Virginia-designed, Virginia-sewn: Green Upward eco-totes now on sale

The 23-year-old McLean Virginia Tech grad is inspired by a zero-waste lifestyle.

Image by Mike Ramm

The most interesting adults were probably the odd, eccentric, offbeat, strange children. The children with uncommon hobbies and outlandish ideas.

It’s no surprise then how Gabriella Jacobsen described herself: “I was kind of a weird kid.”
From a kit online, she built a greenhouse in the back of her parent’s McLean house. As a teen, she tended to bonsai and succulents and grew some of her own food, including asparagus and lettuces. After graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in industrial design, she tried to live what she describes as an “extreme zero-waste lifestyle. It got really bad. I was questioning everything.” She even stopped washing her clothes.

All of this, though, makes sense with Jacobsen’s latest project: eco-friendly tote bags. But these aren’t just reusable totes. They check off all the boxes: made from 100-percent organic cotton, colored with low-impact dyes, sewn in a fair-trade factory in Virginia that employs Americans with disabilities and 2 percent of profits will go to Arcadia, a local organization promoting sustainable food systems.

Jacobsen comes at this project not just with shoppers in mind—and those who adore the bulk bin will especially love the way the bag folds onto itself for closure and that its weight is sewn into the label for ease at check-out—but thinks about her role as a maker.

“It is a designer’s responsibility to be more aware of the technical or chemical processes,” she says, explaining how aesthetics and functionality are only part of the equation. Material choices, and in Jacobsen’s case, eschewing Velcro and zippers so bags are compostable after years of use, are just as important. She takes the long view, envisioning the entire lifecycle of the bag in a closed-loop system of eliminating waste. But she also knows her company, Green Upward, which surpassed its Kickstarter goal and started selling totes to the public last month, is still in its infancy. As her friend said, “It’s great to hit all of these morals, but what’s your limit? Can you scale up?”

She doesn’t know, yet, and half-jokes, “I’m the classic 23-year-old who thinks she can save the world.”

(Febuaury 2018)