Once they were the bright calling card of a sporty breed of wave warriors – a flashy means to catching a breeze to speed across the surface of the Arabian Gulf. Now, piles of discarded surf kites are being spared a fate as landfill, finding an unlikely new purpose as fashion items in the UAE.
Expat Marta Corte Real devised a way to breathe new life into the brightly coloured, unwanted fabric to create a range of carry sacks, beach bags and wallets, all while doing her bit for the environment at the same time.
“It’s amazing,” says the 33-year-old Portuguese. “The other day we got a big kite in perfect condition like no one had ever used it.”
It was seeing that there was no other purpose for these used kites, as well as looking for a way to vent her creativity during the early days of motherhood, that prompted Corte Real to start Kite For Fashion.
Now she sells hundreds of items a year, providing her with extra income to send her daughter Olivia to nursery and giving preloved kite sails, otherwise deemed rubbish, a new purpose.
Growing up in a coastal village near Lisbon, Corte Real had the ocean and coastal sports in her blood.
But it was while living in Oman and spending most of her recreation time outdoors with husband Philip, a coastal engineer, often kite surfing on the Indian Ocean, that her eureka moment arrived.
“My husband is a surfer and when we moved to Oman I started kite surfing,” Corte Real recalls from her home in The Springs, Dubai. “He learnt how and taught me. We used to go to this place in the south every weekend in the windy season during the summer to kite surf with friends and camp.
“We got talking about how we should do our own business and this came up – why not make bags out of old kite surf sails?”
The tenacity of the nylon-based material lends itself perfectly to being used for carrying items securely and on further inquiry of kite surfers, it seemed there was an abundance of old kites.
The only issue was that Corte Real’s profession was as a landscape architect. “I did mostly public spaces. My first project was Muscat International Airport, a huge project. We did Six Senses Spa in Muscat and a couple of private villas.”
That said, she and a few friends had some brief experience learning how to make clothes. “Back in Portugal I had a few lessons in how to work with a sewing machine, but then I moved to Oman and never finished the course. But one of the first things I did in Oman was buy my sewing machine. Then I was always creating stuff. For my husband’s birthday I made these big beanbags.”
The kite sail bags didn’t emerge for a while, however, as the couple were too busy with their outdoor lifestyle.
“It was difficult because in Oman there was always something to do – go to the wadi or beach.
“One day, though, there was a big storm, so we stayed home and I tried to do my first bag.”
Not that the prototype was an immediate hit, however. “I went to the office with my new bag and the guys asked: ‘What is that?’ I told them I made it. They said: ‘This is very ugly, but you have to keep on trying.’ So I kept trying and we came up with the concept for the beach bags.”
During a two-year stint in Cape Town, South Africa, Corte Real experimented with trial products such as document bags and handbags, but found the beach items were more popular.
When she moved to Dubai in 2012 and had her first baby, she began in earnest to make beach bags.
And with so many miles of golden sand loved by kite surfers, there was a ready source of material. “It is not that you cannot use the kite any more, they just evolve and people in Dubai want the newest model,” Corte Real says.
“It’s easy to get people to donate them because what will you do with the old kite if you are not using it? I had one friend who had eight kites for me when I got here.”
Corte Real admits much of the design work is already done for her – whoever designed the kites wanted them bright and colourful. Plus they were made to have a life on the beach so are readily repurposed or “upcycled” for a return to the shoreline.
Her challenge is to select the most usable parts of the sail, so each bag tells a story and is almost guaranteed to be unique. “It’s really hard to find two kites of the same colour, exactly the same design and they won’t be in the same condition,” says Corte Real, who sells through her website and at markets such as Ripe.
She also sells wallets, and is considering other lines such as laptop and clutch bags, which would also use more of the sail, some of which can be as large as 18 metres wide.
Having made and sold around 200 units since she began Kite For Fashion, Corte Real admits her goals may be evolving too. “Initially it was something to do. Now I would like it to become a small business; to pick up a little more because it would mean less kites go to landfill and more would be recycled.”
Browse the Kite for Fashion range at www.kiteforfashion.com.
Source: art & life