew out of the experiences she had while working with Global Exchange, conducting human rights work in Chiapas, Mexico after the Zapatista rebellion. She took inspiration from the artisans in Chiapas, who let nothing go to waste and remained industrious, even in the face of adversity.

When she returned from Mexico, Marty started a small but successful business creating original handcrafted jewelry. She also appeared as an expert crafter on HGTV’s “Crafters Coast to Coast” and on the DIY Network’s “Craft Lab.”

Marty earned recognition and respect for her jewelry designs, and decided to take her accessories line to the next level and take a leap into the realm of handbags.

“In the beginning, I made several trips to the Philippines to set things up,” Marty explains. “ Not only was I concerned about being sure [the workers were] paid fairly, but I also wanted to ensure they worked in decent working conditions. It was appalling to see situations where the workers were stuck with no available clean drinking water in the dark, hideously hot basements of air-conditioned mansions—which were inhabited by the owners of the business.”

Now, she works with many talented artisans in the Philippines who handcraft her handbags using materials such as coated recycled paper, recycled rice sacks, recycled juice packs and recycled plastic.

Recycled Magazine Clutch

Marty’s Recycled Rice Sack Bags, for example, are not dyed or screen-printed by the workers. The beautiful graphics on the bags surface are from the rice sacks original design. “They go through 680,000 pounds of rice per day in the Philippines,” she says. “So it’s all about marketing—and therefore packaging. That’s why they’re so extraordinary.”

This system provides another advantage as well. Since each bag is handcrafted using repurposed materials, each is a unique creation. Marty describes this as “ecouture—high fashion bags, made the way things should be.”

Her humanitarian work, eco-friendly strategy and insistence on fair labor practices even earned her a spot on Coco Eco Magazine’s “Top 20 Inspiring Women” list in 2010, along with Sheryl Crow, Kate Dillon, Kelly Rutherford and Josie Maran.

“I just about fell out of my chair,” Marty says—referring to learning that she had been included in Coco Eco’s list. “I had to re-read it, because I didn’t think I’d actually been included in that particular section. I was wildly flattered and still can’t completely believe I was included with such an extraordinary bunch of women.”

Not a handbag person? Check out the rest of Marty’s line for a Cell Holder, Wallet or Coin Holder you’ll love. For more information on talented UG artists working to help improve the planet, enter to win Beth Mueller’s Ceramic Countertop Compost Container, check out Cliff Drill’s Fashion-forward Flip Flops and check out this Rockin’ Recycled Gift Idea.

Written by Cassie

Cassie spends most of her time at work writing things. She loves books (including comics), sketch comedy, and sci-fi. She's inspired by art and science. As a former Minnesotan, she longs for an afternoon on a lake, Grain Belt in hand. The New Yorker in her is happy spending that afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History instead.


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