By: Eline Steurs

Up-fuse is an Egyptian brand, founded in 2015, focused on upcycling plastic bags into sustainable backpacks, purses, and accessories. Yara and Rania, the founders of Up-fuse, detail their inspiration behind starting Up-Fuse while living in Cairo, Egypt. 

“There was an environmental crisis that no one was talking about. Plastic was everywhere. The world had started addressing the plastic consumption issues, but back home in Egypt, nothing was happening. We said to ourselves—we need to do something.” 

In Egypt, garbage collecting and sorting is not regulated, enabling untrained people, primarily women, to take on the task themselves, which is both inefficient and dangerous. Because of this, Up-Fuse partners with several NGOS which ensure safe access to garbage and plastic, allowing those that sort the garbage themselves to work in safer, more humane conditions.

“That’s why we partner with NGOs, so they could find other, stable jobs. This is where we come in—we teach them how to upcycle plastic bags during normal working hours, all while gaining a stable income. This way, they have a job that is not a risk for their health or their dignity.”

One NGO in particular is based near one of the largest landfills in the world, with nearly 1 million inhabitants. Up-Fuse works with this NGO to clean, sanitize, and upcycle the large quantity of plastic into unique, durable pieces. 

Yara and Raina wanted to address the environmental issue behind plastic waste, as well as the issue of gender inequality. As two young women, Yara recounts, it was hard to start a business in a Middle Eastern country. They weren’t sure if they would be taken seriously as business leaders, especially in such a tough industry. In a male dominated sector, Yara and Rania faced lots of closed doors, “no’s,” and even verbal harassment. 

“No matter what, we believed in what we were doing. Just as there are bad people, there are also good people. The confidence should come from within. We started acting as if we were very confident, saying ‘we have a mission, either you want to be a part of it or not.”

Up-Fuse strongly values gender equality, giving equal pay for equal work, while taking into account the societal expectations placed on women, such as being home with children and cooking for their husbands.

“We try to work out schedules around these norms because we want to give women work opportunities, but also don’t want to destroy their families and their culture. Development means finding solutions. It us up to them if they want to change their lives, or if their lives are adequate.” 

Up-fuse refers to itself as a cult brand, meaning they bring people together through shared lifestyle and beliefs. The designs are inspired by simple lines and forms, valuing timelessness over trendiness, Trends may fade, but their bags last a lifetime.

“We are inspired by the streets. We are a brand that suggests that everyone has their own character and is an individual. We don’t believe that one size fits all. That’s why all of our designs are made only once.”

While Up-fuse started as a local brand in Egypt, they have expanded to Europe and the US, They are also exploring the possibility of creating accessories and shoes with the materials, and have just launched their new collection of Twin City Backpacks. 

You can find Up-Fuse at The Canvas Williamsburg, The Canvas Antwerp, and online.