TEXT Kirsten Matthew
IMAGES Courtesy Ecoist



One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. No, really, it is – at least in the case of Jonathan Marcoshamer and his company, Ecoist.

The eco-friendly, Miami-based business makes bags, jewelry and homewares from crap that would otherwise be landfill – and somehow manages to make it look chic while it’s at it. And the whole thing is a family affair: Marcoschamer works with his brother Yair, mother and sister-in-law to design and produce Ecoist’s lines.

Marcoshamer and his brother – who had worked together previously in their own online marketing consultancy – had the idea for the business on a trip to Mexico in 2004.

“We were walking in a street fair and found these crafts and different products and were intrigued by the materials,” explains Marcoshamer, 35. “That triggered an idea to develop something with large companies, to design a range of product, Fair Trade, with artisans working together with designers.”

The very first Ecoist item was a Mexican candy wrapper bag, and from there the business grew. The brothers partnered with local and overseas designers who came up with new collections. And big companies got in touch to ask if Ecoist could use their litter. First Cliff Bar (the producer of the Luna bars that line every deli counter and Whole Foods snack shelf) came calling, then Coca-Cola, Mars, Hershey’s, and Frit-O-Lay. Ecoist takes their post-industrial waste – wrappers, cans, pull tabs – and reuses them as their materials in hundreds of different products. And according to their website ( HYPERLINK “” it’s meant that more than 40 million wrappers been saved from going to landfills in the past seven years.

Maarcoschamer sees the irony in using product from enormous companies that hardly have a spotless record for keeping the earth clean and green.



“It was a bit of a conflict. The product itself is a bit of a conflict: we have brands with sincere initiatives to reduce waste, but the essence of their product is not very eco. We’re still struggling with that from a consumer point of view. [They want to know] ‘Is that eco?’ Do we want to align our brand with these corporations with questionable history? But we came to the conclusion that they have put their money where their mouth is. Coca-Cola will be left behind if they don’t show a more sustainable effort. Frito-O-Lay has developed the first biodegradable chip bag. These things give them credibility and for now it works for both of us.”

And it helps the company’s bottom line too. Ecoist get all the wrappers etc. for free, so the only costs are shipping them to Peru, where the products are made, and the labor costs of construction. In Peru, the brothers teamed up with a local entrepreneur several years ago to start up a factory, and to support the local artisans that now make their stuff.

“We had the opportunity to produce in China for much lower,” says Marcoshamer. “But we are able to keep it at a reasonable price. Our margins are not the best, but they allow us to continue.”

The company has downsized since the recession, focusing less on getting product into stores around the world (at one time they were in 1,500 US stores, as well as the United Kingdom and Japan) and more on their online store.

“It was difficult to maintain the large distribution,” Marcoshamer admits. “We’ve found that online, direct to consumer allows us to fulfill a better margin and work with suppliers and bypass the intermediary. It’s less volume but the margins are better. And E-commerce is a more sustainable business model.”

And a few heavy-hitting endorsements help bring customers to the brand. Cameron Diaz and Petra Nemcova are celebrity fans – and Ecoist’s Mega Silver tote bag made a guest appearance on Samantha’s arm in “Sex and the City 2”.

“That was huge exposure. Days after the movie came out we received a lot of blog mentions and enquiries,” says Marcoshamer.

Next year Ecoist will diversify into apparel, shoes and baby products that are organic, and sustainable, starting with a denim line. So did Marcoshamer always have a burning desire to make the world a better place?

“To be honest I’d never had hands-on interest,” he confesses. “It’s been the values of our family to do good, be nature lovers and respect it, but to this degree, knowing the materials and labor involved in sustainability? No. We consider ourselves born-again environmentalists.”




“As a social entrepreneur you want to have standards that are sustainable, but you also have to meet the rules of the market. There is so much the client will be flexible about but it also has to make sense for the consumer. The challenge is to be true but also make a profit.”

1) Define where you are in the green spectrum and be authentic about it. If you want to be ‘light’ green – producing in China but some sustainable product – be honest about it.

2) Show the consumer what you are saying – show people where your product is made and how it is made. With social media and video there’s no excuse not to.
3) Make sure your social and environmental practices work in the business model. There’s no use drowning in debt. What it comes down to is the triple bottom line – people, profit and planet.

4) Style comes first. No one is going to buy something that doesn’t look good or is uncomfortable, just because it’s green.

5) Give back. It’s very important. From day one we’ve planted a tree for every bag we’ve sold – in Haiti, India, Honduras. That’s imbedded in our business model; it’s not a one-time thing.


Today, Ecoist collaborates with fashion and industrial designers to develop limited edition handbags and other fashion accessories by using waste as raw materials. Ecoist handbags are 100% handmade from recycled candy wrappers, food packages, soda labels, subway maps, newspapers, and other waste-bound materials.
Ecoist plants a tree for every handbag sold. In partnership with Trees for the Future, Ecoist has contributed to reforestation efforts around the world. So far, they’ve planted over 100,000 trees in places like Haiti, India, and Uganda.

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